Bush Bypasses Senate on Two Crony Appointments

Resorting once more to controversial “recess” appointments, U.S. President George W. Bush has named two political cronies to key administration positions without Senate approval.

Ellen Sauerbrey, a former state lawmaker and unsuccessful right-wing Republican candidate for governor of Maryland, will now move into her new office as Assistant Secretary of State for Refugees, Population, and Migration, a job with a billion-dollar budget and major voice in directing direct emergency relief operations around the world.

Bush also named J. Dorrance Smith, a long-time television producer and Republican loyalist who helped organize the 2004 Republican National Convention, as the Pentagon’s chief spokesman.

Smith’s nomination, which, unlike Sauerbrey’s, was approved by the relevant Senate Committee, was nonetheless held up by objections by Democratic senators who voiced strong concern about a recent Wall Street Journal column by the nominee in which he accused some US television networks of aiding terrorism through their ties with al-Jazeera.

“I have deep concerns about whether or not he should be representing the United States government and the Department of Defense with that kind of attitude and approach,” noted Sen. Carl Levin, the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee after Smith met in closed session with the Committee to explain his remarks last month.

Bush appointed half a dozen other officials whose nominations had been held up in the Senate, Tuesday, but most, such as that of Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, was less controversial or politically charged than those of Sauerbrey and Smith.

Recess appointments, historically very unusual, have become far more common under Bush, who has generally resorted to them for nominees whose right-wing ideological tendencies have made it unlikely or impossible for them to be confirmed by the Senate as a whole.

The most controversial recess appointment to date has been Bush’s far-right UN ambassador, John Bolton, whose nomination last year was opposed by well over 40 senators – a sufficient number to prevent a vote from taking place on the Senate floor.

Recess appointments have traditionally been reserved for situations when the Senate is out of session, as it is now, and the president needs to fill a post urgently. Because they lack Senate approval, however, recess appointees lose their posts at the end of every two-year Congressional session. Thus, Bolton, Sauerbrey, and Smith must be re-nominated in January, 2007, unless Bush resorts to another recess appointment.

Sauerbrey’s nomination has been particularly controversial – it was opposed by three of the nation’s most important newspapers, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post – both because of her far-right ideological views and her almost total lack of relevant experience, particularly in emergency relief operations which her office oversees.

In that respect, the timing of her nomination was particularly unfortunate, coinciding with the disastrous response by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), then headed by another political appointee with no relevant experience, Michael Brown, to Hurricane Katrina.

“This is a job that deals with one of the great moral issues of our time,” a senior official at Refugees International, told the Los Angeles Times at the time. “This is not a position where you drop in a political hack.”

After Bush’s 2000 election, Sauerbrey, who served as chairman of his campaign in Maryland, was appointed to a low-profile State Department post, eventually becoming US representative to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women.

As ambassador, she has pushed her ideological views, including her staunch opposition to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) – a position which the Bush administration shares with Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia, and to any form of abortion rights.

“Sauerbrey’s record at the United Nations has been a relentless effort to foist the administration’s anti-choice agenda onto international bodies dealing with population and reproductive health and rights,” said Jodi Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHGE).

CHGE is one of more than a dozen feminist, civil-liberties and public-health groups, including the Western Region of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America that have opposed her nomination and fear that her appointment signals the administration’s renewed determination to impose a far-right agenda on population and health issues, in particular.

“Once again, this president has bypassed the normal procedures to put his cronies in office to the detriment of the American people, and, in this particular case, the people of the world,” California Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee which never even voted on Sauerbrey’s nomination, said Thursday.

Unlike Sauerbrey, Smith’s critics conceded his competence and relevant experience. A producer of award-winning television public-affairs programs dating back some 30 years, Smith served as a senior media adviser to former President George H. W. Bush from 1991 to 1993. Under the younger Bush, Smith served as media adviser to FEMA from 2001 to 2003 when the agency was run by another Bush buddy, Joseph Allbaugh and in 2004 to the head of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq, Paul Bremer.

Smith, who has been friends with his new boss, Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, and Vice President Dick Cheney, since they all worked in the White House under former President Gerald Ford in the mid-1970s, came under criticism during President Bill Clinton’s second term for scandal-dominated coverage when he served as director of political coverage for ABC News. He also is known as an outspoken fan of Fox News, the far-right cable network owned by Rupert Murdoch.

But critics have been most concerned about the opinions expressed in last April’s Journal column in which he wrote: “Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and al-Qaeda have a partner in al-Jazeera and, by extension, most networks in the US This partnership is a powerful tool for the terrorists in the war in Iraq.”

The article, “The Enemy on Our Airwaves,” was published shortly after Prime Minister Tony Blair reportedly dissuaded Bush from bombing al-Jazeera’s headquarters in Qatar in retaliation for what the White House saw as its biased and damaging coverage of the US military assault on Fallujah, although the White House has denied that such a discussion took place.

“The collaboration between the terrorists and al-Jazeera is stronger than ever,” he wrote at the time. “While the precise terms of that relationship are virtually unknown, we do know this: al-Jazeera and the terrorists have a working arrangement that extends beyond a modus vivendi. When the terrorists want to broadcast something that helps their cause, they have immediate and reliable access to al-Jazeera.” He stressed that the major US networks then ran al-Jazeera’s footage “sometimes within minutes.”

His critique reflected the oft-stated views of Rumsfeld himself, who has frequently attacked al-Jazeera as an al-Qaeda accomplice and has become increasingly critical of US media coverage of the Iraq war, even amid disclosures that the Pentagon has itself paid Iraqi media and reporters to run favorable articles in what appears to be one facet of a psychological-warfare campaign.

Levin, Smith’s chief Senate critic, called his Journal article “extreme” and “over the top,” and has asked whether his position as the Pentagon’s chief spokesman would add or detract from the Pentagon’s credibility in Iraq and elsewhere in Arab world where al-Jazeera is by far the most widely watched television station.

(Inter Press Service)

Author: Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe writes for Inter Press Service.