- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Democrats controlling Congress have so far not denied President Bush any of his nominations, but they have used extensive hearings to score political points and send a signal to the administration they will play tough.

Senate Democrats relentlessly questioned Lt. Gen David Petraeus in a preview of confirmation hearings to come, but confirmed him unanimously as the top U.S. commander in Iraq despite disagreeing with the policy he has been tasked with implementing.

Senators — especially those running for president in 2008 — peppered Gen. Petraeus with questions about Mr. Bush’s plan to send more troops to Iraq, something most of them oppose.

“We are in a dire situation … in part because the Congress was supine under the Republican majority, failing to conduct oversight and demanding accountability, and because the president … refused to adapt to the changing circumstances on the ground,” Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat and potential 2008 candidate, said to open her questioning of Gen. Petraeus.

Before voting to recommend his confirmation, Mrs. Clinton told Gen. Petraeus she feared the administration’s Iraq policy is wrong and took a moment to outline her position.

“You are being asked to square the circle, to find a military solution to a political crisis,” she said. “I, among others on this committee, have put forward ideas about disapproving the escalation not because we in any way embrace failure or defeat, but because we are trying to get the attention of our government and the government of Iraq.”

The four possible presidential candidates on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are sure to sound off further on Iraq policy Thursday when they consider another Bush nomination.

The hearing to consider Ryan C. Crocker’s nomination to be the U.S. ambassador to Iraq is an opportunity for Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, to espouse his own position on the war.

Same goes for his fellow Democratic presidential hopefuls Sens. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Barack Obama of Illinois, and potential 2008 candidate Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican.

Press aides for the senators yesterday were mum on their bosses’ positions on Mr. Crocker, currently the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan.

“If confirmed, Ryan and Zal will have two of the hardest and most consequential jobs in the world,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said when announcing Mr. Crocker’s nomination and the nomination of Zalmay Khalilzad to serve as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Miss Rice urged “early action” on their confirmations and said they have the president’s “unwavering support for the difficult work that lies ahead.”

Also Thursday, the panel will consider whether William B. Wood should be U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.

Several Senate committees will be holding hearings on Bush nominees, though few have scheduled that official business since the 110th Congress began last month.

One test of the Democratic plans for Bush nominees will come Thursday when the Judiciary Committee — most often tasked with high profile appointments such as Supreme Court nominees — considers Beryl A. Howell’s reappointment.

Ms. Howell, who was nominated during the congressional recess by Mr. Bush to be a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, declined to comment when contacted for this article.

Further, some of Mr. Bush’s business-as-usual nominations expect less-than-typical treatment from newly empowered Democrats, though they think they will ultimately be approved.

Four recess Bush appointments to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) will be subjected to rare hearings in the Senate Rules Committee, Democratic Chairman Dianne Feinstein of California has said.

At least one of the nominees is expecting tough talk from Democrats.

“I’m assuming there will be a lot of questions,” said Hans von Spakovsky, who in January 2006 was given a recess appointment to be an FEC commissioner. “All of us are just anxious to get this done one way or the other.”

Prior to the appointment, Mr. von Spakovsky was counsel for the assistant attorney general for civil rights and did work on the Help America Vote Act. He has been criticized by Democrats for some of his writings while at the Justice Department and anticipates that will be a focus of the yet-to-be-scheduled hearings.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, protested the recess appointment of Mr. von Spakovsky in 2005, saying he was “troubled and disappointed.”

“His record … raises serious doubts about his commitment to upholding voting rights for all Americans — a commitment that is essential for anyone appointed to the commission,” Mr. Kennedy said.

Mr. Bush’s recess appointments to the FEC in early 2006 also irked Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican. Mr. McCain said the nominees should be subjected to full confirmation hearings “so the Senate can be assured that they are qualified for the position and committed to carrying out the FEC’s important mission to faithfully interpret and enforce the law.”

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