Senate confirmation of presidential appointees was supposed to be a way to prevent those unfit for office from being appointed. Since the last election, the Democratic Senate leadership has made it a method of thwarting President Bush’s efforts to govern in accordance with his own beliefs, rather than those of Senate Democrats. Many key positions remain unfilled because some Democratic committee chairmen won’t allow a hearing or a vote on certain nominees. Others are unfilled because Majority Leader Tom Daschle refuses to schedule floor votes on nominations which might be filibustered unless there are 60 votes in favor of the nominee, enough to end someone’s theoretical filibuster. This neat little stratagem saves the Democrats the embarrassment of actually having to filibuster against a nominee.
In the face of this, the president must take matters into his own hands. He can, as many presidents before him have, make recess appointments and put people in offices despite the lack of Senate action. In one urgent case, to deal with airport security, he appointed John Magaw to the office of undersecretary of transportation for security. He needs to make at least two more recess appointments.
The Democrats’ blockade has stopped two urgently needed nominations, those of Otto Reich and Eugene Scalia. Both nominations were made last May, and have been in the Senate’s hands since September. The Democrats have made it perfectly clear that neither will ever have a chance of confirmation. Mr. Scalia, son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and a distinguished lawyer in his own right, was nominated for the post of solicitor of labor. Mr. Scalia has fallen prey to Mr. Daschle’s phantom filibuster rule. The Department of Labor has regulatory authority over the workplace and is an agency where much liberal mischief is done. Appointing Mr. Scalia is one good way to hold a tight rein on this agency. It is also a good way to give a black eye to AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, who had staked his reputation with his members on blocking Mr. Scalia’s nomination.
Mr. Reich’s nomination to be assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs is being held hostage by Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, who has never forgiven Mr. Reich for supporting the Nicaraguan Contras in their struggle against the Marxist Sandinistas. Mr. Dodd has refused to even hold a hearing on Mr. Reich, far less a committee vote. And Mr. Reich’s nomination is even more crucial than Mr. Scalia’s. With the president and Secretary of State Colin Powell busy with the war, South America is literally in flames. Argentina’s economic collapse, terrorists threatening Colombia, and a Castro wannabe in Venezuela make it a region we can no longer neglect, despite Mr. Dodd’s personal peeve against Mr. Reich.
Recess appointments are rarely appropriate. But in these two cases, they are not only appropriate but wise. The president should appoint Messrs. Scalia and Reich now and let them get on with the job. Both are highly qualified and not disqualified by credentials or temperament. In time of national emergency, presidents have done a great deal more. Mr. Bush should not do less.