President Barack Obama will use recess appointments to install six executive branch officials, bypassing Senate confirmation. The appointments include James Cole, his controversial choice for deputy attorney general -- the No. 2 spot at the Justice Department.
The six officials will bring Obama’s recess appointment total to 28, eclipsing the 23 made by former President George W. Bush at a similar point in his presidency.
With Republicans gaining six Senate seats in last month’s elections, confirmation would only grow more difficult for the White House appointees. Obama, who is vacationing in Hawaii with his family, announced the move in a news release, explaining only that the posts have “been left vacant for an extended period of time.”
But the White House and its allies in Congress are upset by what they see as Republican delays to consider Obama’s nominees, particularly Cole, a close friend of Attorney General Eric Holder. Republicans are concerned that he is soft on terrorism and too closely tied to A.I.G., the insurance giant bailed out by the government.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., incoming chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, blasts Obama’s move, calling the Cole appointment “absolutely shocking.” In a statement, King says, “The appointment indicates that the Obama Administration continues to try to implement its dangerous policies of treating Islamic terrorism as a criminal matter.”
The appointees have been on hold in the Senate for an average of 114 days, administration officials say. Another 73 candidates for politically-appointed jobs, including many judges, were waiting for confirmation when the Senate adjourned. Obama will have to re-nominate them if he wants them in office.
The recess appointments permit Cole and the other nominees — four ambassadors and the head of the Government Printing Office – to serve for one year before they must be re-appointed.
Deputy White House chief of staff, Jim Messina, says Obama felt he had no alternative, especially with Cole. “We’ve been working hard with the Republicans and have seen some movement forward,” Messina told The New York Times.
“There were some that, for whatever reason, they could not help us with and we felt were mission critical, and clearly the deputy attorney general is a critical position to help enforce the laws of the land.”
While the White House wants to put all the blame for delays on Republicans, that’s not accurate, experts say. The number of Senate-confirmed positions has jumped, nominees must submit substantial background information that requires extensive investigation, and a single senator can put a hold on any nominee, Paul Light, a New York University expert on the presidential nomination process, tells The Times.
“Obama has set the record for the slowest process since J.F.K.,” he says, referring to the amount of time it has taken to get his first group of about 550 appointees confirmed. “It’s really a mess.”
The other five nominees include ambassadors Matthew Bryza, Azerbaijan; Robert Stephen Ford, Syria; Frances Ricciardone Jr., Turkey; Norman Eisen, Czech Republic and William Boarman as public printer.
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