Misused recess appointments subvert senatorial check

If you can’t beat ’em, wait until they’re not looking. As of late last week, this seems to have taken over as the prevailing political strategy employed by the President George W. Bush administration regarding the president’s controversial appointees to several government posts. Since the Senate refused to ratify his nominations, Bush waited until Friday, when the legislators were in recess for the Easter and Passover holidays, to make five “recess appointments.”

The recess appointment, a power given to the president to be used as a stopgap measure to fill posts when Congress is not in session, allows presidential nominees to serve in their appointed posts only until the end of the legislative session. This power, which Bush has used 11 times so far, was not intended to be used as a political sucker-punch to push a presidential agenda.

The appointment of two men – Jeffrey Shane and Emil Frankel, who were given top posts in the Department of Transportation – is at least understandable, given their broad support among senators. A full Senate vote on their appointment was postponed only because Sen. Joseph Bidden, D-Del., held the vote hostage until an Amtrak bailout bill got to the floor. So the eventual outcome likely was not changed at all.

But two other appointments – those of Michael Toner and Gerald Reynolds – are cause for grave concern. A vote on their nomination was being held up not because of political wrangling, but because of serious and valid concerns regarding their ability to serve the American people rather than a presidential agenda. Toner – the Republican Party’s top lawyer, according to The Washington Post, and Bush’s general counsel during the 2000 presidential election fiasco in Florida – was appointed by his former client to the Federal Election Commission.

Of greater concern for University students, however, was Bush’s appointment of Reynolds to head the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. Reynolds formerly headed the Center for New Black Leadership, a think tank that opposes affirmative action. Since 1998, Reynolds has been a corporate lawyer for Kansas City Power & Light. Soon after his nomination in September, groups such as the NAACP and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights have come out strongly against him.

Their concerns, and the concerns of many others, were brought up during Reynolds’ hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, primarily by the committee’s chairman, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. After the grueling hearing, one critic in attendance said Reynolds didn’t even seem to understand some of the questions posed by Kennedy and others.

Whether Reynolds is qualified and, just as important, fit for the job is still up for debate. The most disturbing problem with his appointment is that, because of Bush’s back-door tactics, the American public will simply have to deal with him before they get to decide.