On December 29, President Obama made six recess appointments to the dismay of his Republican critics.
The power to make a recess appointment, or appointing people to positions that require Senate confirmation when Congress is not in session, is a useful tool for any president who wants to see his potentially problematic nominees get to work without having to go through the confirmation process. Most members in the Senate, however, view it as a slap in the face to their constitutional authority to confirm nominees.
Obama’s appointments – particularly Robert Stephen Ford as Ambassador to Syria and James Cole as deputy attorney general– sparked outrage among Republicans. Republican New York Rep. Peter King, the incoming chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, denounced Cole’s appointment, calling it “absolutely shocking,” and one of the worst appointments Obama will make during his term as president.
“I strongly oppose the recess appointment of James Cole to lead the national security team at the Department of Justice,” said King in a statement. “The appointment indicates that the Obama Administration continues to try to implement its dangerous policies of treating Islamic terrorism as a criminal matter.”
Republicans in the Senate had placed a hold on Cole’s nomination, taking issue with comments he made in 2002 about the September 11 attacks, his defense of a Saudi Prince against 9/11 families, and his stint at American International Group, Inc (AIG).
In a 2002 op-ed, Cole wrote: “For all the rhetoric about war, the Sept. 11 attacks were criminal acts of terrorism against a civilian population, much like the terrorist acts of Timothy McVeigh in blowing up the federal building in Oklahoma City, or of Omar Abdel-Rahman in the first effort to blow up the World Trade Center… Our country has faced many forms of devastating crime, including the scourge of the drug trade, the reign of organized crime, and countless acts of rape, child abuse, and murder.”
That article has been a source of contention for many Republicans who view Cole’s comments as an attempt to compare the tragedy of the attacks of Sept. 11 to drug trafficking. The fact that Cole also defended Saudi Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud when 9/11 survivors sued him for financing terrorists does not help his image with Republicans.
Moreover, when AIG reached a settlement with the U.S. government, the insurance giant was required to hire an independent counsel to review and oversee their compliance with new regulations, and report back to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ). Cole held the position from 2004 to 2006, but has come under fire for refusing to answer questions about his dealings with AIG personnel and K Street lobbyists.
Cole himself even has a record of being a de facto lobbyist at the firm Bryan Cave LLP, even if in name only, which also goes against President Obama’s repeated promise to stop the revolving door between K Street and presidential administrations.
The appointment of Robert Ford drew criticism because the U.S. has not sent an ambassador to Syria since 2005 due to the country’s sponsorship of international terrorism. Republican senators placed a hold on Ford’s nomination last April after reports surfaced that the Syrian government transferred missile systems to the terrorist group Hezbollah in Lebanon.
“I am deeply disappointed that the president decided to make such a major concession to the Syrian regime,” said incoming House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Illeana Ros-Lehtinen in a statement. “Using this Congressional recess to make an appointment that has far-reaching policy implications despite Congressional objections and concerns is regrettable.”
Another recess appointment that Republicans are disturbed by is Francis Ricciardone, Jr. as Ambassador to Turkey.
Now-retired Kansas Republican Sen. Sam Brownback placed a hold on Ricciardone’s appointment last August, citing concerns over the nominee’s tenure as Ambassador to Egypt from 2005 to 2008. Ricciardone has been blamed for undoing some of the Bush administration’s progress with promoting democracy in Egypt.
Former National Security Council aide Elliott Abrams said last summer: “Especially in 2005 and 2006, Secretary [Condoleezza] Rice and the Bush administration significantly increased American pressure for greater respect for human right and progress toward democracy in Egypt…In all this we in Washington found Ambassador Ricciardone to be without enthusiasm or energy.”
President Obama also appointed William Boarman as Public Printer of the United States, Matthew Bryza as Ambassador to the Republic of Azerbaijan, and Norman Eisen as Ambassador to the Czech Republic on December 29.
Recess appointments are traditionally a source of contention, though one presidential scholar did point out that they do have some merit.
“The problem is that one person in the Senate can prevent a nominee from being considered,” Stephen Waynes, political science professor at Georgetown University, told The Daily Caller.
Waynes noted the case of Dr. Peter Diamond, who has been waiting for confirmation to the Federal Reserve. Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama has held the nomination up for almost a year, claiming Diamond doesn’t have enough business experience. Supporters of Diamond point to the fact that Diamond has been a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) his entire career and recently won the Nobel Prize for Economics.
“Yet Shelby’s hold continues and Obama did not offer him a recess appointment,” said Waynes.
All recess appointments are held to the end of Congress’ next session. The six individuals appointed by Obama on December 29 will remain in place until at least December 2011.