Working Vacation: Obama Makes Controversial Appointments

Controversial nominees for Syria ambassador and DOJ post were held up in Senate.

December 29, 2010, 5:57 PM

Dec. 29, 2010 — -- From vacation in Hawaii, President Obama has used his recess appointment power to fill six administration posts, some controversial, including naming Washington attorney James Cole as deputy attorney general and Robert Ford as U.S. ambassador to Syria.

The White House justified the recess appointments, running around the Senate confirmation process, because the positions have been left vacant for too long.

"All administrations face delays in getting some of their nominees confirmed, but the extent of Republican obstruction of Obama nominees is unprecedented," a White House official said.

Among the appointments are four U.S. ambassadors -- to Azerbaijan, the Czech Republic, Syria and Turkey -- whose nominations were stalled in the Senate.

The appointment of Ford as ambassador to Syria raised concerns on the Hill that such a move would be rewarding Damascus for bad behavior.

After Obama's recess appointment of Ford, the incoming Republican chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., who has promised to push back against the Obama administration's foreign policy, issued a paper statement slamming the move as "regrettable."

"During the past two years, Syria has continued to sponsor violent extremism and pursue dangerous weapons programs, and has also supplied long-range missiles to Hezbollah and reasserted its destabilizing influence in Lebanon at the expense of that nation's sovereignty," Ros-Lehtinen said.

"Making underserved concessions to Syria tells the regime in Damascus that it can continue to pursue its dangerous agenda and not face any consequences from the U.S.," she added. "That is the wrong message to be sending to a regime which continues to harm and threaten U.S. interests and those of such critical allies as Israel."

The other recess appointees also have faced opposition.

Frank Ricciardone had his nomination as envoy to Turkey held up by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who now has retired from the Senate, over concerns about his approach to human rights when ambassador to Egypt.

Matt Bryza, the nominee as ambassador to Azerbaijan, was held up by Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Robert Menendez of New Jersey over criticism from an Armenian-American group over the Obama administration's opposition to a Congressional resolution condemning the 1915 Armenian genocide.

Norm Eisen, nominated as ambassador to the Czech Republic, was formerly the administration's "ethics czar," and had been held up by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, over an entirely unrelated issue -- his role in the firing of an inspector general for the Corporation for National and Community Service in June 2009.

Deputy AG Nominee James Cole's AIG Ties Questioned

Cole's nomination as deputy attorney general had been held up for months over his ties to AIG, with Republicans questioning his role as an independent consultant prior to the company's near-collapse in 2008.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, praised the Cole's appointment, and said the delays in considering his nomination were unnecessary and wrong.

"Despite repeated requests, for more than five months, Senate Republicans refused to debate the nomination of Jim Cole to be the deputy attorney general," Leahy said in a paper statement. "I have no question that Jim Cole is highly qualified to fill this vital law enforcement post. His nomination received bipartisan support from public officials and from high-ranking veterans of the Justice Department, and I believe that he would have been confirmed by the Senate had his nomination been given an up-or-down vote."

The White House, arguing that the delay in confirming its nominees has been unprecedented, said that the six nominees were waiting a total of 888 days, more than two-and-a-half years, to start their jobs.

A president can make recess appointments when the Senate is adjourned for the session, and the appointments last until the end of the next session.

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