Washington First, President Bush nominated Sam Fox, a St. Louis businessman and major Republican fundraiser, to be ambassador to Belgium. Then he withdrew the nomination when he saw it would fail in the Senate. And now he has appointed him while Congress is out of town and can't stop Fox from getting the job.
Fox drew Democrats' ire for his sizable donation to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group created in 2004 that claimed Sen. John Kerry exaggerated his military record in Vietnam. The relentless attacks against Kerry's patriotism and truthfulness are widely considered to have cost the Massachusetts Democrat the presidential election.
Bush's decision to give Fox the ambassadorship, after it became clear the Senate would not confirm him, is bound to inflame already tense relations between the legislative and executive branches.
Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., called the maneuver "outrageous," "underhanded" and "an abuse of executive authority."
Kerry called it "sad but not surprising that the White House would abuse the power of the presidency to reward a donor over the objections of the Senate.
"Unfortunately, when this White House can't win the game, they just change the rules, and America loses," Kerry said. "Our country would be stronger if this administration spent more time getting body armor for our soldiers in Iraq than it did helping their powerful friends."
Dodd said he planned to ask the General Accountability Office, Congress' research arm, for an opinion on the legality of the appointment.
"I seriously question the legality of the president's use of the recess appointment authority in this instance," Dodd said.
The White House had little to say about the appointment, but in the past Bush has noted that recess appointments are well within a president's prerogative. In another instance, after Bush was thwarted by Congress, even when Republicans were in control, he used a recess appointment to name John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton held the post for 17 months until the end of 2006 and then resigned, realizing he had no chance of winning confirmation from a Democratic-controlled Senate.