Politics & Policy

Senate Sandbag

Bush nominees go nowhere.

Even as President Bush scores in the War on Terror overseas, Senate Democrats sandbag his political appointees at home. Sadly, the White House permits this, perhaps to maintain a bipartisan spirit that Democrats never really embraced domestically.

Eugene Scalia’s nomination as Labor Department solicitor, for instance, has smacked into a wall. Democrats appear to be heaping revenge upon the designee’s father, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, for his Supreme Court ruling that ended last year’s Florida electoral recount crisis. If left unchecked, this childishness would permit a future GOP Senate to block, say, Chelsea Clinton’s appointment to run the World Bank some day, just to punish Bill Clinton.

“I don’t think the votes are there at this point,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D., South Dakota) told reporters December 4. So what’s the hitch? If Scalia lacks a majority, Daschle should move the question and finish him off. But if Scalia has the votes, why is Daschle obstructing the Senate’s will?

Scalia, at least, enjoyed a confirmation hearing. Otto Reich, Bush’s designated assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, has yet to address the Senate’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee. Instead, its obstructionist chairman, Senator Chris Dodd (D., Conn.) suggests that Reich is soft on terrorism. He charged in the October 11 Wall Street Journal that as ambassador to Venezuela, Reich sought a U.S. visa for Orlando Bosch, a convicted anti-Castro terrorist. If true, this would make Bush either a fool or a hypocrite for fighting terrorists while hiring someone who supposedly tried to help a man who was jailed in 1968 for firing a bazooka at a Polish freighter in Miami.

An internal State Department review of diplomatic cables from the 1980s shows, however, that Reich actively worked to exclude Bosch from America. Unfortunately, the White House press office will not release the exculpatory cables. As a frustrated State Department staffer explained, “it fears that the media would consider the documents trivial.” The White House should let journalists judge that.

J. Robert Brame, a former member of the National Labor Relations Board, was widely expected to be renominated by President Bush. President Clinton originally named the GOP labor attorney to the NLRB as part of a bipartisan nomination package that the Senate unanimously approved in November 1997. But Before Bush could reappoint Brame, liberal union activists tarred him as an insensitive member of the Religious Right. When the administration left those charges unanswered for months, Brame pulled his name from consideration.

As part of a new bipartisan package that could have included Brame, Bush named Dennis Walsh, a Clinton recess appointee. Walsh, a labor favorite, already has voted to allow unions to force non-members to wear union patches on their uniforms.

“How meaningful is the right not to join a union if you can be forced to serve as the union bosses’ walking billboard?” National Right to Work Committee president Reed Larson asked Bush in a December 7 letter. Larson urged Bush to play hardball by yanking Walsh’s nomination to repay labor bosses for kneecapping Brame and Scalia.

This bitter harvest’s seeds were planted August 2 when Senate Commerce Committee Democrats sank Mary Sheila Gall’s nomination to chair the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Appointed in 1991 and renominated by Clinton in 1999, Gall opposed federal regulations on baby bath seats and infant strollers. Democrats then caricatured her as anti-child.

The White House easily could have refuted this charge. As Bernadette Malone reported in The Weekly Standard, Gall worked for Head Start and helped handicapped kids while a graduate student. She also is a single mother of two children, one of whom was badly scarred by fire before she adopted him from a Guatemalan orphanage.

“You have spinmeisters all over the White House who can talk to the media, but they were mum,” one conservative activist complains. Although Democrats began bad-mouthing Gall in April, press secretary Ari Fleischer waited until July 31 to remark that Bush stood “proudly and tall” behind Gall. Too little, too late.

Bush’s belief in a bipartisan chimera should not lead his administration to play dead when Democrats bash his nominees. The enormously popular president should appear with embattled appointees and demand that they be voted on. He also should establish a “truth squad” to defuse Democratic mudbombs and mobilize free-market activists to rally behind nominees.

The president who drops “daisy cutters” overseas should not be a shrinking violet at home.

Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor of National Review Online, and a senior fellow with the London Center for Policy Research.


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