Bush circumvents Senate with Pentagon appointments


    President Bush on Wednesday bypassed the Senate to install former
    Navy Secretary Gordon R. England as deputy secretary of defense, and
    used a similar maneuver to name a new Pentagon spokesman, campaign
    finance regulators and Amtrak directors.

    In a highly unusual
    arrangement, England had been serving as both Navy secretary and acting
    deputy defense secretary since Paul Wolfowitz left the No. 2 Pentagon
    post last May to become head of the World Bank. England’s nomination
    for the deputy secretary position had stalled in the Senate.

    Under
    the Constitution, the president may circumvent the confirmation process
    by making appointments while the Senate is in recess. Such recess
    appointments usually expire at the end of next congressional session.

    Since
    the Senate held a pro forma session Tuesday and then adjourned, the
    White House contends the second session of the 109th Congress has begun
    and Bush’s recess appointments are valid until the following session
    concludes at the end of 2007.

    Bush also used this maneuver
    Wednesday to name Dorrance Smith, a former ABC News producer, as
    assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. That job has gone
    unfilled since Victoria Clarke quit the post in June 2003. Lawrence Di
    Rita, an aide close to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, was the
    interim spokesman.

    Bush had nominated England to be Rumsfeld’s
    top deputy last April. Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Trent Lott,
    R-Miss., had placed holds on the appointment, preventing the Senate
    from considering it. At issue were shipbuilding concerns and
    conflict-of-interest questions surrounding pensions England holds from
    defense companies.

    Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., had held up Smith’s
    nomination in a dispute over a newspaper opinion article in which he
    accused U.S. television networks of helping terrorists through their
    partnerships with Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera.

    England resigned as Navy secretary on Dec. 29.

    Bush
    indicated several weeks ago that he would use a recess appointment to
    install England as deputy secretary of defense. He used that maneuver
    to fill a number of senior Pentagon posts in 2005, including Eric
    Edelman as undersecretary of defense for policy.

    Before joining the Bush administration in 2001, England was an executive at General Dynamics Corp.

    At
    the Federal Election Commission, Bush appointed Hans von Spakovsky, a
    Justice Department lawyer who formerly was Republican Party chairman in
    Fulton County, Ga.

    Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said von
    Spakovsky had worked toward requiring Georgia voters to have a photo
    identification _ a requirement that critics said would harm black
    voters.

    The president also appointed Robert Lenhard, who was part
    of a legal team that challenged the constitutionality of the
    McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, and Steven Walther, a lawyer with
    ties to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

    Kennedy also
    contended that von Spakovsky was involved in a decision that rejected a
    recommendation of career Justice Department lawyers in a Texas
    redistricting case.

    Those lawyers had concluded that the
    redistricting plan violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because it
    eliminated several districts where minorities had substantial voting
    power and illegally diluted black and Hispanic voting power.

    The
    FEC, an independent agency, has six commissioners who are appointed by
    the president and confirmed by the Senate. By law, no more than three
    commissioners can be members of the same political party.

    Two members of Amtrak’s board won reappointment.

    Floyd
    Hall, a former Kmart Corp. chief executive, and Enrique Sosa, a former
    BP Amoco Chemicals president, will remain on the board through most of
    2007. Hall and Sosa were appointed in 2004 by Bush after the Senate
    failed to confirm them to five-year terms.

    Amtrak’s board has
    four members and three vacancies. The other two board members are the
    chairman, David Laney, and Jeffrey Rosen, the Transportation
    Department’s general counsel.

    The board now has authority to hire a new president. David Gunn was fired by the board in November.

    Congress
    has agreed to give Amtrak $1.3 billion in subsidies in 2006, but the
    administration had proposed no funding. Amtrak has a debt of more than
    $3.5 billion and its operating loss for 2005 topped $550 million.