By Matthew Hay Brown
His colleagues may all have left Washington for the Thanksgiving break, but Sen. Jim Webb will be back on the Senate floor Tuesday morning.
The junior senator from nearby Virginia has been tapped by Majority Leader Harry Reid to open the upper chamber for a pro forma session, a tactic to keep the Senate from going into recess – and to keep President Bush from making recess appointments.
The Constitution gives the president authority to fill federal vacancies when the Senate is in recess – it’s how Theodore Roosevelt put Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. on the Supreme Court. More recently, the recess appointment has been used by presidents of both parties to bypass the confirmation process for controversial nominees.
Bush has used the authority to sidestep Senate filibusters against Charles Pickering and William Pryor, whom he appointed to U.S. courts of appeals, and John Bolton, who became U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Julie L. Myers, the assistant secretary of homeland security now under fire for giving a “best original costume” prize to an employee dressed as a dark-skinned, dreadlocked prisoner at a Halloween party last month, was another recess appointment.
Democrats remain particularly frosted by the installation this year of Sam Fox, the St. Louis businessman who helped to finance Swift Boat Veterans for Truth during the 2004 election, as ambassador to Belgium
Bush, meanwhile, is frustrated at what he says is the slow pace of the confirmation process under the Democratic majority. Bush is awaiting action on some 190 nominees, including 23 judges, secretaries of agriculture and veterans affairs, three members of the Federal Reserve, two members of the Council of Economic Advisers and the surgeon general.
Democrats say they confirmed Attorney General Michael Mukasey, and now would like to see Bush nominate their candidates to Democratic openings on the Federal Communications Commission and other panels.
“I am committed to making that progress if the President will meet me half way,” Reid said. “But that progress can’t be made if the President seeks controversial recess appointments and fails to make Democratic appointments to important commissions.”
By law, the Senate can remain open by meeting in pro forma session once every three days. With rumors circulating that Bush planned to appoint controversial surgeon general nominee James W. Holsinger Jr. over the break, Reid scheduled a series of sessions.
Accordingly, Webb is set to enter the chamber at 9 a.m. Tuesday, listen to the clerk announce the session, and gavel it open and closed – a process that is expected to take “no more than 30 seconds, max,” according to Reid spokesman Jim Manley.
Additional sessions are scheduled for Friday (Sen. Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota), Nov. 27 (Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island) and Nov. 29 (Dorgan again).
White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore suggests the Democrats put the sessions to use.
“If they are going to come in, we would encourage them to make the most of this time and to schedule hearings and votes on the pending nominations,” she said.
The full Senate is scheduled to return on Dec. 3.