President Clinton plans to use a confrontational “recess appointment” on Monday to install his embattled nominee, Bill Lann Lee, as head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division over the objections of GOP Senate leaders.
A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Clinton planned to announce his action at a nationally televised White House news conference scheduled Monday at 11 a.m. PST.
Lee, 48, the son of Chinese immigrants, said in an interview published on Friday that Clinton had assured him he would get the prestigious post despite the opposition of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
Hatch is an ardent opponent of affirmative action, which Lee will be called upon to enforce as leader of the 250-lawyer civil rights division. The senator’s opposition is based on the program’s use of gender and racial preferences in hiring, promotion and contracting.
Hatch has threatened to retaliate against the White House if it makes a recess appointment, warning that his panel will repeatedly summon Lee to testify before the committee as well as slow panel action on Clinton’s judicial nominations.
Lee, nominated on June 12 for the post of assistant attorney general for civil rights, will be the first Asian American to lead the office in its 40 year history. He will also be the highest ranking Asian American in the Clinton administration.
“The last few months have been somewhat unpredictable, but my father always told me to persevere,” Lee said in an interview published in USA Today. “I’ve taken heart because the president has indicated that I will be the next assistant attorney general.”
White House officials have repeatedly warned that Clinton would resort to the rarely used presidential power under the Constitution to make the recess appointment of Lee to bypass Senate opposition to the nomination.
Lee could serve until the end of 1998 without Senate confirmation.
The appointment is likely to provoke a firestorm of GOP criticism. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., has contended that the recess appointment of a controversial nominee would violate an informal understanding between the GOP Senate and the White House that Clinton would use the power only for noncontroversial nominees.