WASHINGTON – President Bush named Republican fundraiser Sam Fox as U.S. ambassador to Belgium on Wednesday, using a maneuver that allowed him to bypass Congress, where Democrats had derailed Fox’s nomination.
The appointment, made while lawmakers were out of town on spring break, prompted angry rebukes from Democrats, who said Bush’s action may even be illegal.
Democrats had denounced Fox for his donation to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth during the 2004 presidential campaign. The group’s TV ads, which claimed that Sen. John Kerry exaggerated his military record in Vietnam, were viewed as a major factor in the Massachusetts Democrat’s election loss.
Recognizing Fox did not have the votes to obtain Senate confirmation in the Foreign Relations Committee, Bush withdrew the nomination last week. On Wednesday, with the Senate on a one-week break, the president used his power to make recess appointments to put Fox in the job without Senate confirmation.
This means Fox can remain ambassador until the end of the next session of Congress, effectively through the end of the Bush presidency.
“It’s sad but not surprising that this White House would abuse the power of the presidency to reward a donor over the objections of the Senate,” Kerry said in a statement.
Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he plans to ask the Government Accountability Office to issue an opinion on whether the recess appointment is legal.
Recess appointments are intended to give the president flexibility if Congress is out for a lengthy period of time, such as the four-week adjournment in summer. But Dodd said the law was not intended to circumvent lawmakers’ approval.
Presidents since George Washington have made appointments during congressional recesses to fill positions in the executive and judicial branches. Bush has used the authority more frequently than some – but not all – of his most recent predecessors, making 171 so far, compared with 140 for President Clinton over two terms, 77 by his father in one term and 243 by President Reagan during two terms.
Fox, a 77-year-old St. Louis businessman, gave $50,000 to the Swift Boat group. He is national chairman of the Jewish Republican Coalition and was dubbed a “ranger” by Bush’s 2004 campaign for raising at least $200,000.