Friends of Bush

October 24, 2005

IN WASHINGTON, where political and social climbers are ubiquitous, FOB was once a witty reference to the elite community of Friends of Bill - as in Bill Clinton. People measured their importance by their closeness to the president.

FOB is a different shorthand within the Bush administration. Friends of Bush don't just occasionally revel in the president's limelight at White House dinners or high-priced political fundraisers, they get to help run the country, hold key Cabinet jobs, lead vital federal agencies, and possibly sit on the Supreme Court - even if their qualifications are thin. The list grows longer by the day, and now Ellen R. Sauerbrey's name might be added to it.

The former Maryland legislator and two-time gubernatorial candidate was a fine choice for state chairwoman of Mr. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign. But nothing in her background or experience qualifies her for the job of assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. Nonetheless, that's the post for which Mr. Bush has nominated her.

The bureau is responsible for responding to foreign disasters and wars that can turn millions of people into refugees overnight, and for moving, sheltering and feeding them. International relief organizations, refugee advocacy groups and a coalition of liberal women's groups oppose Ms. Sauerbrey's nomination - with good reason.

Much of her career was spent in Republican Party politics, and she has displayed a partisan streak in her current stint as U.S. representative to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women by unsuccessfully pushing to eliminate the right to an abortion from a U.N. women's rights declaration. This has worrisome implications for how she might approach health care policy for refugee women and girls, thousands of whom are war-time rape victims.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee considering Ms. Sauerbrey's nomination tomorrow should reject her. There are enough underqualified FOBs working in the capital.

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