Vote on Sauerbrey for State Dept. post delayed

November 02, 2005|By GWYNETH K. SHAW | GWYNETH K. SHAW,SUN REPORTER

WASHINGTON -- The Senate Foreign Relations Committee postponed a planned vote yesterday on Ellen R. Sauerbrey's nomination to be the State Department's top refugee official after a Democratic senator asked for more time to examine her record.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, sent a letter to committee chairman Richard G. Lugar of Indiana asking for the delay.

"As you know, serious concerns have been raised about this nomination," Boxer wrote. "I believe that additional time is needed to examine Ambassador Sauerbrey's record and suitability for this important position."

The vote was put off until the committee's next meeting, which has not yet been scheduled.

Republicans, who have praised Sauerbrey, control the committee by a 10-8 margin, and her nomination appeared to be in little danger.

Sauerbrey, 68, a Maryland Republican, is the U.S. envoy to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

She has been criticized by some refugee and women's groups as unqualified for the position of assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, to which President Bush nominated her in September.

Critics have compared her to former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown and White House counsel Harriet E. Miers, who withdrew from consideration as a Supreme Court nominee last week after senators openly questioned her qualifications.

Sauerbrey served for 16 years in the Maryland House of Delegates and was twice the Republican Party's nominee for governor. At her confirmation hearing, she said her experience at the United Nations - and the management skills she honed as a legislator and in other administrative jobs - had prepared her for the post.

In an interview last week, Sauerbrey said she had been mis- characterized by critics who questioned whether her opposition to abortion rights would affect her policy decisions on family-planning issues, a key issue for female refugees. She could not be reached for comment yesterday.

At her confirmation hearing last week, Boxer and two other Democrats, Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes of Maryland and Barack Obama of Illinois, pressed Sauerbrey on her credentials for the job, which comes with an annual budget of about $1 billion. If she is confirmed by the Senate, Sauerbrey would be one of the Bush administration's main voices internationally on refugee and population issues.

Of the three, only Sarbanes attended yesterday's committee meeting. He refused to say whether he planned to vote against Sauerbrey's nomination.

Boxer was traveling yesterday, and a spokeswoman said the letter speaks for itself.

Last week, Sarbanes, Obama and Boxer expressed serious concerns about Sauerbrey. At one point, Boxer cut Sauerbrey off while the nominee was outlining her previous jobs, which included managing the U.S. census in three Maryland counties.

"I don't think we see the requisite experience that we've seen in other nominees, and so I have a lot of trouble with this," Boxer said.

Jodi L. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Health and Gender Equity, one of several liberal groups that have called for the Senate to reject Sauerbrey, said the delay was a hopeful sign.

"I hope it means she may well be turned down," Jacobson said. "I think senators are sitting up and taking notice that this is cronyism over competence."

Sauerbrey was the Maryland chairwoman for Bush's 2000 presidential campaign, and he has appointed her to two U.N. positions since taking office. But she is not considered part of the administration's inner circle.

But the White House has vigorously defended Sauerbrey's credentials. And Lugar, who spoke highly of Sauerbrey at last week's hearing, is willing to push hard to send nominees from the committee to the Senate floor.

Yesterday, Lugar used an obscure rule to send the nomination of Roland Arnall - Bush's choice to be the ambassador to the Netherlands - to the floor, despite a 9-9 deadlock in the committee. Because Sarbanes was the only senator who voted against Arnall in person, rather than by proxy, Lugar said the votes of the "physically present" senators would determine the outcome. Sarbanes opposed Arnall because of legal issues surrounding the lending practices of Ameriquest Mortgage Co., where Arnall is the principal shareholder.

gwyneth.shaw@baltsun.com

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