Bush's nomination of Sauerbrey stalls

He could appoint her during Congress' recess

December 14, 2005|By GWYNETH K. SHAW | GWYNETH K. SHAW,SUN REPORTER

WASHINGTON -- The nomination of Maryland Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey to a top State Department post has stalled in a Senate committee and won't be dealt with until next year unless President Bush acts to bypass Congress and give her the job on a temporary basis.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee put off a planned vote on Sauerbrey early last month at the request of Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, a Sauerbrey critic. What was supposed to be a brief delay could stretch well into next year because the committee won't consider the nomination this week and the Senate isn't scheduled to resume its work until the middle of January.

Bush nominated Sauerbrey -- who spent 16 years in the Maryland House of Delegates and was twice the Republican nominee for governor -- in early September to be assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

Sauerbrey, 68, is the U.S. envoy to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women. After her nomination was announced, a number of nonprofit groups that work with refugees criticized Bush's choice, questioning Sauerbrey's credentials.

At her confirmation hearing in October, several Democratic senators, including Boxer and Maryland Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, raised concerns about whether Sauerbrey was right for the position, which oversees an annual budget of more than $1 billion and is a key international voice for the administration on refugee and population issues.

The day the committee was supposed to vote on the nomination, Boxer asked for the delay, saying she needed more time to consider Sauerbrey's record. The committee has not met since to consider nominees.

Sarbanes, who has refused to say how he would vote on Sauerbrey's nomination, would not comment yesterday. Boxer was traveling in her home state and could not be reached. A spokeswoman said the senator remains concerned about Sauerbrey's credentials.

The committee, controlled 10-8 by Republicans, is expected to approve Sauerbrey, whose nomination is also subject to the approval of the full Republican-controlled Senate.

Bush could appoint Sauerbrey directly once the Senate goes home for the winter holidays. He used that tactic, known as a recess appointment, this year to bypass the Senate and make John R. Bolton the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. The recess appointment would last until the end of the current Congress, in about one year.

White House spokeswoman Erin Healy refused to speculate on whether Bush would use his power to appoint Sauerbrey during the break, which is expected to begin shortly before Christmas. Healy said Bush remains firmly behind his "extremely qualified" nominee.

Officials of some of the groups that have fought Sauerbrey's nomination said they expect her to be confirmed but are encouraged by the delay and their ability to get senators to focus on Sauerbrey's credentials.

"I think we've made real headway," said Healy Thompson, a policy analyst for the Center for Health and Gender Equity, one of more than a dozen liberal groups that called on the Senate to reject Sauerbrey.

Thompson said she hopes Bush will not use a recess appointment to install Sauerbrey. He should withdraw the nomination or the Senate should vote on Sauerbrey, she said.

"True victory will only come in the appointment of a nominee who is truly qualified for the position," Thompson said.

"It's not just politics. There really are people's lives at stake."

gwyneth.shaw@baltsun.com

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