Sauerbrey quiets some of her critics in first year on job

Senate is unlikely to act soon on her State Department post

January 20, 2007|By Matthew Hay Brown | Matthew Hay Brown,Sun Reporter

WASHINGTON -- In her first year as the top State Department official on refugees, Ellen R. Sauerbrey has won over at least some of her critics.

But while President Bush has resubmitted her nomination to the Senate, it appears unlikely that the lawmakers will act any time soon - if at all. Senate staff members say that the Foreign Relations Committee, where her initial nomination died at the end of 2005, is too busy with hearings on Iraq and several higher-profile appointments to revisit it now.

Bush used his executive authority to give her the job of assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration after the Senate failed to vote on her nomination. But the recess appointment will expire when Congress adjourns at the end of this year.

"The president encourages the Senate to confirm her as soon as possible," White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said yesterday. "Ambassador Sauerbrey is a proven manager who possesses a deep understanding of refugee issues and a sincere commitment to helping people in need throughout the world."

Sauerbrey, 69, would not comment. An administration directive advises nominees against speaking publicly about the process before their confirmation hearings.

The former Maryland lawmaker and gubernatorial candidate had served three years as U.S. representative to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women when Bush picked her for the refugee post. But she ran into opposition from refugee advocates, who said she lacked experience, and from abortion rights groups, who objected to her efforts to promote the administration's anti-abortion views at an international forum.

Kenneth H. Bacon, president of Refugees International, an independent group based in Washington, had been among Sauerbrey's most vocal critics. But he said last week that he had been "pleasantly surprised" by her performance.

Sauerbrey has made an effort to travel and learn the issues, was making progress on reforming anti-terrorism laws that were blocking the entry of victims of terrorism and seems committed to improving conditions for Iraqi refugees, Bacon said.

"I think she's done a good job," Bacon said. "She really got in and rolled up her sleeves. ... Plus, I've found her very easy to work with."

Sauerbrey still faces opposition from some women's groups for her stance against abortion. At the United Nations, she drew opposition for pushing an amendment to a 1995 declaration on women's rights that would have stipulated that achieving equal rights for women did not include a right to abortion.

A spokeswoman for the International Women's Health Coalition, an independent group based in New York, said family-planning advocates remain frustrated that the administration continues to withhold funding from the U.N. Population Fund. But spokeswoman Ellen Marshall also said that Sauerbrey's first year had passed "without any big, huge blowups."

"I think, quite frankly, that the large amount of opposition during her confirmation hearing and the fact that they never had a vote ... probably has tempered her a little bit," Marshall said.

She said it was too early to say whether the coalition would oppose Sauerbrey's nomination this time.

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