Bush Names Ambassador to Belgium, Bloggers on Top of It

The president makes a recess appointment to a very important post, leading to conflict.

Bipartisanship has been relatively absent in Washington lately thanks to the battle over funding for the Iraq war and squabbling over the U.S. attorneys affair. But political spectators should prepare themselves for another fight on Capitol Hill, as President Bush and Congress are embroiled in a confrontation over Bush’s recess appointment of a Republican fundraiser and Swift Boat campaign donor to the ambassadorship of Belgium.

Bush appointed Sam Fox as the U.S. ambassador to Belgium on Wednesday, side-stepping confirmation by the Senate and angering Democrats who had objected to his appointment, which lasts through the end of Bush’s presidency. Bush originally nominated Fox last month, but withdrew the nomination after Senate Democrats vehemently criticized Fox for donating $50,000 to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group that launched ad campaigns assailing John Kerry’s service in Vietnam during the 2004 presidential election.

Fox’s appointment has caused another confrontation between the White House and Congress, both of whom have yet to compromise on key issues despite pledging bipartisanship and political progress after the November election.

While Bush’s most recent selection isn’t garnering much attention in the mainstream media (if Belgian fries were included it might be another story), bloggers are already voicing their opinions, with reactions ranging from utter apathy to real outrage.

“My first reaction to this (aside from ‘Who is Sam Fox again?’) was … Who cares?” wrote Rob of Say Anything. “I mean, it’s Ambassador to Belgium. A government position that’s almost as powerful and influential as White House janitor.”

But Joe Gandelman of the Moderate Voice argues that Fox’s appointment is another example of the White House’s lack of cooperation with Congress. “If Democrats expect cooperation from Bush or his administration, this perhaps is a harbinger of what is to come on other matters (so do the Democrats have contingency plans ready on what to do if he refuses to cooperate or listen to Congress on a variety of issues such as global warming and others?),” wrote Gandelman.

Senator Kerry, the target of the Swift Boat Veterans lo those many months ago, told reporters that President Bush’s actions weren’t at all surprising. “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,” said Kerry. “This nomination was withdrawn because the administration realized it would lose in the Foreign Relations Committee. Unfortunately, when this White House can’t win the game, they just change the rules, and America loses.”

But others disagree. Ed Morrissey of Captain’s Quarters believes that the Democrats are being hypocritical. “Before the current crop of Democratic leadership in the Senate, presidents had been allowed the benefit of their selections for political appointments, especially those which expire at the end of the presidential term. Actually, to be fair, that started changing in the Clinton Administration, when Republicans tubed James Hormel’s ambassadorship for being openly gay. And, by the way, Clinton gave Hormel a recess appointment afterwards,” argued Morrissey. “Barring Fox from taking the position was petty and vindictive, just the kind of games Democrats have played with presidential appointments for the past six years. They tried it on John Bolton, and got the same answer from the White House then. Now they want to screech with outrage, but the Senate Democratic Caucus has created this situation by ignoring the concept of presidential privilege for the entire time Bush has served in office.”

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Satta Sarmah is a CJR intern.