New judicial nominees rankle Democrats

As President Bush withdrew four contentious judicial nominees, apparently offering an olive branch to the new Senate majority, he resubmitted a handful of executive-branch nominations that have angered and dismayed senior Democrats.

The White House’s acknowledgment that its withdrawn judicial picks would face near-certain rejection in the new Congress won praise from Democrats and their allied interest groups. But the renewal late Tuesday of several agency nominations signals that Bush is not backing away from confrontation with Democrats who have held up many of the appointments and could renew their previous holds.

Several of the re-nominated officials, such as Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Julie Myers and Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration Ellen Sauerbrey, already are serving in the administration under recess appointments that allowed them to sidestep Senate confirmation votes but expired at the end of the 109th Congress. John Bolton, who became America’s ambassador to the United Nations following a recess appointment, opted to step down from the post last month rather than face a bruising Senate battle to win formal confirmation.

Steven Bradbury’s nomination to lead the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel was blocked in August by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) in protest of the administration’s denial of security clearances necessary to investigate warrantless surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA). Though Justice since has initiated an internal inquiry of the NSA program, Kennedy said yesterday he wants more time for oversight before Bradbury is considered.

“Bradbury was deeply involved in defending the president’s program, which allowed warrantless surveillance of ordinary Americans,” Kennedy said through a spokeswoman. “We need more information and cooperation from the administration — until then, we should not move forward on this nomination.”

Another of Bush’s resubmitted nominees, Armenian ambassador hopeful Richard Hoagland, sparked the ire of several senior Democrats by publicly questioning the veracity of the Armenian genocide, a flashpoint in U.S. relations with Turkey. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) blocked Hoagland’s nomination last September, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) joined him in a post-election request for Hoagland’s outright withdrawal.

“It would serve neither our national interests nor the U.S.-Armenia relationship to expect ambassador-designate Hoagland to carry out his duties under these highly contentious and profoundly troubling circumstances,” Reid and Menendez wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Dec. 1.

Bush also renamed Leon Sequeira, a former aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), as assistant secretary for policy at the Labor Department. Sequeira drew holds last year from Colorado Sens. Ken Salazar (D) and Wayne Allard (R), both of whom were concerned about an unheard petition from workers in their state seeking compensation from Labor. The petition continues to languish, setting the stage for another hold.

C. Boyden Gray, founder of conservative interest group Committee for Justice, was serving as ambassador to the European Union under a recess appointment and also resubmitted. Gray was the subject of several reported Democratic holds in 2005 over judicial-nomination issues that may have evaporated after this week’s withdrawal of the four disputed nominees.

Other nominees resubmitted this week that have earned strong Democratic disapproval include Richard Stickler, a coal-industry executive recess-appointed as assistant secretary for mine safety and health at the Labor Department, and Paul DeCamp as wage and hour administrator at Labor.