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Deal made on judicial recess appointments

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

WASHINGTON -- Breaking a long impasse, the White House and Senate Democrats struck a deal Tuesday allowing confirmation of dozens of President Bush's judicial nominations in exchange for an administration promise not to bypass the Senate again this year.

Under the agreement, Democrats will allow votes on 25 non-controversial appointments to the district and appeals courts. In exchange, Bush agreed not to invoke his constitutional power to make recess appointments while Congress is away, as he has done twice in recent months with judicial nominees.

The agreement was reached in a meeting among top Senate Democrats and Republicans as well as Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff.

Starting in March, Democrats had halted all judicial nominees until they received a promise from Bush that he wouldn't use his recess appointment power. The Senate starts its Memorial Day recess on Monday.

"Mr. Card committed that there would be no further circuit and district judicial recess appointments during the remaining of the president's term," Frist said.

Now that Democrats have been "given that assurance, we're now prepared to work with our Republican colleagues," said Senate Minority leader Tom Daschle, in confirming the deal.

The Senate immediately confirmed one of the nominees -- Marcia Cooke, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's former chief inspector general, to be a federal trial judge in Florida. After the 25th judge is confirmed, the Senate will have put 198 of Bush's nominees on the federal trial and appeals courts, senators said.

The Senate confirmations of the 20 U.S. District Court judges and the five U.S. Appeals Court judges will come before the end of June, Daschle said. Other judicial nominees will be considered case-by-case, he said.

Republicans and Democrats both claimed victory.

"I think it shows that even the president knew he was wrong on this," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., referring to the two previous recess appointments. "I think the precedence of having the White House admit they were wrong is very important."

Replied Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas: "As a practical matter the likelihood of a recess appointment between now and Nov. 2 is very small, so I suggest to you that he's not really giving up a lot in exchange for an up-or-down vote on 25 judges and it's, on balance, not a bad deal."

A reporter's call to the White House for comment was not immediately returned.

Bush already has used recess appointments to name two Republicans to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: Charles Pickering -- a former chairman of the Mississippi Republican party and father of GOP Rep. Chip Pickering -- and William Pryor, the former GOP attorney general of Alabama.

Democrats were furious at those appointments because they had been successfully blocking Pryor, Pickering, Hispanic lawyer Miguel Estrada and Judges Priscilla Owen, Carolyn Kuhl and Janice Rogers Brown from getting confirmation votes.

Estrada later withdrew his nomination but the others are still waiting.

It takes 60 senators to force a confirmation vote in the Senate, which is split with 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats and one Democratic-leaning independent, Jim Jeffords of Vermont.

Owen, Kuhl, Brown and other judicial nominees Democrats found objectionable are not part of the impending deal, Daschle said. White House nominees for positions outside the federal courts also are not part of the deal.

Democrats first threatened to hold up Bush's nominees in March, one month after Bush gave Pryor an almost two-year stint on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. The president in January gave Pickering a one-year term on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

Democrats called Bush's appointments "a flagrant abuse of presidential power" but Republicans said that Bush wouldn't have had to use recess appointments if Democrats hadn't been blocking his nominees.


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