Obama Bypasses Senate For Key Justice Post
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The holiday break means a lot of Washington is quiet at the moment and the White House is about to take advantage of that. Over the next few days, President Obama will use recess appointment powers to bypass the Senate and fill six high-level administration jobs, including four ambassadorships.
We have two reports and we'll start with the new deputy attorney general, the number two job at the Justice Department. That will be Jim Cole. He was first named in May and he's been waiting for an up or down vote in the Senate. There's been no vote because some Republicans expressed concern about his approach to fighting terrorism.
NPR's Carrie Johnson reports that the recess appointment will stir that controversy all over again.
CARRIE JOHNSON: The deputy attorney general is one of the most important law enforcement officers in the country. And when Washington lawyer Jim Cole takes the job, he'll be responsible for overseeing cases involving public corruption, financial fraud and national security.
And that worries Deborah Burlingame. She lost her brother, a pilot, in the September 11th attacks.
Ms. DEBORAH BURLINGAME: He would be the guy who would be leading the charge for the entire department in the war on terror. And I think that he is grossly ill-suited.
JOHNSON: Burlingame told NPR earlier this year that she rejects the approach to terrorism that Jim Cole set out in an opinion article eight years ago.
Ms. BURLINGAME: He actually says in this article that he wrote for the Legal Times that our country has faced far more devastating types of crime than terrorism. He names them. He says the drug trade, organized crime and rape and child abuse is more horrible than 9/11.
JOHNSON: Republican lawmaker Peter King, the new chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, opposes Cole's recess appointment for the same reasons. King says the country needs a strong deputy attorney general who understands that the U.S. is at war with terrorists.
But Coles supporters say the long and bitter confirmation process has distorted his record. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, says the long Senate delay forced the White House to act.
Senator PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT, Chairman, Judiciary Committee): It was unprecedented to hold somebody up in that position this long. It was actually disgraceful. It was a misuse of the Senate procedures. And I think the president had no choice.
JOHNSON: Leahy says only one senator, retiring Missouri Republican Kit Bond, had been standing in Cole's way.
Sen. LEAHY: If the Republicans had allowed a vote on him, he would have been confirmed. He was backed by both Republicans and Democrats.
JOHNSON: Cole spent more than a dozen years as a federal corruption prosecutor before starting a high-profile law practice.
Maryland Democratic Senator Ben Cardin says when he was in the House in the 1990s, lawmakers from both parties selected Cole to investigate the ethics problem of then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Senator BENJAMIN CARDIN (Democrat, Maryland): Jim Cole performed under the most impossible, by getting our committee with the unanimous recommendation which carried overwhelmingly on the floor of the House of Representatives. Its that type of leadership I think we need in the Department of Justice. I think it'll be helpful to bring us closer together in the interest of our nation.
JOHNSON: Under the terms of the recess appointment, Cole will be able to stay at the Justice Department through the end of 2011. To stay longer, he would have to be re-nominated and go through the confirmation process all over again.
Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.