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Panel on base closings named

Bush move during Senate recess avoids delay tactic

WASHINGTON -- President Bush, brushing aside a stall tactic by Senator Trent Lott, Republican of Mississippi, appointed the nine-member commission that will determine military base closings without waiting for Senate confirmation.

Bush made the appointments while the Senate was in recess, the White House announced Friday night, preventing delays as the commission prepares to make the first round of base closings in a decade.

Before it left for its spring recess, the full Senate had been expected to vote on the nomination of Anthony J. Principi of California, former secretary of veterans affairs, as chairman of the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission. The other commissioners, nominated by Bush on March 15, also required Senate confirmation.

However, Lott -- who opposes base closures and has pledged to protect military facilities in his home state -- placed a ''hold" on Principi's nomination, according to aides and lobbyists speaking on condition of anonymity. The hold delayed voting.

Lott was expected to place holds on the other nominations as well, the aides and lobbyists said earlier this week. The Senate Armed Services Committee had approved Principi's nomination and planned to review the others in the next few weeks.

The White House said Bush felt the recess appointments were appropriate since the full committee had already acted on Principi. Plus, the president wants no delay in the ''important work for the nation" that the base closure panel will have before it, spokesman Ken Lisaius said yesterday.

Lott has said the United States should not be closing bases while troops are at war. ''I will try to stop it at any point and in any way I possibly can," he said in February.

Recess appointments expire when the Senate's current session ends, in this case in 2006. However, the commission probably will have concluded its work by the end of this year.

Lott's chief of staff, William Gottshall, and Lott spokesman Lee Youngblood did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

Senator John Warner, Republican of Virginia, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, praised the appointments, saying the closures are important for national security.

The commission law ''sets a very tight schedule, with specific dates, within which the commission must hire a staff, travel to numerous military bases, consult with community leaders, conduct a thorough analysis and prepare its detailed report," Warner said in a statement. ''The time to accomplish these essential tasks is very short, and I support the president's decision to expedite their appointments."

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld must recommend bases for closure or consolidation by May 16.

Besides Principi, appointed to the commission were: James H. Bilbray of Nevada, a former congressman; Philip Coyle of California, former assistant secretary of defense; retired Admiral Harold W. Gehman Jr. of Virginia; retired Air Force Brigadier General Sue Ellen Turner of Texas; retired Army General James T. Hill of Florida; Samuel Knox Skinner of Illinois, chief of staff and transportation secretary under George H.W. Bush; and retired Air Force General Lloyd Warren Newton of Connecticut.

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