WASHINGTON -- President Bush named Republican fund-raiser Sam Fox as US ambassador to Belgium yesterday, using a maneuver that allowed him to bypass Congress, where Democrats had derailed Fox's nomination.
The appointment, made while lawmakers were out of town on spring break, prompted angry rebukes from Democrats, who said Bush's action may even be illegal.
Democrats had denounced Fox for his donation to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth during the 2004 presidential campaign. The group's TV ads, which stated that Senator John F. Kerry exaggerated his military record in Vietnam, were viewed as a major factor in the Massachusetts Democrat's election loss.
Recognizing that Fox did not have the votes to obtain Senate confirmation in the Foreign Relations Committee, Bush withdrew the nomination last week. But yesterday, with the Senate on a one-week break, the president used his power to make recess appointments to put Fox in the job without Senate confirmation.
This means Fox can remain ambassador until the end of the next session of Congress, effectively through the end of the Bush presidency.
"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," Kerry said in a statement.
Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he plans to ask the Government Accountability Office to issue an opinion on whether the appointment is legal.
Recess appointments are intended to give the president flexibility if Congress is out for a lengthy period, such as the four-week summer break. But Dodd said the law was not intended to circumvent lawmakers' approval.
"This is really now taking the recess appointment vehicle and abusing this beyond anyone's imagination," said Dodd, a candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
Bush also used his recess-appointment authority to make Andrew Biggs deputy director of Social Security. The president's earlier nomination of Biggs, an outspoken advocate of partially privatizing the government's retirement program, was rejected by Senate Democrats in February.
Some of Bush's other notable recess appointments include John R. Bolton as US ambassador to the United Nations in August 2005 (he resigned in December); William Pryor and Charles Pickering as federal appeals court judges in 2004; and Otto Reich as an assistant secretary of state in 2002.