President Obama's bypassing of the Senate yesterday to appoint four new U.S. ambassadors and an assistant attorney general is not sitting well with GOP lawmakers, with one Rep. calling a specific appointment "absolutely shocking."
The White House announced Wednesday that Obama would use his power to make recess appointments to fill envoy posts to Azerbaijan, Syria and NATO allies Turkey and the Czech Republic and appoint James Cole as assistant attorney general.
Specific senators had blocked or refused to consider the confirmations of the nominees for various reasons, including questions about their qualifications. But in the most high-profile case, that of the new envoy to Syria, Robert Ford, a number of senators objected because they believed sending an ambassador to the country would reward it for bad behavior.
"Making underserved concessions to Syria tells the regime in Damascus that it can continue to pursue its dangerous agenda and not face any consequences from the U.S.," Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen R-Fla., the incoming chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement. "That is the wrong message to be sending to a regime which continues to harm and threaten U.S. interests and those of such critical allies as Israel."
The administration had argued that returning an ambassador to Syria after a five-year absence would help persuade Syria to change its policies regarding Israel, Lebanon, Iraq and support for extremist groups. Syria is designated a "state sponsor of terrorism" by the State Department.
President George W. Bush's administration withdrew a full-time ambassador from Syria in 2005 after terrorism accusations and to protest the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, killed in a Beirut truck bombing that his supporters blamed on Syria. Syria denied involvement.
Obama nominated Ford, a career diplomat and a former ambassador to Algeria, to the post in February but his nomination stalled after his confirmation hearings and was never voted on.
“All Administrations face delays in getting some of their nominees confirmed, but the extent of Republican obstruction of Obama nominees is unprecedented,” an administration official wrote in an e-mail to Politico.
The president's appointment of James Cole as deputy attorney general drew heavy fire from Rep. Peter King (R-NY). King is outraged because Cole advocates using civilian courts to try terrorists instead of military ones. From The Hill:
King called Cole’s appointment “absolutely shocking” and said it may be one of the worst appointments Obama will make during his presidency.
“I strongly oppose the recess appointment of James Cole to lead the national security team at the Department of Justice.,” King said in a statement. “The appointment indicates that the Obama Administration continues to try to implement its dangerous policies of treating Islamic terrorism as a criminal matter.” [...]
Cole has advocated for the use of civilian trials in prosecuting terrorism suspects, and King views the appointment as a sign of the administration’s intent to continue to try detainees through the criminal justice system rather than military tribunals as most Republicans prefer.
As we reported yesterday, Cole is a close friend of Attorney General Eric Holder and a partner at a private Washington law firm.
“This may be one of the worst appointments by President Obama during his presidency,” King said, referring to Cole as a “left-wing ideologue who places terrorists in the same categories as drug peddlers."
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story has been updated to reflect the reaction of the lawmakers.