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US Senate meets for 9 seconds in orchestrated effort to block Bush appointment

US Senate meets for 9 seconds in orchestrated effort to block Bush appointment

The House was quiet as a mouse the day after Christmas. But on the other side of the Capitol, the sound of the gavel rang out twice as the almost unattended Democratic Senate plugged ahead in its continuing power struggle with President George W. Bush.
A nine-second session gaveled in and out by Democratic Sen. Jim Webb prevented Bush from appointing as an assistant attorney general a nominee roundly rejected by majority Democrats. Without the pro forma session, the Senate would be technically in adjournment, which would allow the president to install officials without Senate confirmation.
The business of blocking Bush's recess appointments was serious. It represents an institutional standoff between Congress and the president that could repeat itself during congressional vacations for the rest of Bush's presidency.
In such situations, pro forma sessions also could give Bush some political cover on popular legislation he does not want to sign. When Congress is holding pro forma sessions and is not formally adjourned, a bill sent to a president automatically becomes law in 10 days unless he vetoes it. If it were adjourned, the bills would die through a so-called pocket veto.
The Senate's faux sessions could turn into laws two bills Congress passed last week without the political cost to Bush of signing laws likely to be unwelcome to major segments of his party. One, which grew out of the shooting deaths of 32 students and the shooter at a major university, makes it harder for people with mental illness records to buy guns. The other makes it easier for journalists and others to obtain government documents through the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. That bill, for example, would become law next Monday if Bush does not veto it before then, Senate Judiciary Committee officials said.
In practice, Wednesday's pro forma process was almost comical.
"Good morning!" Webb, a first-year senator sporting a respectful tie and jacket, called to the floor staff assembled just for the occasion in an otherwise sleepy and chilly Capitol. One clerk congratulated Webb on being 30 seconds early, three times the time it would take to complete the Senate's work for the day.
Climbing to the chair of the president of the Senate, Webb took the gavel and banged it.
"The Senate will come to order," he intoned, reading from a two-line script to a floor empty of other senators but witnessed from the gallery by one reporter and about a half-dozen staffers. "Under the previous order, the Senate stands in recess until Friday, December 28, 2007, at 10 a.m."
His work done, Webb left. The floor staff reported to those in the gallery overhead that the session had lasted nine seconds.
"I didn't appoint myself ambassador to a tropical nation," Webb, a former secretary of the Navy, novelist and TV journalist, quipped to a reporter afterward.
Before Congress left last week, Democrats scheduled 11 pro forma sessions to fill the void until the Senate returns to regular session on Jan. 22. The purpose was to stop Bush from using the constitutional power presidents hold under the Constitution to bypass Senate confirmation and unilaterally install his nominees in office when Congress is adjourned.
Democrats wanted to block one such recess appointment in particular: Steven Bradbury, acting chief of the Justice Department's Office of Legislative Counsel. Bush nominated Bradbury for the job and asked the Senate to remove the "acting" in his title.
Democrats would have none of it, complaining Bradbury had signed two secret memos in 2005 saying it was OK for the CIA to use harsh interrogation techniques _ some call it torture _ to glean information from terror detainees.
Sen. Harry Reid, leader of the Senate's Democratic majority, said Bush refused to rule out appointing Bradbury to the job if the Senate formally had adjourned. So Reid decided to keep the Senate in session with pro forma meetings every two or three days.


Updated : 2021-06-14 11:58 GMT+08:00