A hollow justification for a recess appointment

The president says the United States can't wait any longer to have a "permanent" representative to the United Nations.

By Tim Grieve
August 1, 2005 10:21PM (UTC)
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When George W. Bush announced today that he was using a recess appointment to install John Bolton as the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, he said that the United States couldn't wait any longer. "America has now gone more than six months without a permanent ambassador to the United Nations," the president said. "This post is too important to leave vacant any longer, especially during a war and a vital debate about U.N. reform."

Which is all well and good, only the post hasn't been "vacant," six months isn't a particularly long time to be without a "permanent" representative to the United Nations, and Bolton won't be a "permanent" ambassador anyway.


Let's take this one step at a time.

U.N. Ambassador John Danforth announced on Dec. 2 that he'd be stepping down on Jan. 20. When Danforth's resignation became effective, his deputy, Anne Patterson, became the acting U.S. ambassador to the U.N., a role in which she will continue to serve until Bolton is sworn in. So is the post "vacant" right now? No, it's not, and Patterson is, by all accounts, fulfilling her duties quite competently.

OK, but six months is "too long" to leave things in the hands of an acting ambassador, right? Well, maybe. But Bush has himself to blame for a good part of the delay. Bush could have announced his intention to nominate Bolton as soon as Danforth announced his resignation in December. Instead, the president waited nearly three months before finally nominating Bolton on March 7. And Bush could have gotten the up-or-down vote he wanted on Bolton's nomination weeks if not months ago if his administration had turned over documents involving Bolton that Democratic senators had requested. Having waited so long to name a nominee, and then having delayed matters further by refusing to turn over documents, Bush is in no real position to complain about the time the process has taken. And indeed, the process hasn't taken all that long, as these things go. As the Washington Post noted recently, an acting ambassador represented the United States at the United Nations for nine months in 2001; another acting ambassador served for 11 months in 1998 and 1999.


But it's important to have a "permanent" ambassador, right? Sure, but if that's the case, then Bush should have scrapped the Bolton nomination and sent up someone who could have made it through the Senate and served at the U.N. for the remainder of Bush's term in office. By choosing instead to install Bolton through a recess appointment, Bush has achieved exactly the opposite of what he says America needs. As Think Progress notes today, recess appointments last only until the next session of Congress begins. Thus, Bolton's tenure at the United Nations will end in January 2007, just a year and a half from now. Bush could have had a "permanent" ambassador to the United Nations if he'd made the slightest effort to nominate a less confrontational candidate who could win the support of the U.S. Senate. As a result of his own choices, Bush has John Bolton instead -- a U.N. ambassador who will be a lame duck before he even takes office.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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