Who needs Congress, anyway?

The imperial president stocks up on recess appointments.

Published January 5, 2006 2:46PM (EST)

Although the Senate Judiciary Committee will begin confirmation hearings for Samuel Alito next week, the full Senate doesn't return to work for one more week or so. Members of the House of Representatives won't return to work in Washington until the end of the month.

But really, why bother? With the Bush administration seemingly determined to assume all powers of the government for itself, it's a wonder that members of Congress bother to show up for work at all. First -- well, it's not first, but it's first among recent developments -- we learned that George W. Bush had taken it upon himself to authorize spying on American citizens without the warrants Congress required under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Then we learned that, in the face of a rather unequivocal ban on torture passed by Congress, the president would deem himself free to ignore the ban whenever he thought doing so might "assist" in the war on terror.

Now comes news that the president has started the new year by making what the Washington Post calls a "raft" of recess appointments aimed at circumventing the need for Senate confirmation of presidential appointees.

Among the nominees who apparently couldn't stand the wait the normal constitutional process requires is Julie Myers, whom Bush installed as the new head of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement section of the Department of Homeland Security. Myers' nomination was going to face stiff opposition from senators who believed she wasn't qualified; even right-wing blogger Michelle Malkin has suggested that Myers' nomination is a crony deal and a "bad joke." While Myers has little experience with customs or immigration issues, she is the niece of former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Richard Myers and the wife of the chief of staff for Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff.

Also on the raft: Tracy Henke, whom Bush installed as executive director of the Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness. Getting Henke through the Senate might have proved inconvenient, too: She's apparently the Justice Department official who insisted that politically embarrassing data about racial disparities in law enforcement traffic stops be deleted from a Justice Department report on the subject.

And then there's Hans Von Spakovsky, to whom Bush just handed a seat on the Federal Election Commission. Von Spakovsky is apparently one of the political appointees in the Justice Department who overruled staff attorneys and analysts who concluded that Tom DeLay's Texas redistricting plan shouldn't be approved because it violated federal law.

There are 14 more where those came from. Perhaps one among them might mention to their new boss the concept of separation of powers.

By Tim Grieve

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

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