President Bush Returns From Asia to Partisan Politics – Right To The End

After vowing to work constructively with Congressional Democrats in the wake of the GOP’s thumping defeat on November 7 prior to his trip to Asia, President Bush has confirmed a number of appointments and nominations that look set to crash the bipartisan honeymoon. Not only is Mr Bush defiantly brushing off the Democrats and the general electorate, his choices will almost certainly further alienate moderate Republicans who voted with their feet at the mid-term elections.

One heated controversy concerns the appointment of Dr Eric James Keroack as deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, a position that oversees family planning programs. Last week, the Boston Globe reported that Dr Keroack, a Massachusetts based obstetrician-gynecologist, is a fierce opponent of abortion, contraception and premarital sex – the latter of which he compares to heroin addiction and modern germ warfare. This calls to mind other memorable socially conservative sexual analyses such as Senator Trent Lott’s (R-Miss.) comparison of homosexuality to alcoholism and kleptomania, and Senator Rick Santorum’s (R-Penn.) infamous ‘man on dog’ clanger in an interview about privacy and homosexuality. Dr Keroack has further described the distribution of contraceptives as ‘degrading to women’. Women’s health advocates argue that these views create a profound conflict of interest between Dr Keroack and Family Planning, an agency that has provided a wide range of birth control-related health services to American women since the 1970’s. President and chief executive officer of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts Dianne Luby said, “Putting Dr Keroack in charge of our nation´s largest family planning program is dangerous to women´s health.” Other critics see Dr Keroack’s appointment as a thinly-veiled attack on a woman’s right to choose and a major concession to the electorally loyal Christian right.

Another move criticized as blatantly partisan is President Bush’s renomination of John Bolton as US ambassador to the United Nations. Last year, Democrats and key Republicans opposed Mr Bolton’s nomination and blocked a vote on his nomination. President Bush’s response was to appoint Mr Bolton during the Congressional recess. Senator Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I., defeated Nov. 7), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, has vowed to block Mr Bolton´s renomination. “The American people have spoken out against the President´s agenda on a number of fronts, and presumably one of those is on foreign policy,” said Mr Chafee. “And at this late stage in my term, I´m not going to endorse something the American people have spoke out against.” Mr Bolton’s critics have accused him of systematically bullying his colleagues, taking facts out of context and exaggerating intelligence – he’s also given the Senate false information by failing to note on a questionnaire that the inspector general interviewed him during a State Department/CIA joint inquiry into falsified evidence that Iraq tried to obtain uranium yellowcake from Niger.

Finally, there is strong opposition to President Bush’s renominations of four controversial appeals court candidates whose initial nominations expired without Senate action. These judicial nominees include two candidates for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Terrence Boyle and William Haynes. Mr Boyle is a North Carolina district court judge and former close aide to Jesse Helms, the former Republican Senator widely regarded as racist and segregationist. Mr Haynes is the Defense Department General Counsel who played a key role in helping the Bush administration to develop a narrow definition of ‘torture’ that enabled a range of human rights abuses. He is now a defendant in a recently filed lawsuit in Germany which alleges that he (and his eleven co-defendants) committed war crimes against detainees held by the US in Iraq, Afghanistan and the US-controlled Guantánamo Bay prison camp in Cuba.

The candidate for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco is William Myers, a lobbyist and staunch opponent of environmental regulations. His nomination has raised concerns for Democrat senators poised to head committees on global warming, who have already begun pushing the case for mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Lastly, there is Michael Wallace of Mississippi, nominated to take over the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, despite his being deemed unqualified for the appeals court by an American Bar Association panel. These four judicial nominees have drawn the ire of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who is expected to become chairman of the Judiciary Committee in January. He said that President Bush is “choosing partisanship over progress and division over unity, at the expense of a fair and independent judiciary. This is exactly the kind of political game-playing that prompted Americans to demand change and a new direction in Washington.”

It does appear that President Bush has already put the press conferences behind him, and gotten back to the serious business of partisan sparring.

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