Clinton Bypasses Hill With Move

Friday, August 4th 2000, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Clinton took advantage of a congressional recess to make Bill Lann Lee his assistant attorney general for civil rights, a move that could further deepen his standoff with the Senate over judicial nominations.

The White House announcement, made without comment while Clinton was playing golf Thursday, comes nearly three years after the president named Lee as his main civil rights enforcer on an acting basis to circumvent heavy Republican opposition.

Thursday's action allows Lee to hold the post through the end of Clinton's term in January without sending his nomination to Congress for approval.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Republican recalcitrance forced Clinton to give Lee a recess appointment.

``The way they have treated Bill Lann Lee has been petty and steeped in partisan vinegar,'' Leahy said. ``It has been a direct insult to him and to all who care about civil rights enforcement.''

Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, whose committee would have sat in judgment on a Lee nomination, said Clinton was the one playing partisan politics by installing Lee during the Republican National Convention.

``The timing of this decision serves as further evidence of what we have come to know is true: The Clinton-Gore White House is intent on dividing our people rather than uniting us for the common good,'' Hatch said. He added that he personally likes Lee and ``would support him in any number of positions.''

Attorney General Janet Reno praised Lee's record during the three years he served in an acting capacity, saying many of his cases were resolved through settlements or consensual agreement.

``Bill believes very strongly that how we resolve a matter is sometimes as important as what the particular resolution is,'' she said.

Clinton notified Senate leaders late last year that he might install 13 languishing nominees through recess appointments, which don't require congressional approval.

Lee's nomination was among five that were vigorously opposed by a group of Republicans who indicated they might retaliate against recess appointments by blocking all judicial nominees for the rest of Clinton's term, which ends Jan. 20.

A leader in the GOP opposition, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., said Thursday he was irked that Clinton did not deliver a list of proposed appointments well in advance of the congressional recess as he had promised.

``Frankly, I think we can stop these,'' he said. ``I oppose the action. We're going to do something about it.''

Clinton made a total of 13 appointments Thursday, the majority to non-controversial positions. The president also appointed another of the five opposed nominees Thursday, making Sally Katzen deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget.

Clinton has groused publicly that some of his judicial nominations — notably, those of minorities and women — are hung up in the Senate.

Leahy said Lee's situation is part of a four-year pattern under which Clinton's nominees, ``especially women and minorities, have been subjected to anonymous and humiliating delays before they get a vote, if they ever get a vote at all.''

Clinton first nominated Lee, a former lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, on July 21, 1997. In December 1997, Clinton installed Lee as acting assistant attorney general for civil rights.

That gave Lee an indefinite hold on the job and was considered less confrontational than invoking constitutional power for a recess appointment.

Clinton nominated Lee again in January and March 1998, but no action has been taken since.

Under the Constitution, the president can temporarily bypass the Senate confirmation process by giving an individual an appointment during a congressional recess.

In 1999, Clinton used a recess appointment to install San Francisco businessman James Hormel, who is homosexual, as ambassador to Luxembourg. Hormel's nomination had been blocked in Congress for two years.

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