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Fight Averted Over Bush Picks

Deal Avoids Recess Battle

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has quietly shelved plans to hold the Senate in pro forma session this month after the White House agreed to refrain from making any executive appointments during the Senators’ August break.

Sources in both parties said the two parties reached an understanding whereby Reid agreed to move a series of outstanding White House nominations — 42 in total — before the Senate left town on Aug. 3. The Bush administration, meanwhile, agreed to refrain from making any surprise recess appointments over the break.

“Our leadership and their people sat down and decided it’s in nobody’s best interest to have this fight play out over August,” a senior Democratic Senate aide said. “Ultimately, no one wins.”

Notably, Reid also has scheduled a confirmation vote on the controversial nomination of former Rep. Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) to become director of the Office of Management and Budget on Sept. 4, the day the Senate reconvenes for business. Nussle’s appointment has come under fire from Senate Democrats and earlier had been viewed as the most likely target for a Bush recess installment.

Senate sources said the agreement between Reid’s office and the White House came on the heels of several closed-door meetings between the two sides during the final week of Senate business. Prior to their deal, Senate floor personnel had gotten word that they should prepare to work at least two pro forma sessions each week, coming in every Tuesday and Friday throughout the month, sources said.

“They were going to have to be in here every three days,” one Senate aide said.

Although a temporary détente may have been reached, both Democrats and Republicans suggested Friday that the two sides could re-engage in the fight over nominations in the coming months.

Several sources said that if the relationship between the White House and Senate Democrats hits new lows in the coming months, Bush may look to the year-end recess to make appointments. Similarly, Reid could reconsider keeping the Senate in pro forma session and avoiding a formal adjournment this year.

Democratic Senators were caught off guard in April when Bush appointed three controversial figures to key executive branch posts while Senators were in recess. The most incendiary of the trio was the installation of Sam Fox as ambassador to Belgium. Fox was a financial backer of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group that attacked Sen. John Kerry’s war record in the 2004 presidential campaign.

The move enraged Democratic Senators and prompted discussions that Senators couldn’t risk taking four weeks off during August for fear of a repeat maneuver. At that time, Democrats entertained several retaliatory moves including holding the pro forma sessions throughout the month to avoid giving the White House an opening to make appointments without a Senate vote.

A senior GOP Senate aide said the August deal shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the recent history between the administration and the Democratic leadership.

“I am certain that neither the White House nor Senate leadership adjourned without having thought through this,” the aide said. “Harry Reid probably learned his lesson before when the president exercised his right to recess appoint. I am sure he did due diligence to ensure that wouldn’t happen again.”

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