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Reid to Keep Senate in Session to Prevent Recess Appointments

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has decided to keep the chamber in session over the Thanksgiving break to block President Bush from making any unsavory recess appointments while Senators are out of town.

In a statement inserted in the record Friday, the Majority Leader said he will hold the Senate in a series of pro forma or nonvoting sessions to prevent the controversial practice. In the statement, Reid argued that nominations need to get on track, and that Bush has not met the Democrats “halfway” in agreeing to Democratically backed nominees to “important commissions.”

“While an election year looms, significant progress can still be made on nominations,” Reid said. “I am committed to making that progress if the President will meet me halfway.

“But that progress can’t be made if the President seeks controversial recess appointments and fails to make Democratic appointments to important commissions.”

Senate sources said Reid made the decision after he was unable to strike a deal with White House officials that would have allowed swift consideration of several key Democratic picks for the executive branch. In his statement, Reid points to the Federal Communications Commission, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Nuclear Regulatory Commission as examples where Democratic choices have not been moved along.

“Up until recently, the President has generally discharged that obligation,” Reid said. “In the last several months, however, the administration has been stalling progress on Democratic appointments.”

Democrats have feared Bush would look to use the upcoming break to appoint some of his own nominees that may not otherwise clear the Senate. In particular, concerns have centered on the appointment of James Holsinger as surgeon general, who has met criticism from gay rights organizations and opposition from key Senate Democrats.

Sources familiar with the talks, however, said Holsinger has never been discussed as a possible recess nominee.

Holsinger notwithstanding, one Democratic source said the administration had made clear they planned to move some nominations through over the period that were unacceptable.

“They did float a number of recess appointments,” this source said. “Some of them were very problematic.”

This isn’t the first time Reid has considered keeping the Senate working over a break to prevent recess appointments. Following the Easter recess in which Bush made three controversial installments, Reid threatened to hold pro forma sessions during the monthlong August break.

Later, however, he backed off that threat after reaching a deal with the White House under which Democrats would clear a host of stalled nominations in exchange for a truce over the work period.

Reid said Friday that he has worked hard since then to move quickly on Bush’s nominations, particularly in confirming Michael Mukasey as the next attorney general. Reid opposed the nominee, who narrowly cleared the chamber last week.

“With the Thanksgiving break looming, the administration informed me that they would make several recess appointments,” Reid said. “I indicated I would be willing to confirm various appointments if the administration would agree to move on Democratic appointments.

“They would not make that commitment.”