There’s a big hue and cry over Obama’s interim appointment of James Cole as Deputy Attorney General. It’s a controversial pick, and the use of the interim method to bypass Congress is obviously a strategic gambit to get him in there without the legislative battle that would otherwise inevitably occur.
Should we be shocked, or even surprised? No. Obama is not alone among presidents in using such ploys to get around the opposition; he’s merely more blatant about it, as well as more inclined to avoid Congress through executive orders and czars and the like.
The main objections to Cole’s appointment appear to be (a) his function as independent monitor of AIG from 2005-2009, the years when the company was making the risky decisions that ultimately led to a mega-crisis; and (b) his position on trials for terrorists, which is that it is a criminal matter for the civilian justice system.
I’d have to know more about exactly what Cole was hired to do regarding AIG, and whether he could have been expected to uncover the problems there, before I would condemn him for that association. The best information I’ve been able to uncover is this article, where it says he was responsible for monitoring AIG’s “regulatory compliance, financial reporting, whistle-blower protection and employee retention policies.” It’s not immediately apparent to me whether, given that mandate, he should have been able to uncover the rot—especially since the problems in virtually all the companies trading the shaky credit instruments that eventually brought the whole edifice crashing down seemed to elude everyone charged with regulating the industry. I’d like to hear why Cole should be singled out for special condemnation for failing to uncover what nobody else seemed able to uncover.
Then there’s his stance on terror suspects and civilian trials. I find it stupid and reprehensible, but that hardly differentiates him from Holder, his boss at Justice—or, for that matter, from the president himself. His position appears identical to the position of the Obama administration, and even if by some miracle someone opposed to it were to be nominated, the policy (and rot) begins at the top and nothing would change.
So, although I agree that interim appointments of controversial figures should be opposed, I can’t quite understand why this particular pick is so much more of a problem than many of Obama’s other nominees. The problem is the Obama administration itself, which will continue its attempts to name people simpatico to its philosophies any way it can until it is voted out in 2012, or until it finishes its second term in 2016.
What can be done? Jennifer Rubin points out that the Republican caucus could inform Obama that it will refuse to confirm any future nominations unless he promises to stop making recess appointments. I don’t see this particular group of Republicans doing that, however. It would be a declaration of war over something that isn’t necessarily worth it, and would leave them open to charges of obstructionism while Obama could wave the “I’m a bipartisan” banner and criticize them for it.
The next Congress will need to choose its battles well. Make no mistake; there will be plenty of them.