Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bush's Picks Should Pass

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bush's Picks Should Pass

Article excerpt

No sooner had George W. Bush passed the first test facing a new president - naming competent choices for his cabinet - than speculation arose about how he would meet the second, steering their confirmations through a closely divided Senate.

At first, Mr. Bush was praised for filling his White House and cabinet with "adults," a decided move away from pizza-stained budget submissions and all-night bull sessions. Then, the media began asking which nominee would succumb to a well-organized assault from the opposition.

One has already fallen. Critics of Linda Chavez, nominated as Labor secretary, say they had not wanted her to depart over a "personal mistake." They are less clear as to whether they consider that mistake to be giving shelter to an illegal alien or failing to divulge that humanitarian gesture to the Bush team.

They feign sadness that they had been unable to defeat the nomination on the "merits," which they insist are her "strident" conservative opinions. They argue that what they most wanted to see was a philosophical discussion of the kind the Senate held before it rejected Robert Bork for a seat on the Supreme Court in 1987.

Judge Bork, though, was in contention for a life appointment. Cabinet members stay in their jobs for much shorter periods. Not that such distinctions matter to ideologues. Those "idealists" who demanded and got their high-level discourse sent their guerrillas rummaging about Washington video rental records in search of something embarrassing to Mr. Bork. (So much for their concern for privacy.)

In the case of John Ashcroft, Bush's designee for attorney general, and Gale Norton, his pick for Interior secretary, Bush's critics on the left will get the fight they claim to prefer. They will lose both, and for three good reasons: the superior qualifications of the two cabinet hopefuls, the specious nature of arguments offered against them, and a fundamental principle that undergirds the Republican ideal of self-government.

Alexander Hamilton understood all that. In the Federalist Papers, the classic defense of the Constitution and the principles it enshrined, he cited the Senate's "advise and consent" powers as a safeguard against nominees of "unfit character" or predisposed to corruption. Believing that "the true test of a good government is its aptitude to produce a good administration," he insisted that the president be free to discharge the public's business with people of his choice.

The use of "advise and consent" for the purpose of obtaining nominees more closely aligned to the Senate's way of thinking would, he argued, transfer the power of appointment from the executive to the legislative branch, which the Constitution forbids.

On nominations, Hamilton observed: "But his nomination may be overruled: This it certainly may, yet it can only be to make place for another nomination. …

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