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For Immediate Release
December 21, 2001

Press Briefing Excerpts by Ari Fleischer 12/21/01

Click here for full transcript

One final just look back on the year involves the actions that were taken in confirming the President's nominees in the United States Senate. When the Senate left town for the holidays, they left close to 170 nominations languishing in the Senate. Of those awaiting action in the Senate, 49 have had hearings and have been passed by committee, and only require a vote on the Senate floor.

These individuals could have been reported to work at the beginning of the year, but because of inaction, the President will begin the new year without his team in place. Particularly in foreign policy, this is a troubling development. The Senate failed to confirm 20 of the President's senior foreign policy nominees, including officials who will be directly involved in the war on terrorism, the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, and the economic crisis in Argentina.

For example, Arthur Dewey, the Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration. Roger Winter, Assistant Administrator of the USAID for Humanitarian Response. Adolfo Franco to be Assistant Administrator of USAID for Latin America and the Caribbean. Otto Reich, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

The President nominated more individuals to serve on the Federal Bench in his first year in office than any of the past three administrations, and he submitted them earlier in the year. Despite this quick action, only 43 percent of the judicial nominees have been confirmed, and only 21 percent of the nominees to the circuit court.

When the Senate returns in January, it will have much work ahead of it, and there will be 98 vacancies in the Federal Judiciary. Sixteen more than were present when the President took office. Such large numbers of vacancies in federal courts are an impediment to justice. The President deserves to have his team in place, particularly during a time of war, and the American people deserve to have their government fully staffed, and they deserve a court system that can fully carry out justice. The President has done his part, and when the Senate returns, it's important that they do theirs.

Mr. Ron Fournier.

Q Since these nominations are so important to carrying out the war on terrorism, we can assume that there will be -- the President will use his right to appoint them during the congressional recess?

MR. FLEISCHER: If there are to be any recess appointments, an announcement will be made at that time. There is nothing I can indicate --

Q Why wouldn't you do it, though, if they're so important and you have that right to do it, why not just say you're going to do it?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there may be. I'm not going to guess what steps or actions that the President may take.

Q Is there any reason not to do recess appointments?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President always prefers to follow the usual process, and the President always prefers for the Senate to honor its responsibilities. He does have the right to make recess appointments. If he decides to avail himself of it, we'll keep you posted.

Q Isn't that a concern it could hurt relations between Democrats and Republicans if he goes forward with a recess appointment?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there will be -- if there are to be any recess appointments, you can safely assume it's after a careful balancing of the senatorial prerogatives with Executive Branch needs. And if the President makes any decisions, he'll make it based on that balancing.

Q But you're not ruling them out, are you?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. The President has not ruled any out.

Q You say he's heavily considering them?

MR. FLEISCHER: Kelly, I can just tell you if there are to be any, we'll keep you fully informed. We'll announce them if there are.

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