WASHINGTON -- The connection was obvious to senators of both parties, though nobody said so publicly. Four days before Sen. Joseph Biden declared he would seek the Democratic presidential nomination if he could find the financing, he held hostage an important, non-controversial Bush diplomatic appointee. His intent: to force President Bush to reappoint a billionaire backer of Biden to a government oversight board.
Nobody expected Biden's move when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee convened last Wednesday to send routine nominations to the floor.
Biden, the committee's ranking Democrat, blocked Senate consideration of White House personnel director Dina Habib Powell as the State Department officer named to use public diplomacy to improve U.S. relations in the Middle East. As the price for releasing her, he demanded retention on the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) of radio tycoon Norman Pattiz.
It won't work. Bush has no intention of naming Pattiz. Biden rejected his staff's advice and let Powell's nomination out of committee Wednesday, but he can still keep his hold on her to block Senate floor action. The veteran senator's audacious maneuver was extraordinary. Senators occasionally trade off confirmations on two controversial nominees. But it is without precedent for a senator to pressure a president to make a specific appointment by this blatant political use of the confirmation process -- a process already in disrepair because of the mass Democratic assault on Bush's judicial nominees.
Biden tacitly admits he is just playing politics by not even pretending there is anything wrong with Powell's selection as assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs. At her May 26 hearing by a Foreign Relations Subcommittee, she was praised by Democrats who pressed to get the Egyptian-born Powell quickly on her Middle East assignment.
It's all about Pattiz, Biden admits. The senator issued a statement calling the president "short-sighted and doing the country a disservice" by not reappointing Pattiz to one of four Democratic slots on the eight-member board. In fact, Pattiz violated the ritual for minority nominations set up by Senate Republican Leader Robert J. Dole in the 1980s.