WASHINGTON, Dec. 26 (UPI) -- Capital Comment -- News notes, political rumors, and important events that shape politics and public policy in Washington and the world from United Press International.
Recess means playtime -- President Bush, frustrated by the failure of the Democrat-controlled Senate to act on many of his pending nominees, may use the Christmas congressional recess to fill some openings. Using his constitutional power to make so-called recess appointments, Bush may install Otto Reich as head of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the State Department and put in Eugene Scalia as the head lawyer at the Department of Labor.
Recess appointments were originally used to fill important posts that became vacant while the Senate was in recess and away from Washington at a time when telephones, airplanes and the Internet were not even contemplated. More recently, however, they have been used to put controversial officials in place, breaking an impasse that exists between the White House and the Senate.
Reich's appointment has languished without a hearing because Connecticut Democrat Sen. Chris Dodd objects to the nomination. Scalia's nomination was approved in committee but has moved no further because Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., will not allow it to come to the floor. If named to recess appointments, Reich and Scalia will be allowed to serve until confirmed by the full Senate or until the current congressional term ends.
Continuity of government -- Last week President Bush approved a series of executive orders that establish the line of succession with Cabinet agencies should the secretary and the immediate deputy be killed or incapacitated. Congress ordered the administration to make such plans several years ago in the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 but no action had been taken until now -- but not because, as some suggest, the position responsible for drawing up the lists was vacant.
The new order establishes the line of authority in those departments where it had not already been set, allowing for each Cabinet department to maintain a functioning head in a time of crisis or disaster.
Home-grown honorees -- The Agricultural Retailers Association has chosen House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest, R-Texas, and Oklahoma GOP Sen. Jim Inhofe as their legislators of the year. The two men were recognized for "their valuable contributions to agriculture and especially to the ag retailer industry."
Buffalo bills -- The Defenders of Wildlife, a conservation group, has generated more than 4,600 e-mail from supporters to Montana Gov. Judy Martz, urging her to stop the state from killing bison that go outside Yellowstone National Park this winter.
"These bison are a precious reminder of America's heritage. They deserve to be protected, not shot or trapped and shipped to slaughter," said Caroline Kennedy, director of special projects for Defenders of Wildlife, who says that Yellowstone National Park is home to this country's last wild, free-roaming herd of buffalo.
And then there was one -- Ohio Republicans are breathing sighs of relief as Ohio State Treasurer Joe Deters has withdrawn from the race for the GOP nomination for attorney general. His move means that state Auditor Jim Petro now has the field all to himself. Deters will run for re-election as treasurer. Current Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery is term-limited and is not seeking re-election.
Mapmaker, mapmaker, make me a map -- Connecticut lawmakers reached agreement on a new map for the state's congressional districts just hours before a court-imposed deadline.
The state loses one congressional seat due to redistricting. As expected, the new plan places three-term Democrat Rep. James Maloney and 10-term GOP Rep. Nancy Johnson together in a new district. The new map moves part of Waterbury into the New Haven-based 3rd District, a disappointment to Democrats. Maloney's hometown of Danbury and Meridian, a Democrat stronghold, fall in the new district, as does Johnson's hometown of New Britain.
Keeping secrets -- As expected, a Clinton-appointed federal judge has complied with a request by the Democratic National Committee and the AFL-CIO to keep secret 36,000 pages of documents collected by the Federal Election Commission during an investigation of alleged illegal coordination between the two groups.
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler turned aside the FEC's request that the documents be made public, saying there must be a claim of illegal activity for the court to consider revealing the names of union officials involved in the probe.
"The confidentiality interest of an innocent accused is, if anything, greater once an investigation is closed and that innocent party is exonerated of all charges,'' Kessler wrote in her decision. As previously reported in Capital Comment, the documents purportedly confirm that party officials and AFL-CIO representatives did coordinate some election efforts, but the FEC dropped the case, citing concerns that the activities might be under the protection of the First Amendment.