Senate blocks backdoor appointment of Bush nominee

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Suggestions that the President of the United States was to use Congress’ two-week Thanksgiving recess to appoint a new Surgeon General without Senate approval have been quashed by a legislative manoeuvre.

Dr James Holsinger, the President’s nominee for the post, last week reportedly told friends that he will be appointed during the recess, side-stepping the need for Congressional approval.

He has been criticised by gay rights groups, physicians and politicians for writing in 1991 that gay sex is unnatural and unhealthy.

The Surgeon General of the United States, nominated by the President and confirmed via majority vote by the Senate, is the chief medical official in the country, and the leading medical adviser to the government.

On Friday Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid revealed that he has scheduled “pro forma” sessions during the next fortnight, meaning that despite the absence of Senators the body is not in recess.

“My hope is that this will prompt the President to see that it is in our mutual interests for the nominations process to get back on track,” Senator Reid said in a statement.

The US President has the power to fill job vacancies such as Surgeon General while Congress is in recess, and his appointees can serve for the rest of the session, that is until January 2009, without confirmation.

President Bush has previously used this power to appoint controversial figures in the teeth of Congressional disapproval, but the White House made little comment on whether he was prepared to do so again to ensure his nominee for Surgeon General took office.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto told CNN: “We don’t talk about or speculate on personnel appointments until we’re ready to announce them.”

Bush’s nominee Dr James Holsinger, in a 1991 paper for the United Methodist Church, said that gay sex was dangerous because, “when the complementarity of the sexes is breached, injuries and diseases may occur.”

Dr Holsinger now claims now the document is unscientific and does not represent his current views.

Giving evidence in July before the Senate Health Committee he denied he is homophobic:

“Questions have been raised about my faith and about my commitment to the health and well-being of all Americans, including gay and lesbian Americans,” he said.

“I am deeply troubled by these allegations, they do not represent who I am, what I believe, or how I have practised medicine for the past 40 years.

“I can only say that I have a deep appreciation for the essential human dignity of all people regardless of background or sexual orientation.

“Should I be confirmed as Surgeon General, I pledge to you to continue that commitment.”

Committee chairman Senator Edward Kennedy said he was concerned that if Dr Holsinger is appointed then he could let his personal beliefs affect his professional judgement.

Gay rights groups, the American Public Health Association and 35 members of the House of Representatives are opposed to his nomination.

Last week an American blogger revealed that Dr Holsinger has already resigned from his job on the board of trustees of a Kentucky seminary and is telling friends that: “the President plans to appoint him to the post anyway once the Congress goes into its holiday recess.”

In July Dr Richard Carmona, who served as US Surgeon General between 2002 and 2006, said that the Bush administration had censored his speeches and articles to agree with government policy.

He was testifying at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in Washington.

“The reality is that the nation’s doctor has been marginalised and relegated to a position with no independent budget, and with supervisors who are political appointees with partisan agendas,” Dr Carmona told the hearing.

“The job of the Surgeon General is to be the doctor of the nation, not the doctor of a political party.”

Dr Carmona testified that he clashed with the Bush administration over issues of sexuality and contraception, because he opposed the government’s ‘abstinence only’ sex education policy.

His accusations of political interference were supported by former Surgeons General C Everett Koop and David Satcher, who served in the Reagan and Clinton administrations.

Mr Koop, who served between 1981-1989, spent many years trying to change the perception of AIDS from a moral to a public health issue.

He claims that President Reagan wanted to fire him, but chose not to intervene.