Defying Senate Republican leaders, President Clinton on Friday announced he was installing gay San Francisco philanthropist James Hormel in a temporary position as ambassador to Luxembourg.
Clinton gave Hormel a Â"recess appointment,Â" taking advantage of a provision in the Constitution that allows a president to bypass the regular confirmation process during a congressional recess.
Hormel, who will become the first openly gay U.S. ambassador, will be able to serve until Jan. 3, 2001. A recess appointment is effective without Senate confirmation until the end of the next session of Congress.
Â"This is a clearly qualified ambassadorial candidate who enjoyed strong support from the foreign policy community,Â" said White House spokesman Joe Lockhart. Â"This came down to a couple of senators who thought that he shouldn't be ambassador to Luxembourg becuase he's gay. And the president thinks that's wrong and discriminatory and that's why he moved ahead and did the recess appointment.Â"
Hormel was first nominated to the post by Clinton in October 1997 and again this past January.
But Senate conservatives have continued to oppose the nomination, even though supporters long have claimed that Hormel has more than enough votes if the nomination could ever come to a vote.
Hormel, 66, an heir to the Hormel food fortune and a former dean at the University of Chicago Law School, has been a member of the U.S. delegation to the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva and had previously been confirmed by the Senate to serve on the U.S. delegation to the U.N. General Assembly session in 1996.
Conservative senators forcefully opposed the ambassadorial nomination, complaining of Hormel's advocacy of gay-rights issues and his financial support for gay-rights causes. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., refused to move the nomination, even though the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had approved it in 1997.
John Czwartacki, a Lott spokesman, called the recess appointment Â"a slap in the face to Catholics everywhere,Â" citing Lott's concern about Hormel's support for groups critical of the Catholic church and other organized religions.
But Elizabeth Birch, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights group, called the appointment a Â"bold moveÂ" by Clinton. Â"The denial of a confirmation vote by the Senate leadership, a vote ... (Hormel) would have easily won, was nothing more than anti-gay discrimination,Â" she said.
The appointment was made through a constitutional device that is available if a nomination is made while Congress is in recess. Congress returns from a 10-day Memorial Day recess on Monday.
Clinton announced the nomination with a short statement that listed Hormel's qualifications but made no mention of the controversy.
Clinton used a similar, but not identical, process in early 1998 to install Bill Lann Lee, a formeNAACP attorney, as civil rights chief in the Justice Department after Senate conservatives blocked the nomination. Lee continues to serve in that capacity.