A dispute over President Clinton's ambassadorial appointment of an openly gay San Francisco philanthropist could wind up slowing a range of Senate confirmations sought by the White House.
Among the appointments that could be jeopardized: Lawrence Summers to be treasury secretary and Richard Holbrooke to be ambassador to the United Nations.
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., has threatened to single-handedly hold up "every single presidential nomination" to protest Clinton's appointment of James Hormel to be ambassador to Luxembourg.
Tired of waiting for the Senate to act after nearly two years had passed since he nominated Hormel, Clinton on Friday invoked a constitutional provision allowing him to install an official in a post during a congressional recess, sidestepping the Senate confirmation process.
Inhofe, who had led the opposition to Hormel's confirmation, said the president "has shown contempt for the Congress and the Constitution." He called the appointment, while Congress was on its one-week recess for Memorial Day, "highly inappropriate."
Clinton originally submitted Hormel's nomination in 1997.
Under the so-called "recess appointment," Hormel will be able to serve in the post until the end of 2000, without Senate approval.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., joined Inhofe in criticizing Clinton, saying the president's move to appoint Hormel was "a subversion of the confirmation process." But Lott indicated he was unlikely to go along with Inhofe's blanket objection to presidential nominations.
Still, Lott conceded that Inhofe's tactics could dramatically slow down the confirmation process.
White House spokesman Barry Toiv said, "It's hard to think that the Senate would allow itself to be blocked from fulfilling its constitutional responsibility because one member is upset because of a particular appointment."
Despite the attention the Hormel appointment has received, the president "has been extremely judicious in his use of recess appointments," Toiv said, adding that Clinton has made 57 such appointments in his 6@1/2 years in office, compared with President Reagan's 239 in eight years and President Bush's 78 in four years.
Hormel, the former dean of the University of Chicago law school and a well-known San Francisco fund-raiser, will be the nation's first openly gay U.S. ambassador.
By custom, any senator can block a presidential nomination by placing a parliamentary "hold" on it. Inhofe said he was acting on a precedent set by Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., who in 1985 placed holds on Reagan's appointments until Reagan agreed to refrain from making recess appointments.
However, there is no formal rule on such "holds," and they do not have to be honored by the Senate majority leader.
Lott, despite his own opposition to Hormel's nomination, told reporters it "would not be y inclination" to allow any single senator to single-handedly block every nomination. "I wouldn't honor a hold indefinitely," he said.
However, he conceded that Inhofe had the right to use delaying tactics to slow down nominations on a case-by-case basis tactics that require a 60-vote majority in the 100-member Senate to overcome.
John Czwartacki, a Lott spokesman, said late Tuesday that Lott hoped to work things out with Inhofe so that all nominations weren't blocked. "There are a lot of important nominations coming down the pike," Czwartacki said.
Still, he said Lott shared Inhofe's objections to Clinton's decision to use a recess appointment for Hormel.
Hormel supporters have claimed he would have been confirmed if the nomination had ever come to the floor for a vote.