What: All Issues : Making Government Work for Everyone, Not Just the Rich or Powerful : Curbing Presidential Power : S 214. (U.S. attorney appointments), Kyl of Arizona amendment to require the president to nominate a candidate for U.S. attorney within 120 days of a vacancy/On agreeing to the amendment
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S 214. (U.S. attorney appointments), Kyl of Arizona amendment to require the president to nominate a candidate for U.S. attorney within 120 days of a vacancy/On agreeing to the amendment
senate Roll Call 79     Mar 20, 2007
Y = Conservative
N = Progressive
Winning Side:
Progressive

This was a vote on an amendment by Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., to a bill that would reinstate a 120-day limit on how long federal U.S. attorneys may serve when appointed on an interim basis by the U.S. attorney general. Currently, no time limit exists on interim appointments by the attorney general.

According to the underlying bill, the attorney general would be allowed to appoint a U.S. attorney who could serve for no more than 120 days. Then, if a post remains vacant past that period, the chief federal judge in the local district where the vacancy occurred could make further interim appointments. (This was the practice until 2006, when the limit on interim appointments that had previously been in place was removed as part of an anti-terrorism law.)

Democrats sought to reinstate the limits because, in essence, the 2006 law made it so that the attorney general can make interim appointments that can last indefinitely, bypassing the Senate in the process. By law, for these positions to be permanently filled the Senate must sign off on each appointee put forward by the president, but an interim appointment, intended to be temporary, does not have to be submitted for the Senate's approval. The bill itself, and the debate over whether time limits should be placed on how long the attorney general's interim appointees are allowed to serve without Senate confirmation, occurred as part of the uproar over the administration's dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys last year and to what extent those firings were politically motivated.

Kyl's amendment would have eliminated the ability to make interim appointments altogether, whether by the attorney general or a federal judge. Instead, the amendment would have required the administration to submit a nomination for the post within 120 days of a vacancy coming open. The Senate also would have been required to complete its review of that nominee within another 120 days.

"We want the U.S. attorneys to be nominated by the president, and we want the Senate to be able to act on the nominees. The underlying bill does not guarantee that. In fact, it does not even provide for it. My amendment ensures that happens," Kyl said on the Senate floor.

Generally, lawmakers dislike legislation that puts strict deadlines on when Congress must complete responsibilities of all stripes. Indeed, Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, opposed Kyl's amendment, saying it would hamstring the Senate.

"Senator Kyl's amendment provides unjustified limitations on the Senate's role in confirming U.S. attorneys that could short-circuit the Senate's ability to undertake a thorough consideration of a nominee's qualifications and wholly disregards the role of the home state Senators," Leahy said.

Kyl's amendment was defeated 40-56, with Democrats almost universally opposed to the changes (with one exception -- Ben Nelson, D-Neb., who is one of the most conservative Democrats in the Senate). All but eight Republicans backed the amendment, which had the support of the administration. Thus, the bill went forward without language that would have replaced the interim appointment system with a requirement that U.S. attorney vacancies be filled within 120 days.

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