WASHINGTON—President Bush's media adviser, Mark McKinnon, got a recess appointment Wednesday night from the White House to be a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, a little-known but influential federal agency that oversees U.S. government-sponsored news outlets such as the Voice of America.
Why would he need a recess appointment—a presidential perk to get around Congress? The Democrat-turned-Republican media consultant's nomination languished for nearly a year and a half in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Senate Democrats were livid when the Texan was first nominated for a Democratic slot on the board. His quick re-nomination as a Republican—the longtime Texas Democrat now calls himself a "Bush Republican"—did not appease them, either.
Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., the incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee who takes over in January, was not likely to move McKinnon's nomination, said insiders, prompting the White House action.
"The nomination had been out there a very long time and we needed to fill the position," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto. "This was the most expedient way to get that slot filled."
The recess appointment lasts for one year for the part-time position. McKinnon is expected to be formally nominated for the position, as well, but is unlikely to get any further in a Senate controlled by Democrats than he did in one run by Republicans.
While presidential politics may or may not be at play—Biden is a presidential aspirant and McKinnon is an adviser to the all-but-announced presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.—sources close to the issue say the problem is Broadcasting Board of Governors chairman Kenneth Tomlinson.
"The issue is Tomlinson," said a Senate official close to the controversy, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Democrats view Tomlinson as partisan, and some question his ethics after a report by the State Department's inspector general, released in August, said he misused government funds for two years, including using the office's resources to promote his private horse racing operation.
Tomlinson, who denied the conclusions, serves as the board of governors' chair in one of four Republican slots. There are four Democratic slots with the ninth member being the secretary of state. Karen Hughes, Bush's close confidante and image-maker, now the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, represents Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the board.
Because of a Democratic vacancy, McKinnon's appointment tips the balance of the board to the Republicans. That gives Tomlinson, Democrats say, effective control of the board.
Tomlinson's own nomination has been an issue for more than two years. But the chairman, whose board membership expired in 2004, continues to serve under the provision of the law that created the board. Biden co-authored that law.
For more information on the Broadcasting Board of Governors, see http://www.bbg.gov
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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