msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 4/4/2007 5:46:08 PM ET 2007-04-04T21:46:08

President Bush named Republican fundraiser Sam Fox as U.S. ambassador to Belgium on Wednesday, using a maneuver that allowed him to bypass Congress where Democrats had derailed Fox's nomination.

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Democrats had denounced Fox for his 2004 donation to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The group's TV ads, which claimed that Sen. John Kerry exaggerated his military record in Vietnam, were viewed as a major factor in the Massachusetts Democrat’s losing the presidential election.

Recognizing Fox did not have the votes to obtain Senate confirmation, Bush withdrew the nomination last month. On Wednesday, with Congress out of town for a spring break, the president used his power to make recess appointments to put Fox in the job without Senate confirmation.

This means Fox can remain ambassador until the end of the next session of Congress, effectively through the end of the Bush presidency.

In a press release Wednesday, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., responded to the president's move, saying, "It's sad but not surprising that this White House would abuse the power of the presidency to reward a donor over the objections of the Senate. This nomination was withdrawn because the administration realized it would lose in the Foreign Relations Committee. Unfortunately, when this White House can't win the game, they just change the rules, and America loses."

Added Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., "I seriously question the legality of the president's use of the recess appointment authority in this instance ... This is underhanded and an abuse of executive authority — sadly this behavior has become the hallmark of this administration."

Bush also used his recess appointment authority to make Andrew Biggs deputy director of Social Security. The president's earlier nomination of Biggs, an outspoken advocate of partially privatizing the government's retirement program, was rejected by Senate Democrats in February.

Fox, a 77-year-old St. Louis businessman, gave $50,000 to the Swift Boat group. He is national chairman of the Jewish Republican Coalition and was dubbed a "ranger" by Bush's 2004 campaign for raising at least $200,000. He is founder and chairman of the Clayton, Mo.-based Harbour Group, which specializes in the takeover of manufacturing companies.

Fox has donated millions of dollars to Republican candidates and causes since the 1990s.

In answer to questions about the Swift Boat donation, Fox has said he gives when asked, insisting he did not know how his money would be spent or exactly what message the group was pushing.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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