Several media reports have suggested President Obama is hypocritical for making recess appointments because he criticized President Bush in 2005 for bypassing the Senate when he appointed John Bolton as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. But Obama was not generally criticizing recess appointments; rather, he -- along with at least two Republicans -- specifically argued that a recess appointment for such a high-profile diplomatic position could affect the United States' credibility and leverage in the U.N.
Obama said Bolton's recess appointment "means that we will have less credibility" at U.N.
Obama reportedly said the U.S. will have less "credibility" because there has never been an U.N. ambassador "who couldn't get through a nomination in the Senate." Context of Obama's comments shows that he was specifically arguing that the nature of Bolton's appointment to the U.N. would damage the United States' credibility, and that we would "ironically be less equipped to reform the United Nations." From an August 2, 2005, The State Journal-Register (Springfield, Illinois) article (accessed via Nexis):
Obama, who also participated in the news conference, called the appointment "a mistake."
"To some degree, he's damaged goods," Obama said of Bolton. "Not in the history of United Nations representatives have we ever had a recess appointment, somebody who couldn't get through a nomination in the Senate. And I think that that means that we will have less credibility and ironically be less equipped to reform the United Nations in the way that it needs to be reformed."
Obama said Bolton has "a lot of ideological baggage," and having a short-term appointee at the United Nations means the United States will have less leverage to carry out reforms.
Parts of the United Nations, including peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts, are "terrifically efficient operations," Obama said. But other areas are "run like a patronage operation."
In a recent visit to the United Nations, Obama said he was "struck by the degree to which people didn't have a lot of confidence in John Bolton."
"I think he's a very bright man," Obama said. "I think he's somebody who could have served the United States ably in another position. But he's not a diplomat."
Voinovich, Lott also criticized Bolton's recess appointment
Voinovich reportedly made comments similar to Obama's about Bolton's recess appointment potentially harming his "credibility with the United Nations." An August 2, 2005, Chicago Tribune article stated, "Presidents occasionally use their recess-appointment authority to fill lower-level positions. But such an appointment to a prominent position generally stirs opposition from senators, who consider the tactic an encroachment on their constitutional power to confirm or reject high-level officials." It then quoted Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) -- who opposed Bolton's nomination in the first place -- as saying, "I am truly concerned that a recess appointment will only add to John Bolton's baggage and his lack of credibility with the United Nations."
Lott also "recommend[ed] against" the recess appointment, and said it "appears" Bolton would be "weakened." On the July 29, 2005, edition of MSNBC's Hardball (transcript accessed via Nexis), then-Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) said of the impending Bolton recess appointment: "I have advised against it. I think that he was not confirmed. And, if he went in there, he would be limit[ed] to like 17 months. Perhaps he would not be weakened, but it appears to me that he would. But I would recommend against a recess appointment."
Newspapers suggest Obama's recess appointments are hypocritical because of his opposition to Bolton's appointment
WSJ: Obama opposed Bolton's appointment and described him as "damaged goods." A March 29 Wall Street Journal article stated, "In 2005, Mr. Bush angered Senate Democrats when he bypassed their objections and appointed John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. At the time, Democrats, including Mr. Obama, then a senator from Illinois, opposed the move. Mr. Obama described Mr. Bolton as 'damaged goods.' Sen. Richard Durbin (D., Ill.), now the second-ranking Senate Democrat, and Vice President Joe Biden, then a senator from Delaware, said then that they opposed Mr. Bolton as a candidate, as well as the process by which he was appointed."
LA Times contrasted Obama's recess appointments with his opposition to Bolton's appointment. A March 28 Los Angeles Times article -- which also appeared in the Chicago Tribune -- said, "Bush used a recess appointment to install John R. Bolton as the U.N. ambassador over the objections of Democrats and liberal Republicans. ... As a senator, Obama criticized the selection of Bolton and argued that, as a result of the recess appointment, the U.N. ambassador was 'damaged goods.' "
McClatchy contrasted Obama's criticism of Bolton recess appointment to his willingness to "consider his own recess appointments for critical jobs." A March 27 McClatchy article stated: "In 2005 when he was a senator, Obama criticized Bush's recess appointment of John Bolton to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Last month, however, Obama indicated that he'd consider his own recess appointments for critical jobs where he felt noncontroversial nominees were being help up.
GOP reportedly quick to "remind reporters" of Obama's opposition to Bolton's recess appointment
NYT: Republicans "wasted little time in reminding reporters" of Obama's opposition to Bolton. A March 28 The New York Times article reported: "Republicans, who have cast Mr. [National Labor Relations Board nominee Craig] Becker as a pro-labor radical, issued a flurry of angry statements. They wasted little time in reminding reporters that when George W. Bush was president, then-Senator Obama had railed against the recess appointment of John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations, saying that Mr. Bolton would be 'damaged goods' and lacked credibility without Senate confirmation."