Sauerbray Nomination Draws Criticism
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
Coming up, the start of a special weeklong NPR series on global health. But first, while official Washington was fixated this week on Harriet Miers, who withdrew her nomination for the Supreme Court, another controversial White House nominee wended her way through the confirmation process in relative obscurity. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports on the nomination of Ellen Sauerbrey to lead the State Department's office on refugee issues.
MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:
To her critics, Sauerbrey's nomination is another sign that President Bush cares more about party loyalty than expertise. She's a conservative activist who chaired President Bush's campaign in Maryland and ran twice there unsuccessfully for governor. At her confirmation hearing this past week, Democrats argued she's not qualified for this State Department job. California Senator Barbara Boxer compared Sauerbrey to FEMA's Michael Brown.
Senator BARBARA BOXER (Democrat, California): This administration has been under fire for its appointment of non-experienced people to head agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Maybe they were well connected allies of the president and maybe they were dear friends and good people. But they had no business coordinating relief when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf coast.
KELEMEN: In the past, civil servants with a strong background in refugee issues have run the State Department's Office on Population, Migration and Refugees. Sauerbrey defended her resume saying she does have management skills.
Ms. ELLEN SAUERBREY (State Department's Office of Refugees Nominee): Having managed the US Census in three large counties in Maryland.
KELEMEN: Asked about more relevant qualifications, Sauerbrey pointed to her current work as the Bush administration's representative to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.
Ms. SAUERBREY: I have worked personally with women who have been the victims of conflict, so I have a very deep commitment to the fundamental work of this bureau, which is protecting vulnerable people.
KELEMEN: In the UN commission, Sauerbrey generated controversy with her anti-abortion stance. Boxer blasted her as a zealot. Refugee advocates don't focus on that hot-button issue as they campaign against Sauerbrey. Joel Charny of Refugees International says the State Department office does deal with population issues, including family planning, but most of the approximately billion-dollar annual budget is for emergency aid for refugees.
Mr. JOEL CHARNY (Refugees International): What we're trying to argue is that the core function is about refugees and can't we find someone who may also agree with the administration's population policies, but who at least has some weight in the international arena on the refugee issues.
KELEMEN: Charny, one of the few activists to speak publicly because his group doesn't rely on State Department grants, says the assistant secretary job may not sound so important, but he says it is.
Mr. CHARNY: Because the problems that this person deals with are high profile; you're talking about the great moral issues of our time. You're talking about helping to mobilize a US response to Darfur refugees flowing in to chat or providing shelter to, you know, displaced victims of natural disasters.
KELEMEN: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to vote on Sauerbrey Tuesday unless Democrats manage to delay action. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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