Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Democrats rap Bush's pick for State Department job


Democrats rap Bush's pick for State Department job

By Vicki Allen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate Democrats on Tuesday questioned the qualifications of the Bush administration's choice to oversee international refugee and population issues and compared her to Michael Brown, who was blamed for bungling the federal response to Hurricane Katrina.

Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said the resume of Ellen Sauerbrey, twice a candidate for Maryland governor and chair of President George W. Bush's 2000 campaign in that state, was heavier on Republican politics than on dealing with refugee crises.

They also said Sauerbrey's anti-abortion views would detract from efforts to get international help for refugees.

Twelve women's advocacy groups wrote a letter to Bush urging him to withdraw the nomination. They said Sauerbrey has "shown outright hostility toward women's rights and toward international family planning and related programs" in four years as U.S. representative to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

Sauerbrey told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee she had the management experience and the heart to become the assistant secretary of state in charge of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

"I think most important, you need to have the compassion and caring for helping to protect vulnerable people," Sauerbrey said. She cited her experience in women's rights issues, which she said are central to helping refugees who are largely women and children.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice endorsed Sauerbrey's nomination. "I strongly support Ellen Sauerbrey because of her devotion to human rights and human liberty, values that are key to the president's foreign policy," Rice said in a statement.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, said she was troubled by Bush's choice to head the agency with a $700 million annual budget.

"I question the wisdom of putting someone in that position who I believe has shown zealotry on the issue of reproductive health, including family planning," Boxer said. "What it says to me is that there's this focus on anti-choice that I'm afraid is going to be a diversion."

Democrats said people in that post before had extensive backgrounds working with international refugee issues.

"You're having to labor in the shadow of Michael Brown is what I think is happening here," said Sen. Paul Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat. He was referring to the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency who resigned last month under fire after FEMA's sluggish response to Katrina after it was disclosed he had minimal experience dealing with disasters.

As FEMA is the first responder in national disasters, the State Department bureau is the first responder for international refugee crises, Boxer said. "But I don't think we've seen the requisite experience," she said.

The 12 organizations that wrote to Bush included the International Planned Parenthood Federation, the Feminist Majority and Advocates for Youth.