Clinton: Who Needs Congress?

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WASHINGTON: While the cat's away . . . With Congress safely on vacation pounding home-state pavements, President Clinton has hit upon a way to finally get one of his nominations past the Republicans: do it himself. A Presidential "recess appointment" would allow Bill Lan Lee to occupy the federal government's top civil rights job of assistant attorney general until 1998, the end of the current term, but would have one side effect: getting up a lot of Congressional back.

"I think he's going to do it," says TIME White House correspondent Karen Tumulty. "Why not? Will he be in trouble with Republicans? Sure. But what can they do to him? At least he'll finally get one of his nominations."

Lee has run afoul of the Republican Congress because like Clinton, he refuses to disavow affirmative action as a weapon against racial inequality. Which makes Lee's appointment critical if Clinton is to put any teeth into his recent mini-wave of civil rights and race initiatives. The White House would ultimately prefer to win it the old-fashioned way when Congress returns. But Clinton may decide that the best victory is always the surest.