While Congress Is Away, the President Can Play

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If President Clinton is supposed to be a lame duck, he doesn't seem to be showing any signs of lameness in matters big (as in Kosovo) or small (as in the appointment of James Hormel). On Friday Clinton installed the openly gay Hormel as the new U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg without the benefit of a Senate confirmation. Hormel, a respected philanthropist and former assistant dean at the University of Chicago Law School, has had his nomination bottled up since 1997 by Senate conservatives who vehemently oppose his gay-rights activism.

The President exercised a little-used constitutional provision allowing him to make immediate appointments while the Senate is in recess (Senators are now enjoying a 10-day Memorial Day break). His action puts Hormel in the job until the end of the next Senate session, which conveniently coincides with the end of the Clinton presidency. With Republicans currently in disarray over how to enact their budget- and tax-cutting agenda, reports TIME congressional correspondent John Dickerson, the President decided this could be an easy political pickup for him at little political cost -- and with solid appeal to some of his more liberal constituencies. "Clinton knows Republicans can't spend much time screaming about this," says Dickerson, "especially when they've just come off two weeks of self-immolation on gun control."