Bush Names Friend to Postal Board in Mail Rate Feud
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush defied a federal judge’s injunction Friday and named a lifelong friend to the Postal Service’s board of governors in a fight over who has authority to set mail rates.
Bush used a so-called recess appointment while Congress is not in session to put Thomas Ludlow Ashley, a former Democratic congressman from Ohio and a lobbyist for the nation’s largest banks, on the 11-member Postal Service Board.
Six members of the board, engaged in a legal battle with Bush over a proposed 27-cent stamp for mass, machine-prepared mail, won a court order Thursday barring Bush from firing them.
But one of the six is Crocker Nevin, whose term expired last month and whom Bush replaced Friday with Ashley. Since Nevin was a Democrat, Bush was required by law to replace him with another Democrat.
The recess appointment could turn the Postal Service’s governing board from 6-5 against Bush to 6-5 in favor of his demand to drop a suit in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals here challenging the 27-cent stamp.
Board Chairman Bert H. Mackie issued a statement late Friday saying he is aware of the appointment and ″as a result, on behalf of all the governors, I have asked for legal clarification of the matter.″
The administration says the postal board lacks authority to fight that discount rate in court without permission from the Justice Department.
Bush on Friday also asked the appeals court to overturn a federal judge’s preliminary injunction prohibiting him from firing the other five postal governors who are fighting him.
The administration said U.S. District Judge Louis F. Oberdorfer’s exceeded his authority in issuing the injunction.
″The president has attempted to resolve this matter within the executive branch,″ Justice Department attorneys said. ″The district court ... has now prevented the president from exercising his constitutional authority.″
Anticipating a move to replace Nevin, both Oberdorfer and an attorney for the postal governors suggested to the governors Thursday they might consult with the Senate before it recessed.
But shortly after 8 p.m. Thursday, the Senate recessed until President- elect Clinton’s inauguration on Jan. 20. That opened the way for Bush to use his recess appointment power to replace Nevin with Ashley without Senate approval.
As a recess appointee, Ashley can take office immediately and serve until the Senate returns.
Despite belonging to different parties, Ashley and Bush have been close personal friends since they attended Yale together.
When the president’s son, Neil, ran afoul of federal banking regulators in connection with the $1 billion collapse of the Silverado Savings and Loan Association of Denver, it was Ashley who coached him through the troubles. A former member of the House Banking Committee, Ashley is now president of the Association of Bank Holding Companies, which represents Citicorp and many of the nation’s other largest banks. A secretary in Ashley’s office said Friday that he had left town for the weekend and could not be reached for comment.
A challenge by Democratic leaders in Congress was considered a possibility by some sources. The Senate legal counsel’s office and a Senate post office subcommittee chaired by Sen. David Pryor, D-Ark., were looking into the law on recess appointments.
″We are hearing expressions of concern from the congressional leadership,″ said Damon Thompson, a spokesman for Pryor. ″There’s a question whether the president can make such an appointment given the nature of the recess and the court order.″
Oberdorfer directed that Bush ″refrain from removing, or causing the removal″ of any of the six governors, including Nevin.
″Our position is that it’s not a proper recess appointment,″ said Kenneth Geller, an attorney for Postmaster General Marvin Runyon, Nevin and the four other Postal Service governors. Geller indicated his clients would not seek to hold Bush in contempt of court.
Bush first threatened to fire the Postal Service governors when they refused his Dec. 11 order to drop a lawsuit challenging the independent Postal Rate Commission’s establishment of a special 27-cent stamp for machine- processed mail. The lowest first-class stamp now is 29 cents.
The Postal Service contends the discount stamp for things such as return envelopes accompanying utility bills will confuse customers, or make them angry at the Postal Service when mail is returned for insufficient postage.