Senators debate semantics
The Senate floor erupted into heated constitutional debates on Thursday, January 31, 2019, over the choice of a more suitable word needed to bring the current Liberian Ambassador-designate to the United States, George Patten, to Liberia for confirmation proceedings.
Majority of senators, among them Daniel Naatehn, Sando Dazoe Johnson, Oscar Cooper, and Gbleh-Bo Brown, argued that the appropriate word to use for the return of “Ambassador Patten” is “recall” and not “invite.”
The argument over which choice of words to use for the Patten return was prompted by a report read to plenary from the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Judiciary, Human Rights, Claims and Petitions on the appointment of Mr. Patten.
The Joint committee’s report was a mandate from the plenary, after that body recently received a letter from the chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules, Order and Administration Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence, seeking the indulgence of Senate plenary to request the appearance of Foreign Minister Gbehzongar Findley and George S. W. Patten, Liberia’s Ambassador-designate to the United States, for “the blatant violation of Article 54b of the Constitution of Liberia.”
“The Constitution, which is the organic law of the state, is very clear and for the sake of understanding and observance depicts in Article 54b: “The President shall nominate and, with the consent of the Senate, appoint and commission ambassadors, ministers, consuls…”
The Senator’s letter was days later followed by a letter from President George Weah, in which he informed that body that in accordance with Article 54 of the Constitution of Liberia and the Senate Standing Rule, Rule 55 Section 6, he has made an appointment to the following position in government: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, George S. W. Patten, Sr., Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Liberia to the United States of America.
Like Sen. Lawrence’s letter earlier, the President’s letter was also sent to the H. Dan Morais and H. Varney Sherman-committee to report in a week.
In the committee’s joint report yesterday, it was recommended that in line with both the Constitution and the Senate Rule, the Senate should perform its function as provided for in relation to confirmation.
And in his motion, which caused an eruption in the Senate, Maryland County Senator Gbleh-bo Brown proffered a motion that, “Although the report did not go as far as some of the issues that we wanted to see, I want to move that this report be received; and given the fact that the committee’s recommendation in this report said that the Senate should take its responsibility. As senator of Maryland County, I moved that this Senate act appropriately by advising the Executive to immediately recall the ambassador-designate from the United States of America; and that he should be made to appear before this body to go through the formal confirmation process until he can be reassigned.”
But in his unreadiness to vote on that motion, Senator Sherman said he would be ready to vote if Sen. Brown would “reconsider the use of the terminology recall; recall of the ambassador would necessarily mean that the appointment was invalid. You can invite the ambassador to come back for confirmation hearing; because the Senate Rule says that that appointment can be made pending confirmation. So we want him confirmed, let him come and go through a confirmation hearing, but when we say recall then you invalidate our own Rule.”
Other like minds that followed Senator Sherman agreed that the word “recall” was against their own Rule, but fell short of admitting that the Constitution is supreme over all order rules.
Senator Sando Johnson, who is gradually becoming vocal in sensitive and controversial proceedings, was seen loudly disagreeing with Senator Sherman, clarifying that Mr. Patten is still ambassador-designate and can be recalled for reassignment, not invited.
However, having stayed adamant on his motion for the word “recall,” Senator Brown agreed to an amendment by Montserrado County Senator Saah H. Joseph on the terminology to use recall in place of an invite.
“Invite or recall, Patten must be recalled by President Weah, and we can invite him; but he must be addressed as a nominee, not as ambassador proper,” Senator Sando Johnson and other dissatisfied senators said.