WASHINGTON — President Bush’s nomination of John Bolton to be U.N. ambassador has been shaken again by a Republican senator’s surprise opposition to the embattled nominee, and Democrats hope to seize the opportunity and defeat him in the Senate.
At a minimum, they will play for delay, make the White House squirm and renew accusations that Bolton was overly aggressive as the State Department’s top arms-control official, pushing his views and trying to damage the careers of officials who disagreed with him.
The leader of the fight against Bolton, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, suggested Bush “would be better served by bringing the nomination down.”
Biden says majority not behind Bolton
“It does not appear that Mr. Bolton has the confidence of a majority of the members of the Senate,” Biden said.
The White House showed no sign of backing down after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday voted 10-8 along party lines to forward the nomination to the Senate but without a recommendation, an unusual move.
Sticking to a weeks-old script, Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said, “John Bolton is the right person at the right time for this important position.”
While not a defeat for Bush, the vote by the Republican-led committee represented an embarrassing setback early in his second term.
Bush does have an ace in the hole, however, in that Republicans control the Senate 55 to 44, with one independent.
If Bolton survives the bruising Senate fight, he will take with him to New York the scorching criticism of Democratic senators, the doubts of Republican George Voinovich of Ohio, who placed a legislative stumbling block in his path, and criticism even from Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., who is managing the nomination.
‘Blunt style alienated some colleagues’
“His blunt style alienated some colleagues,” Lugar acknowledged.
Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., called Bolton “a loose cannon.”
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Voinovich’s doubts helped delay the vote for more than three weeks. In an impassioned and conflicted statement that electrified the committee’s 5½-hour meeting, he questioned the impact on the United Nations of naming an ambassador “who himself has been accused of being arrogant, of not listening to his friends, of acting unilaterally and of bullying those who do not have ability to properly defend themselves.”
“These are the very characteristics that we are trying to dispel,” Voinovich said.
Lugar, taking a contrary tack, said if Bolton goes to the United Nations and helps achieve reform, the U.N. will gain in credibility, especially among the American people. “Secretary Bolton has become closely associated with the United States’ efforts to reform the U.N.,” the chairman said.
Bush called Voinovich
Bush, aware of Voinovich’s reservations, telephoned him Wednesday, a day before the vote. McClellan said Friday he was the only senator the president called.
Hoping time is on their side, the Democrats plan to demand more documents, particularly information on whether Bolton sought the names of U.S. officials whose communications were intercepted by U.S. intelligence.
Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, while not threatening a filibuster, told a reporter that the Democrats would not cooperate with any proposed deadlines. Biden reminded the Senate committee that other U.N. nominations have moved slowly through the Senate.
For instance, Biden said, the committee spent six months on former President Clinton’s nomination of Richard Holbrooke to be U.N. ambassador and four months on Bush’s nomination of John Negroponte for the post.
Republican lambastes nominee
Voinovich, in laying out a case against Bolton, called the nominee “the poster-child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be.”
Yet, Voinovich said Bolton should be commended for his achievements. The senator cited Bolton’s work in countering anti-Semitism, on a treaty to reduce stockpiles of U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons, and on a U.S. program designed to curb the spread of weapons technology.
“Despite these successes, there is no doubt that Bolton has serious deficiencies in the areas that are critical to a good ambassador,” Voinovich said.
After weeks of deliberation by the committee, interviews with 29 past and present U.S. officials and examining thousands of pages of documents, “I have come to the conclusion that the United States can do better than John Bolton,” he said in a low voice.
Democrats, eager for Republican support, leaned forward. It seemed the Republican majority would disintegrate and be replaced by a 9-9 tie.
Voinovich changes course
Then Voinovich hesitated, put his prepared statement aside, and changed course — enough to keep the nomination alive and possibly ensure its approval by the full Senate.
“Mr. Chairman,” he said, “I am not so arrogant to think that I should impose my judgment and perspective of the U.S. position in the world community on the rest of my colleagues. We owe it to the president to give Mr. Bolton an up-or-down vote on the floor of the U.S. Senate.”
The committee, he said, should move it along — but without a recommendation to approve Bolton. “Let the Senate work its will,” he said.
At the opening of hearings April 11, Bolton pledged to help strengthen the United Nations if confirmed. He called it an institution that had occasionally “gone off track.”
Bolton was senior vice president of the American Enterprise Institute before he became Bush’s undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs four years ago.
He had been assistant secretary of state for international organizations under President George H.W. Bush, playing a leading role in organizing support for the U.S.-led coalition in the 1991 war against Iraq.
He also helped nullify a U.N. resolution that equated Zionism, the philosophical underpinning for Israel, with racism.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.