Tim Russert is NBC News’ Washington bureau chief and host of Meet the Press.  He regularly offers MSNBC.com’s readers his insight and analysis into questions about politics past, present and future.

MSNBC:  Tim, for only the third time in 22 years, a United States Senate committee has sent a presidential nomination to the floor of the Senate without a favorable recommendation – this time the nomination of John Bolton to the post of United Nations ambassador.  The man in the middle of this is Ohio Republican George Voinovich.

Russert:  Senator Voinovich made an extraordinary speech.  It wasn’t just a tacit, “Well, I can’t support this nominee,” he just put it out there in very, very strong terms and it now goes to the Senate floor where there may be a few Democrats who are thinking of voting for Mr. Bolton and perhaps a few Republican defections.

I think the big issue that the Democrats have to decide is whether they’re going to filibuster Mr. Bolton’s nomination.  In the next week or so we’ll probably have the nuclear option implemented, which means the Republicans will change the number of votes needed to stop a filibuster for a judicial nomination from 60 to just the majority, 51.

If that happens, the Democrats may be in the mood to say, “All right, we can’t stop your judicial nominations, but we’re going to put Mr. Bolton on hold.”

MSNBC:  What about the story John Bolton really wanted to be Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s deputy, at the State Department, but she didn’t want him?  She’s been publicly support Bolton, but apparently she’s rejected him within her own department.

Russert:  Well, he had been number three at the State Department.  It’s very controversial, because former Secretary of State Colin Powell, in conversation with senators, has not been recommending him and Powell’s former chief of staff has been outspoken about Bolton.

The interesting thing here is when the White House put forward his name, they thought there would be just a little bit of dust stirred up, but never this type of reaction.  They weren’t planning on having this kind of confirmation battle for the ambassador to the United Nations.

But Mr. Bolton’s positions and personality have put him center stage in a very combative fight.

If you listen to those speeches Thursday in the five hour meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, people feel very, very strongly about this.

MSNBC:  Is it really over policy or has it come down to politics?

Russert:  Well, now people have dug in.  President George W. Bush can’t afford to lose this nomination battle.  Republicans are saying the president should have “his” guy.

I think one of the interesting observations came from Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, who said if there was a secret ballot there was no way Mr. Bolton would be nominated.

But, we’ll never know that.  It’s not a secret ballot. People are either lining up for or against him – and for the Republicans it’s lining up either for or against George W. Bush.

MSNBC:  Democrats seem upset they haven’t gotten the information they wanted – background information on Bolton which they consider to be important before they can provide that constitutional obligation of advice and consent.  Has there been talk of a Bolton filibuster?

Russert:  There’s going to be a hold on his nomination for some time, I believe.

I think they’re going to wait and see what happens on the judicial nominations.  If the Republicans invoke the so-called “nuclear option”, changing the number of votes you need to stop a judicial filibuster from 60 to 51, the Democrats may be inclined to say, “All right, you got your judges.  But guess what, we’re going to filibuster Bolton -- where you still need 60 votes.”

I just think we are on the verge now of a complete breakdown of any remnants of civility left in the United States Senate.  I really do.  I tell you, I’ve been watching Washington for a long time and I think the atmosphere is poisonous and it’s bitter and it’s only going to get worse.

MSNBC:  America has so many major problems to deal with – terrorism, the deficit, Social Security, Medicare, retirement, pensions – and it’s hard to see much in the way of leadership that unites.  Although perhaps we saw a glimpse of it, foreshadowing the 2008 campaign, when we saw Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, R-GA, supporting an effort toward approving health care.

Russert:  How about those two together!  Pretty remarkable, but they really did find common ground on health care.  It can be done. There’s no doubt about it  I remember Pat Moynihan and Bob Dole doing it on Social Security some 20 years ago.  But people have to have trust and good will and that just doesn’t exist.

MSNBC:  Who will we see Sunday on Meet the Press?

Russert:  We’re going to talk about this very issue of John Bolton, along with judicial nominations, Tom DeLay, Social Security and a whole lot of things in our political roundtable.

Then we have an exclusive interview with Ahmed Nazif, the prime minister of Egypt.  He’s coming to the United States and meeting with President George W. Bush on Wednesday.  President Bush has said Egypt had better reform itself and move toward democracy. American gives Egypt $2-billion a year.  Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has been in power for 23 years without any real opposition.  We’ll find out whether or not Egypt is serious in trying to embrace free elections, free press and improved human rights.

All this Sunday, on Meet the Press.


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