WASHINGTON — Reversing field after a meeting with President Bush, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said he will continue pushing for a floor vote on John R. Bolton for U.N. ambassador. Frist switched his position after initially saying Tuesday that negotiations with Democrats to get a vote on Bolton had been exhausted.
Talking to reporters in the White House driveway after he joined other GOP lawmakers for a luncheon with Bush, Frist said: "The president made it very clear that he expects an up-or-down vote."
Just about two hours earlier, Frist said he wouldn't schedule another vote on Bolton's nomination and said that Bush must decide the next move. Frist, R-Tenn., had said there was nothing further he could do to break a Democratic stalemate with the Bush White House over Bolton, an outspoken conservative who, opponents argue, would undermine U.S. interests at the world body.
But he changed his tune after talking to Bush.
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Frist's abrupt public turnabout underscored the political pressures that the long-running battle over Bolton have heaped upon Frist and Bush.
Six months into his final term in office, Bush is struggling to avoid the perception of a weakened lame duck at a time when his proposal for revamping Social Security has made little progress and some lawmakers are calling for troop withdrawals from Iraq. Frist has lost control of the Republican-run Senate in recent weeks in fights over Bush's judicial appointments and earlier attempts to confirm Bolton.
Frist: ‘We'll continue to work’
Describing his talk with Bush, Frist said: "The decision in talking to the president is that he strongly supports John Bolton, as we know, and he asked that we continue to work. And we'll continue to work."
"It's not dead," he said. "It is going to require some continued talking and discussion."
Frist, however, also said that some Democrats, led by Sens. Christopher Dodd and Joseph Biden, had "locked down."
"We'll continue to work to get an up-or-down vote for John Bolton over the coming days, possibly weeks," he said.
Deputy State Department spokesman Adam Ereli had greeted Frist's initial announcement with a declaration that Democrats had left Bolton "hanging in the wind."
Frist said the president did not discuss the possibility of going around the Senate and making a recess appointment while they are on break. That would allow Bolton to take the job without a confirmation vote and serve until early 2007.
Before Frist met with Bush, White House press secretary Scott McClellan had said there had been no talk of withdrawing Bolton's nomination. McClellan continued to refuse to rule out a recess appointment, but said only that the White House was pushing for an up-or-down vote in the Senate.
"It's not that many more that is required to move forward on this nomination," he said.
Asked about Frist's initial comments that he would not schedule another vote on ending Democratic delays, McClellan said, "We'll continue to work with the Senate leadership."
Earlier, McClellan ruled out withdrawing Bolton's nomination and issued a new call for a vote, accusing Democrats of being unwilling to compromise.
Democrats want to check list
Democrats have demanded that the administration check a list of 36 U.S. officials against names in secret national security intercepts that Bolton requested and received. They also want documents related to the preparation of testimony that Bolton planned to deliver — but ultimately never gave — in the House in July 2003 about Syria's weapons capability.
On Monday, Democrats made clear they weren't budging, and most stood together to defeat a GOP effort to force a final vote on Bolton. The Senate voted 54-38, six shy of the total needed to advance his nomination. The vote represented an erosion in support from last month's failed Republican effort to end debate on the nomination.
Biden of Delaware, the lead Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a chief critic of Bolton, said White House Chief Staff Andrew Card had offered to provide some of the Syria information but that "was not sufficient." Rather, Biden said Democrats want the administration to turn over all information they seek.
Recess appointment remains a possibility
At a White House news conference Monday, the president left open the possibility of circumventing the Senate when he sidestepped a question on whether he would appoint Bolton to the ambassador's post when Congress leaves Washington for a July 4 recess.
Some Republicans urged Bush to continue fighting for Bolton rather than appoint him on his own during the upcoming Senate break — a so-called recess appointment — for fear of sending a weakened nominee to the United Nations. "That would not be in our best interest," said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Such an appointment would only last through the next one-year session of Congress — in Bolton's case until January 2007.
Bush has said that Bolton, with a history of blunt talk and skepticism about the U.N.'s power, would be ideally suited to lead an effort to overhaul the world body's bureaucracy and make it more accountable. Critics say Bolton, who has been accused of mistreating subordinates, would hurt U.S. efforts to work with the United Nations and other countries.
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