WASHINGTON — President Bush sidestepped the Senate and installed embattled nominee John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations on Monday, ending a five-month impasse with Democrats who accused Bolton of abusing subordinates and twisting intelligence to fit his conservative ideology.
“This post is too important to leave vacant any longer, especially during a war and a vital debate about U.N. reform,” Bush said. He said Bolton had his complete confidence.
Bush put Bolton on the job in a recess appointment — an avenue available to the president when the Congress is in recess. Under the Constitution, a recess appointment during the lawmakers’ August break would last until a newly elected Congress takes office in January 2007.
Within five hours of his appointment, Bolton arrived at the U.S. mission in New York to begin work. He refused to speak with reporters.
Bolton joined Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the announcement ceremony and said he was honored and humbled by the president’s appointment. “It will be a distinct privilege to be an advocate for America’s values and interests at the U.N. and, in the words of the U.N. charter, to help maintain international peace and security,” he said.
Bush said that Bolton’s nomination had been supported by a majority of the Senate but that “because of partisan delaying tactics by a handful of senators, John was unfairly denied the up-or-down vote that he deserves.”
Bush had refused to give up on Bolton even though the Senate had voted twice to sustain a filibuster against his nominee. Democrats and some Republicans had raised questions about Bolton’s fitness for the job, particularly in view of his harsh criticism of the United Nations.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan welcomed Bolton’s appointment and steered clear of the controversy over whether Bolton would be weakened by the recess appointment. “We look forward to working with him as I do with the other 190 ambassadors, and we will welcome him at a time when we are in the midst of major reform,” Annan said. He said the manner of Bolton’s appointment was Bush’s prerogative.
Backers, bashers weigh in
“John Bolton is a walking diplomatic time bomb, and he’s proved that over his career. The fact that he could not get confirmed by the Senate tells the rest of the world this isn’t the best we could do,” said Robert Boorstin, who served on the National Security Council in the Clinton administration.
Video: Bolton's challenges “What will be noticed is the contrast between Bolton and Jack Danforth, who was a tremendously good U.N. ambassador at a very, very difficult time,” Boorstin said.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said Bolton was a “seriously flawed and weakened candidate.” He charged that Bush “chose to stonewall the Senate” by using a recess appointment.
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Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said, “The president did the right thing by sending Mr. Bolton to the U.N. He is a smart, principled and straightforward candidate, and will represent the president and America well on the world stage.”
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., sharply criticized the move.
“It’s a devious maneuver that evades the constitutional requirement of Senate consent and only further darkens the cloud over Mr. Bolton’s credibility at the U.N.,” Kennedy said.”
Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, a senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, “The president has done a real disservice to our nation by appointing an individual who lacks to the credibility to further U.S. interests at the United Nations.”
Some Republicans weren’t too happy, either, although they generally said they understood Bush’s rationale. “I understand why the president had to do this,” said Sen. George Allen, R-Va, adding: “I think it’s unfortunate that he had to use this option.”
Republican Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio also said he was disappointed.
“I am truly concerned that a recess appointment will only add to John Bolton’s baggage and his lack of credibility with the United Nations,” Voinovich said.
Battle royal ends
Bolton’s appointment ends a five-month impasse between the administration and Senate Democrats.
The battle grabbed headlines last spring amid accusations that Bolton abused subordinates and twisted intelligence to fit his conservative ideology, and as White House and GOP leadership efforts to ram the nomination through the Senate fell short.
In recent weeks, it faded into the background as the Senate prepared to begin a nomination battle over John Roberts, the federal appeals judge that Bush chose to replace the retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor at the Supreme Court.
At Bolton’s April confirmation hearing, Democrats raised additional questions about his demeanor and attitude toward lower-level government officials. Those questions came to dominate Bolton’s confirmation battle, growing into numerous allegations that he had abused underlings or tried to browbeat intelligence analysts whose views differed from his own.
Despite lengthy investigations, it was never clear that Bolton did anything improper. Witnesses told the committee that Bolton lost his temper, tried to engineer the ouster of at least two intelligence analysts and otherwise threw his weight around. But Democrats were never able to establish that his actions crossed the line to out-and-out harassment or improper intimidation.
A separate deadlock
Separately, Democrats and the White House deadlocked over Bolton’s acknowledged request for names of U.S officials whose communications were secretly picked up by the National Security Agency. Democrats said the material might show that Bolton conducted a witch hunt for analysts or others who disagreed with him.
The top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee received a limited briefing on the contents of the messages Bolton saw but were not told the names.
Democrats said that was not good enough, but later offered a compromise. After much back and forth, with the White House claiming Democrats had moved the goal posts, no other senator saw any of the material.
Hints last week
Last week, the administration telegraphed Bush’s intention to put Bolton on the job.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the vacancy needed to be filled before the U.N. General Assembly’s annual meeting in mid-September. Former Sen. John Danforth left the post in January.
In a letter released Friday, 35 Democratic senators and one independent, Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont, urged Bush not to give Bolton a recess appointment.
“There’s just too much unanswered about Bolton, and I think the president would make a truly serious mistake if he makes a recess appointment,” Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said in an interview.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.