WASHINGTON — NBC News Chief White House correspondent David Gregory discusses the political repercussions of President Bush's recess appointment of John Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations. Gregory says that what Bolton's critics have called his "undiplomatic" manner may be exactly what the Bush administration wants as it seeks to ruffle feathers at the world body.
What will the political repercussions be of Bush’s recess appointment of Bolton?
Well, he is certainly going to alienate Democrats who don’t feel that Bolton has any credibility and who think he is an undiplomatic choice for a diplomatic post at the United Nations.
But, it also is clear that the White House factored some of this into their thinking. The president wants a strong figure at the U.N. He’s frankly not much of a fan of the United Nations, nor is Vice President Cheney. And Bolton, by the way, is very close to the vice president.
So, this is a little George W. Bush diplomacy — which is to send somebody who is going to break some china up at the United Nations. The president talked about the need for reform. Again this administration, this White House, wants to tackle the issues at the United Nation that it thinks need tackling and that’s why they like John Bolton.
The president has not shied away from saying that Bolton is a tough guy. The rap on him from critics is that he is abrasive, even abusive. He’s been accused of trying to twist intelligence on the Iraq war. But, the president stands behind him and said that he has his complete confidence.
How will this unusual appointment affect Bolton once he gets to the U.N.? Will Bolton be crippled in his role as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. after the controversy surrounding his appointment?
I think Democrats will make that argument — that he goes in there weakened. Certainly the White House has to be concerned about that in terms of how he is perceived at the United Nations.
But, the flip side of that is that Bolton unquestionably speaks for this president and the vice president. Nobody will mistake the fact that he has a pretty clear mandate.
On that point, however, Bolton also wanted to make clear that it’s Secretary of State Rice and the president who actually set the policy. They will be responsible for that, while he is responsible for carrying it out. Bolton seemed to make that point as an answer to his critics who say that he flies off the handle and works too independently.
His message seems to be that he won’t be acting alone up there. He won’t be a lone ranger, but he will be carrying out the president’s policy.
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Part of the controversy over Bolton’s nomination stemmed from the fact that he was accused of being abusive toward subordinates and browbeating those with opinions different from his own. How will those accusations affect him as an ambassador to the U.N.? How important are diplomatic skills in his role and what kind of shoes does he have to fill?
He certainly replaces a very able diplomat in John Danforth, a much different kind of personality, and John Negroponte before him. He does not strike one as the most diplomatic of choices, but I think that was exactly the point.
It’s not clear that he will be weakened in the immediate term. He’s obviously going to have a full mandate and a full plate of work to do. He’ll certainly have the confidence of his boss, namely, the president, and I think that the rest of the world will know that.
This is a president who realizes that he becomes a lame duck in another year or so and wants to make his imprint felt, certainly on an institution like the U.N. where there is such a strained relationship with the United States.
How will it affect other aspects of Bush’s political agenda that require bipartisan support — like the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court?
On the issue of Roberts, the White House is pretty much satisfied with the reaction that he has gotten. The nomination does not appear to be in any doubt.
While Democrats will not be happy with the Bolton recess appointment, the White House probably factored that in and suspects that they could weather that bit of controversy from Democrats. So, Bush has made the political calculations that he thinks he can get away with.
Is the fact that Bush was forced to make a recess appointment of Bolton a political defeat for the Bush administration?
It’s a defeat in the sense that they couldn’t get their guy through. They’ll wait to see perhaps what happens with a new Congress in January 2007.
But Democrats expect the president to poke a finger in their eye, and he’s done that. The president wants what he wants and he is going to do what he has to do to get somebody like this through.
I think it goes back to the administration’s feeling about the United Nations and how much it needs to be shaken up. They are not going to shy away from putting somebody up there who expresses the more hard-line aspects of this administration. It really says something about the stamp this president wants to put on foreign policy.
David Gregory is NBC News Chief White House Correspondent.