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Bolton delay is a blow to the administration

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee announced Tuesday that it was forced to delay a vote on the nomination of John Bolton as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.  NBC News' Andrea Mitchell reports on how big a blow the delay is to the Bush administration.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee meets on the Bolton nomination to be US Ambassador to the UN
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee discusses John Bolton's nomination Tuesday.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
/ Source: NBC News

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee announced Tuesday that it was delaying a vote on the nomination of John Bolton as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations to examine new allegations against him.

Andrea Mitchell, NBC News' chief foreign affairs correspondent, reports on the significance of the delay to the Bush administration.

How big a deal was Tuesday's announcement by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee?
It is a blow to the White House and its chances of getting John Bolton confirmed — because any delay will stall the momentum and potentially raise problems.

What will happen now is that over the next three weeks the staff of the committee, including some very strong critics of John Bolton, will be interviewing new witnesses who have come forward and checking their allegations of abusive behavior by Bolton, both before, during and after his public service.

Is the White House rethinking this controversial nomination?
The White House and State Department both deny that they are rethinking this nomination.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, traveling from Moscow to Lithuania today, reaffirmed her support for Bolton, saying that she is confident that he can do a very good job in New York.

She raised the question of why his behavior or his management style should be at issue at all in his confirmation.

But what is being alleged here is not management style, so much as whether or not he pressured intelligence officers to change their intelligence, whether he lied to the committee when he said he only casually stopped by the CIA to check on one of the intelligence officers rather than repeatedly going to the agency as a matter of appointment and schedule. And whether he lied when he talked about other aspects of his past history.

So, these are all questions that were troubling enough that one of the Republican members, Sen. George Voinovich from Ohio, said that in good conscience he simply couldn’t vote for Bolton.

With Voinovich bolting from the Republican ranks, that meant that Chairman Richard Lugar could not win a majority vote for Bolton in committee to report it out to the floor. Under committee rules, all committee rules in the Senate, a tie vote would force the committee to hold onto this nomination, rather than reporting it out.

With that as the prospect, he decided it was better to agree to this delay, rather than have it sink in committee.

Does the fact that key Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee were part of the decision to delay the vote show a lack of unity among Republicans?  
It shows a lack of unity, and it also shows concern among Republicans on the Foreign Relations Committee that this is not the best choice.

There was a lack of enthusiasm throughout. Even the chairman, Richard Lugar, who had insisted on calling for a vote yesterday until he was sidelined by the Democratic opposition, even Lugar was only lukewarm in his support. The best that he could say in Bolton’s defense yesterday was that this is the president’s choice, that the president feels strongly about Bolton, as does the secretary of state, and if they want him, then they ought to have that right and that prerogative.

That was the strongest thing he could say in favor of Bolton, rather than enthusiastically welcoming him as the best person for the job.

How much of discussion around Bolton is just politics?  Are the Democrats really digging for problems with accusations of ‘abusive behavior’ stemming back more than a decade ago?
By most accounts this isn’t just politics. This is one of the few committees that is rarely, if ever, political. The [members] usually work together in a bipartisan way. With very few exceptions on this committee, there are few people who are overtly political.

Joe Biden has joined the administration on numerous issues, including the war in Iraq. So his objections were not really viewed as “just politics.” And certainly the concerns that George Voinovich expressed yesterday were not politics.

If anything, Republican members such as Chuck Hagel were being a little bit political in saying that they were willing to go along with this choice, even though they were not happy with it, because politically they were not willing to take on their own White House and go against the president.

With the allegations against Bolton piling up, would the White House ever withdraw the nomination?
In the past what we’ve seen happen is that these kinds of allegations pile up and if they are not answered strongly and definitively by the nominee, then you could envision a scenario where John Bolton takes himself out of contention.

Or at the White House, perhaps in a heavy news period when no one is paying much attention, or late on a Friday afternoon, you might see a withdrawal down the road. But, we are not at that stage yet. The White House is still hoping it can get him confirmed.