Bush Steps Around Senate, Names Bolton U.N. Envoy

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Times Staff Writer

Blocked for nearly five months by Democratic lawmakers, President Bush on Monday used his power to bypass the confirmation process and named John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations. Within hours, the blunt-spoken diplomat took the oath of office in Washington and headed for New York, where he ended the day on the job.

Bush invoked his constitutional authority to fill an open job while Congress was in recess, instead of trying to resolve a deadlock with senators who had called Bolton unfit for the job; the Democrats had been using a parliamentary maneuver to block a vote on his confirmation.

Under a recess appointment, Bolton can serve until the end of the next Senate session, expected in the late fall of 2006.


“America has now gone more than six months without a permanent ambassador to the United Nations,” Bush said at a White House appearance with Bolton and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “This post is too important to leave vacant any longer, especially during a war and a vital debate about U.N. reform.”

Bush’s decision to appoint Bolton without a confirmation vote was denounced by Democrats, who predicted it would undermine the diplomat’s credibility at the U.N. and create more partisan rancor on Capitol Hill. Bolton’s sharp tongue and direct style have alienated some subordinates, but enchanted many conservatives.

“At a time when we need to reassert our diplomatic power in the world, President Bush has decided to send a seriously flawed and weakened candidate to the United Nations,” said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada. On Sunday, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) called Bolton “damaged goods.”

But there were no signs Monday that Democrats would respond to the appointment by taking action against other Bush nominees, such as his choice of John G. Roberts Jr. for the Supreme Court.

The White House said Bush decided over the weekend to proceed with a recess appointment; the Senate completed action on a raft of legislation late Friday and suspended for a five-week summer break. The president is leaving Washington today for his own five-week working vacation at his Texas home.

During the White House ceremony, Bolton, 56, said he intended to do Bush’s bidding.

“You have made your directions for U.S. policy at the United Nations clear,” Bolton told the president. “I am prepared to work tirelessly to carry out the agenda and initiatives that you and Secretary Rice direct.”


Bush said the recess appointment was justified because Bolton had gone through lengthy confirmation hearings and had the support of a majority of senators. He blamed the deadlock on “delaying tactics by a handful of senators.”

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters he welcomed Bolton’s appointment “at a time when we are in the midst of major reform” and said he considered it Bush’s prerogative to bypass the confirmation process.

But Annan suggested Bolton’s effectiveness in carrying out Bush’s agenda would be determined by his willingness to accommodate other points of view, a characteristic that some critics have said the new ambassador may be lacking.

“I think it is all right for one ambassador to come and push,” Annan said. “But an ambassador always has to remember that there are 190 others who will have to be convinced, or a vast majority of them, for action to take place.”

Bush’s critics have questioned Bolton’s appropriateness for the job, expressing concern about his caustic criticism of the U.N. and allegations that he tried to intimidate intelligence analysts who disagreed with him.

In the Senate, Democrats have used the filibuster, or extended debate, to delay a floor vote on Bolton on grounds that the administration had refused to provide sufficient information about his track record as a top State Department official -- including his efforts to obtain secret National Security Agency intercepts of overseas communications.


Democrats had asked to see unedited copies of 10 intercepts given to Bolton that contained the names of 19 American officials.

Democrats said they wanted to be sure that Bolton did not seek the information to intimidate intelligence analysts.

It takes 60 votes in the 100-member Senate to end a filibuster. While it appeared Bolton would win the simple majority required for confirmation, Republican leaders failed twice to muster enough votes to end the filibuster and proceed to a vote on his nomination.

Bolton’s backers argue that the tough-talking diplomat is exactly the kind of person needed to make the case for change at the U.N. as the world body struggles to respond to allegations of ineffectiveness, mismanagement and corruption.

“Sometimes a blunt style is needed in order to get things done,” White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters.

The United States is seeking support from other U.N. members for a series of institutional changes, including improved management and new approaches to fighting terrorism, advancing human rights and keeping the peace.


“Ambassador Bolton believes passionately in the goals of the United Nations Charter, to advance peace and liberty and human rights,” Bush said. “His mission is now to help the U.N. reform itself to renew its founding promises.”

Bolton held top-level positions at the State and Justice departments and the Agency for International Development during the administrations of presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

After sitting out the Clinton years, he was appointed undersecretary of State for arms control and international security by President Bush in 2001.

Last week, 35 Democratic senators and the chamber’s one independent signed a letter urging Bush to not make a recess appointment and stating that Bolton had misled lawmakers.

They said Bolton had submitted false information to lawmakers when he answered “no” on a sworn questionnaire when asked whether he had been interviewed by an inspector general or grand jury during the past five years. In fact he had been questioned by a State Department inspector general about administration assertions that Iraq was trying to obtain uranium. The State Department said the omission was unintentional.

Bolton’s critics include California’s two senators, both Democrats. Sen. Barbara Boxer said the recess appointment was an example of the administration’s “arrogance of power.” Sen. Dianne Feinstein criticized Bush for appointing an emissary “who has shown an unrestrained contempt for diplomacy and international treaties.”


Despite the Democrats’ assertions that the recess appointment would diminish Bolton’s stature at the United Nations, a number of diplomats and U.N. observers said they expected that the damage would be limited.

“I don’t think it’s going to undermine his ability one way or the other,” said Mitchell B. Reiss, Bush’s special envoy to Northern Ireland and a former top State Department official. “He represents the United States of America, and he’s our ambassador now. That will supersede any controversy that may have attended his confirmation.”

William Luers, president of the United Nations Assn. of the United States of America, a non-government policy research group, said Bolton’s credibility at the U.N. would depend more on how he conducts himself than on how he got his appointment.

“Because the president is giving him such strong support, and because he represents a nation without which the United Nations wouldn’t be a lot, they’re going to have to work with him,” said Luers, a former U.S. diplomat. “I think most of them are ready to work with him.”

Nancy Soderberg, a former Clinton foreign policy advisor and now vice president of the International Crisis Group in New York, said she thought Bolton’s effectiveness already had been reduced by his past criticism of the institution.

The recess appointment, she said, was far less significant.

“They’ll get over that,” Soderberg said. “Frankly, the rest of the world doesn’t understand why the president has to have a confirmation process anyway.”




Recent recess appointments

Presidents since George Washington have made appointments during congressional recesses to fill positions in the executive and judicial branches. Under the Constitution, the president can make temporary appointments while the Senate is in recess, without Senate approval. The appointment lasts through the end of the following one-year session of Congress. Following are some of the more notable recent recess appointments:

President Bush

106 recess appointments, including Bolton, mostly to minor posts. Among them:

Anthony J. Principi, chairman of the Base Closure and Realignment Commission, April 2005. Bush also used the recess to appoint the panel’s other eight members, circumventing a move by Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) to delay the base closings.

William H. Pryor Jr., 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, February 2004. The Alabama judge’s renomination and Senate approval in June was part of a deal struck by centrist senators to avoid a judicial filibuster.

Charles W. Pickering Sr., 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, January 2004. First nominated in 2001, he was blocked by Senate Democrats. He retired when his temporary appointment expired in December.

Eugene Scalia, Labor Department solicitor, January 2002. Bush extended Scalia’s term by naming him acting solicitor in November 2002, with the intent of renominating him before a GOP-controlled Senate. But Scalia, son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, resigned in January 2003.

Otto J. Reich, assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs, January 2002. The former Reagan White House aide left when his recess term expired the following November.


President Clinton

140 recess appointments over two terms. Among them:

Roger Gregory, 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, December 2000. He was later renominated by Bush and confirmed by the Senate.

Bill Lann Lee, assistant attorney general for civil rights, August 2000. Blocked by Senate Republicans, he was named acting assistant attorney general in 1997, then given the recess appointment to serve out Clinton’s term.

Former Sen. Wyche Fowler (D-Ga.), ambassador to Saudi Arabia, August 1996. Put in the post two months after a bombing that killed 19 American soldiers stationed there, he received Senate confirmation in October 1997 and served until March 2001.

Mickey Kantor, Commerce secretary, April 1996. He replaced Ron Brown, who died in a plane crash, but left in January 1997 before his nomination went before the Senate.

Sources: Associated Press; Congressional Research Service; Senate Historian’s Office.

Los Angeles Times