Bush Plans to Bypass Senate, Appoint Bolton
President Bush will sidestep Democratic opposition to his nomination of John R. Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations by making a recess appointment not subject to Senate confirmation, a senior administration official said Friday.
The appointment, which is likely to further roil relations with congressional Democrats, will be announced before the president leaves Washington on Tuesday for a five-week working vacation at his Texas ranch, said the official, who requested anonymity because Bush had not yet publicly disclosed his intentions.
The president was expected to proceed despite the disclosure that Bolton had made a false statement to a Senate committee. Democrats made a fresh appeal Friday that Bush not bypass the confirmation process by using his power to appoint Bolton during the monthlong congressional recess that starts this weekend.
The White House and State Department said the incorrect information Bolton submitted to lawmakers was an unintentional mistake. They emphasized the need to send him to the United Nations before the world body began its annual deliberations Sept. 14.
“It’s a critical time to be moving forward on this,” White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said. “The United Nations will be having their General Assembly meeting in September, and it’s important that we get our permanent representative in place.”
A recess appointment would take effect immediately and would remain in effect until January 2007.
The political standoff escalated after Democrats alleged that Bolton, a blunt-spoken diplomat favored by many conservatives but regarded with suspicion by critics of administration policy, had misled lawmakers.
On a routine, sworn questionnaire that the Senate committee requires of nominees, Bolton answered “no” when asked whether he had been interviewed by an inspector general of a government agency or a grand jury during the past five years.
On Thursday, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) wrote a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying he had learned that Bolton, the former undersecretary of State for arms control, had been interviewed during that five-year period by the inspectors general of the State Department and the CIA.
The interviews were connected to efforts by the two agencies to determine how assertions that Iraq sought to purchase uranium from Niger had found their way into the president’s 2003 State of the Union address.
The State Department responded to Biden with a letter saying Bolton did not recall being interviewed by its inspector general’s office. It said that after checking records, the department determined Bolton was interviewed on July 18, 2003, about the Niger uranium issue.
On Friday, 35 Senate Democrats and one independent wrote to Bush that Bolton “had not been truthful” with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. They urged the president not to bypass their concerns by making a recess appointment.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) wrote the letter. She said in an interview that Bolton’s claim that he did not recall being questioned about the uranium issue “just doesn’t pass the smell test.”
If the president makes a recess appointment, Boxer said, “this administration is going to sink even further in public approval, and John Bolton will be damaged goods at the U.N. at a time when we need to win friends more than ever.”
Among the Democrats signing the letter were Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Dianne Feinstein of California, Barack Obama of Illinois, Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, and Biden.
No Republicans signed, but Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi said a 16-month recess appointment would be a bad idea.
“Everybody up there will know, in a tough job, that he was not confirmed and he has certain limitations ... time-wise,” Lott told National Public Radio. “So I think it’s a bad choice, and I would recommend against it. But I think they’re going to do it, and then they’ll have to live with the consequences.”
The deadlock over Bolton has been a continuing source of frustration for the White House and its allies, who have managed in recent days to score important legislative victories on trade, energy and highway funding.
For four months, Democrats have blocked Bolton’s confirmation with a filibuster. Although it appears that Bush’s nominee would be confirmed in an up-or-down vote in the 100-member Senate, Republican leaders have twice failed to muster the 60-vote majority needed to end a filibuster.
Bush nominated Bolton in March, characterizing the veteran diplomat as an outspoken reformer who could effectively promote the administration’s agenda for overhauling U.N. policies and procedures.
Democrats have questioned Bolton’s fitness 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.
Although a recess appointment would end the stalemate, it would carry risks for Bush. Besides its effect on Bolton’s credibility as ambassador, it could alienate senators who in September will begin considering Bush’s nomination of appeals court judge John G. Roberts Jr. to a seat on the Supreme Court.
In another indication that a recess appointment might be imminent, Rice said the Senate’s failure to resolve the impasse before its August break could jeopardize efforts to overhaul U.N. operations.
“That’s unfortunate,” Rice said Thursday on PBS’ “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.” “What we can’t be is without leadership at the United Nations.... We have a good team at the U.N., but we need our permanent representative.”