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Democrats Set to Reject Pick for U.N.

Times Staff Writer

Democrats are likely to vote unanimously against John R. Bolton when his nomination to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations comes before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next week, according to Democratic and Republican lawmakers and aides.

It would be the first time that committee Democrats unanimously opposed a Bush diplomatic selection, and it could put the nomination in peril if any Republicans defected to vote against Bolton.

But Republicans said they thought the outspoken conservative would win solid GOP support in the committee, including from moderate Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.), who voiced reservations about Bolton’s nomination to be U.N. ambassador.

Although Democrats have challenged a number of diplomatic nominees, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, “they see this nomination as more distasteful, and they’re more united,” said one Democratic Senate aide.

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The split on the panel is one of several signs that the proceedings, set for April 7, could be acrimonious.

Advocates have organized letter and ad campaigns for and against Bolton. Democrats said they intended to investigate Bolton’s comments on a variety of issues, an exercise that Republicans said could stretch the hearing into a second day. Republicans said they were concerned that Democrats might attempt to filibuster the nomination if it reached the Senate floor.

Bolton, undersecretary of State for arms control, is controversial because of his criticism of the United Nations and other international institutions and agreements.

“He’s been contemptuous of the U.N.,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). “There’s a lot to talk about at this hearing. It’s going to be very contentious.”

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Disarmament groups such as the Friends Committee on National Legislation and Citizens for Global Solutions have tried to persuade moderate Republicans, such as Chafee, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar of Indiana and Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, to vote against Bolton.

Citizens for Global Solutions is beginning an advertising campaign today in Rhode Island to try to influence Chafee, said group spokeswoman Harpinder Athwal.

On the other side is a Sacramento group called Move America Forward.

“We like the idea that he’ll represent U.S. interests to the U.N., rather than act as a U.N. spokesman to this country,” said Howard Kaloogian, chairman of Move America Forward. “We like the idea that he’ll speak truth to power.”

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Lugar, Hagel and Chafee reacted without enthusiasm to the administration’s announcement of Bolton as its choice this month. But Lugar and Hagel have given more positive indications since.

Lugar “didn’t want to make a strong positive statement right out of the blocks because he wanted to ask a lot of questions,” said spokesman Andy Fisher.

An aide to Chafee said the senator remained undecided. “We’re getting more and more calls about it but ... he’s still watching it, and we’ll have to see where he’ll come down.”

Chafee is one of the Senate’s most moderate Republicans. Opposing the Bolton nomination -- which could sink it -- would be a major step for a lawmaker who had never voted against a top nominee of President Bush or President Clinton, aides acknowledged.

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If any Democrat were to break ranks, it would probably be Sen. Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin. Feingold has held the view that, except in extreme cases, presidents should be allowed to choose their associates.

He expressed that view when he voted for Rice in January, and said the same thing in 2001 when he was the only committee Democrat to vote for Bolton’s nomination to be undersecretary of State. Bolton’s nomination passed the Senate, 57 to 43.

Feingold “is going to be reserving judgment until he hears from the nominee at the hearing,” an aide said. But other Democrats said Feingold was reconsidering his position.

There are 10 Republicans and eight Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee. If Chafee switched, creating a 9-9 tie, it would probably kill the nomination, two GOP Senate aides said.

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But Sarah Binder, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a specialist on congressional procedures, said the committee’s rules appeared to allow the chairman to move the question to the Senate floor if he could get a majority vote in favor of such an action.

Some Democrats predicted Bolton could lose support among Republican members if he was unyielding in his criticism of the United Nations.

Republican officials said they did not expect Bolton to soft-pedal his positions. But they said he was expected to emphasize that he wanted to reform the U.N., not destroy it.

The selection of Bolton is “part of the president’s determination to make the U.N. work,” according to administration talking points that were circulated on Capitol Hill.

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