For 3 GOP Senators, Vote Isn’t Just About U.N. Pick

Times Staff Writer

For the three Republican senators who have expressed reservations about John R. Bolton’s nomination as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, the committee vote set for Thursday is about much more than whether he is the best man for the job.

When they gather with their colleagues on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for their final consideration of Bolton, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and George V. Voinovich of Ohio will carry vastly different political calculations and ambitions that may factor as much in their decisions as anything revealed about the nominee by dozens of witnesses and hundreds of documents.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. May 11, 2005 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday May 11, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 73 words Type of Material: Correction
Bolton nomination -- An article in Tuesday’s Section A about the nomination of John R. Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) would be on the ballot for his seat for the first time next year. In fact, Chafee ran for election in 2000, defeating Democratic challenger Robert A. Weygand. Chafee was appointed to his seat in 1999 after the death of his father, Sen. John Chafee.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), the committee chairman, says he is confident that all three will join with their GOP colleagues on the panel and send Bolton’s nomination to the Senate floor on a party-line vote -- with the 10 Republicans recommending his appointment and the eight Democrats voting against it.


Voinovich shocked his GOP colleagues when he sided with Democrats in delaying a vote on Bolton at an April 19 committee meeting.

Senior administration officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, reportedly have contacted Voinovich, Hagel and Chafee seeking to answer their questions about Bolton and to rebut Democratic allegations that he is unfit to serve as U.N. ambassador.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan publicly urged Voinovich to meet with Bolton before the vote. The senator’s staff declined to say whether such a meeting would occur.

With the administration putting on a full-court press, Democrats say they would be surprised if Voinovich, Hagel or Chaffee were to break ranks and hand Bush an embarrassing political setback.

In the end, both sides say, the questions raised about Bolton’s personality and management style may prove less important to the wavering senators than issues of principle and political pragmatism.

A vote against Bolton, said Tony Fabrizio, a Republican pollster, “poses the most danger for Hagel,” who is widely believed to be laying the groundwork for a 2008 presidential race.

Bolton, the undersecretary of State for arms control and international security, has publicly criticized the United Nations -- one reason he has received strong support from the party’s conservative base, Fabrizio said.

“If you’re going to run for president,” Fabrizio said, “how you vote [on Bolton] says something about your take on foreign policy.”

The three senators also must take into account that Bolton’s nomination “is perceived by the party base as an ideological fight” and by the Senate’s Republican majority as a challenge from Democrats to its control of the chamber, said David Keene, head of the American Conservative Union, a lobbying group.

For Hagel’s hopes of support from party conservatives in a possible presidential bid, Keene said, “it would not be particularly beneficial to be seen as having knifed Bolton in the back.”

Democratic staff members on the Foreign Relations Committee have said they assume that Hagel will vote in favor of Bolton’s nomination. Although the senator has not committed himself, he said over the weekend that he had seen nothing that would persuade him to vote against the nominee.

The Democrats have focused on Voinovich and Chafee in their case against Bolton. They have sought to convince the two that Bolton’s management style is heavy-handed, even bullying, and that he has had a contentious relationship with those in the intelligence community who have disagreed with him.

Voinovich, a maverick who easily won reelection last year, is considered the Republican with the least to lose if he were to defy his party and president and vote against Bolton’s nomination.

Chafee, who represents an overwhelmingly Democratic state and is up for reelection next year, would risk more by supporting his president’s nominee than he would by opposing him, political analysts say.

Both men are known to be concerned with the management criticisms raised about Bolton. Both also have said executives have the right to name their own teams.

Chafee has said he is inclined to vote for Bolton because of his belief in the president’s prerogative to surround himself with the people he chooses. Only evidence that Bolton had lied to the committee, Chafee said, likely would convince him to vote against the nominee.

Voinovich returned this weekend from a trip to Slovenia, where he received a presidential award for his work on behalf of that nation’s people. His staff said he took a thick file on the Bolton case with him and would make up his mind during the five hours of scheduled debate before the committee vote Thursday.

“He really is reviewing this record,” said Marcie Ridgway, Voinovich’s spokeswoman. “He wants to make sure the right person gets this job. This is what the committee is supposed to do. The committees are there to vet nominations.”

Move America Forward, a California-based conservative group, has targeted Voinovich -- buying ads on talk-radio shows that air in Ohio to criticize the senator for siding with Democrats last month in delaying a committee vote on Bolton.

Howard Kaloogian, co-chairman of the nonprofit group, said it ran the ads not because it hoped to unseat Voinovich when his term was up in five years, but because “we’re attempting to influence a vote in the Senate this month. We’re saying that [Voinovich] is not on the program of reforming the U.N. We would like to influence him, and we would like to have his constituents speak up.”

The ads seem to have had some effect on Ohio Republicans.

“We’ve been going round and round with some conservative Republicans here in the state who are not happy with the senator’s position,” said Jason Mauk, political director for the Ohio Republican Party. “We tell them: Deliberation never hurt anyone. Giving careful thought to such an important position is a good thing.”

If Voinovich votes for Bolton after a thorough review of the questions about him, Mauk said, “Mr. Bolton would be stronger and better off for it.”

Even if Voinovich votes against Bolton, he should be able to weather conservative criticism, Mauk said. “If there ever was such a thing as political capital, George Voinovich certainly has it to spend right now.”

Voinovich -- who was mayor of heavily Democratic Cleveland for 10 years and governor for eight years before he won his Senate seat in 1998 -- took every county in the state in his reelection last year, Mauk said.

“He’s in a nice spot, and he’s earned it. He is an independent thinker, and those characteristics are popular among the Ohio electorate,” Mauk said.

Chafee is in a far different situation. Appointed to his seat after his father, Sen. John Chafee, died in 1999, he is running for the first time next year. Democrats have signaled that they intend to target the moderate Republican, who is running in a heavily Democratic state.

“If Chafee were casting his ballot [on Bolton] just on political issues, he would clearly vote ‘no,’ ” said Darrell West, a professor of political science at Brown University in Rhode Island. “Rhode Island is the bluest of blue states, and people are not enamored with President Bush.”

When Chafee served as mayor of Warwick, R.I., West said, he developed his conviction that “chief executives should have the right to name their own people.”

West said he believed Chafee was likely to vote for Bolton, and that if he did, “he has got to spend the next several months explaining this vote.”

Even a vote against Bolton, West said, was unlikely to produce a serious primary challenger to Chafee, whom he described as “about the best Republican the party can get from this state.”

West said the pressures on Chafee as he considered his vote were typical of those facing the ever-dwindling numbers of moderate Republicans in an increasingly polarized Congress.

“The national trend in the GOP has been in the conservative direction, but many of these individuals represent states that are either closely divided or leaning Democratic,” he said. “So on every one of these issues that come along, it is always a real dilemma how to cast a vote.”