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Divided Panel Passes Bolton to Full Senate

Times Staff Writers

After weeks of bruising discord, a divided Senate Foreign Relations Committee sent President Bush’s choice of John R. Bolton as U.N. ambassador to the full Senate on Thursday without endorsing him. A Republican majority in the Senate is expected to confirm him as early as next week.

The committee voted along party lines to withhold its recommendation and forward Bolton’s nomination to the Senate after a surprise declaration by Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) that “the United States can do better than John Bolton” as U.N. ambassador.

It was the first time in 12 years that the Foreign Relations Committee had been so divided that members sent a nomination to the Senate without a favorable recommendation, an indication that senators were concerned about allegations that Bolton had sought to manipulate intelligence and that he had bullied those with whom he disagreed.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), the committee’s senior Democrat, called on Bush to withdraw the nomination. He said Thursday’s developments showed that a majority of the committee did not support Bolton.

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The White House predicted Bolton would win in a Senate vote that could come as early as next week, and several prominent moderate Republicans indicated that they planned to vote for Bolton.

Democrats could challenge the nomination before the Senate by mounting a filibuster, but members said they were unlikely to take such an extreme step.

Nonetheless, they expect the debate to be long and bruising.

“I think it will last for days,” said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), who, along with seven other committee Democrats, opposed Bolton.

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Republicans hold a 10-8 majority on the Foreign Relations Committee. But without the support of Voinovich, a vote to recommend the nomination to the Senate would have failed.

In a packed hearing that the nominee did not attend, Voinovich delivered such a blistering attack on Bolton that it appeared he would vote to kill the nomination. In the end, Voinovich said he owed it to the president to send the nomination to the Senate, where he said he would vote against Bolton.

A spokesman for Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), the committee chairman, said Lugar had worked for a week to persuade Voinovich to change his vote from “no” to “no recommendation,” thus keeping the nomination alive.

It was the second time in a month that Voinovich played the deciding role as the committee weighed Bolton’s nomination. He forced a postponement in a scheduled April vote when he expressed reservations about the nominee.

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The delay allowed committee investigators to interview more than 30 witnesses and amass 700 pages of documents. On Thursday, Voinovich was again the swing vote.

“What message are we sending to the world [by appointing] an ambassador to the United Nations who himself has been accused of being arrogant, of not listening to his friends, of acting unilaterally and of bullying those who do not have the ability to properly defend themselves?” Voinovich asked.

The selection of Bolton comes at a time when the United States is trying to dispel that image, Voinovich argued. He noted that the U.S. had suffered a drastic erosion of support among the friends and allies needed to share the costs and responsibilities of military action and building democracy in Iraq and elsewhere.

“To those who say a vote against John Bolton is a vote against reform of the U.N., I say, ‘Nonsense,’ ” Voinovich said.

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Senate supporters of Bolton, an outspoken conservative with a reputation for being blunt and even abrasive, argued that a tough diplomat was what the president wanted to oversee reform at the United Nations.

“We are not electing Mr. Congeniality. We are not electing Mr. Milquetoast,” said Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), who said the nominee should not be “drinking tea with pinkies up.”

Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) said: “Is John Bolton the nicest guy in the world? He’s not going to win that prize. But look at the challenge we’re facing with U.N. reform.”

Nonetheless, Voinovich joined eight Democrats in arguing that Bolton could make it more difficult for the Bush administration to win the U.N. reforms it seeks.

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He said he feared opponents would “use Mr. Bolton as part of their agenda to further question the integrity and credibility of the Untied States.”

Voinovich said he had spoken with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about Bolton’s propensity for “straying off-message,” in some cases hurting the president’s foreign policy objectives.

The two also spoke about Bolton’s “lack of interpersonal skills, his tendency to abuse others who disagree with him,” Voinovich said.

He said Rice told him that “she understood all of those things, and, in spite of them, still feels that John Bolton is the best choice, that she would be in frequent communication with him, and he would be closely supervised.”

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Added Voinovich: “Why in the world would you want to send someone to the U.N. who requires such supervision?”

Voinovich, long interested in government management issues, said Bolton should be commended for some of his achievements, including his work against anti-Semitism, his role in the Moscow Treaty for nuclear arms reductions and his work on the Proliferation Security Initiative, designed to restrict exports of dangerous technology.

But Voinovich cited testimony from senior administration officials that Bolton had “serious deficiencies in the areas that are critical to a good ambassador.”

“I believe that John Bolton would have been fired had he worked for a major corporation,” Voinovich said.

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In a tense, five-hour committee debate, Republicans argued that allegations that Bolton had bullied subordinates, had attempted to fire intelligence analysts who disagreed with him, and had misled the committee in his testimony were unsubstantiated by the evidence.

Absent such evidence, the president should be allowed his choice, they said.

Republicans argued that few senators would emerge with their reputations unscathed from the scrutiny that Bolton had endured.

They also said the partisan confirmation process would deter future nominees from accepting appointments.

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Democrats said evidence of Bolton’s attempts to seek retribution against intelligence analysts who disagreed with him would have a chilling effect in the intelligence community and would undermine Bolton’s credibility at the U.N. -- even if he won confirmation.

Several Democrats said the president could find another tough, blunt and well-qualified conservative, and argued that a U.N. ambassador who had been accused of politicizing intelligence would be ineffective in making the U.S. case to the world, based on intelligence findings, that the nuclear programs of so-called rogue nations posed a global security threat.

The arguments did not sway most committee Republicans, even those who had expressed reservations about Bolton.

Aides to GOP Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said the senators would vote for Bolton on the Senate floor.

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Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island was noncommittal. “I’d like to reserve some leeway” on the floor vote, he said.

Another moderate Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, said that unless a major revelation occurred, she would support Bolton.

“He would not have been my choice,” Collins said. “But he is the president’s choice.”

Republican aides said they expected the vote to be close and to take time, but that Voinovich was the only Republican known to oppose Bolton.

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Voinovich said after the hearing that other senators would look at Bolton’s record and vote their conscience.

“No one really is excited about him,” Voinovich said. “People were surprised he was nominated.”

Biden and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said they would insist before a vote that the State Department and National Security Agency release additional information about Bolton’s record that committee Democrats and Republicans had requested.

Biden said the administration had acted unconstitutionally in denying the requests for information.

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Times staff writers Janet Hook and Richard Simon in Washington contributed to this report.


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