Senate Delays Vote on Bolton
The Senate dealt another setback to the beleaguered nomination of John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations on Thursday, voting to delay his confirmation for at least another week after Democrats accused the administration of withholding information.
The vote came as a blow to President Bush, who has praised Bolton as the sort of tough-talking diplomat who could help reform the United Nations. However, Bolton’s nomination has been slowed by charges that he has stretched intelligence findings and bullied intelligence analysts who disagreed with him.
Thursday’s delay resulted from a failed Republican effort to cut off debate, a move that required the support of three-fifths of the Senate. The 56-42 vote fell short of the 60 votes the Republican majority needed to end debate and hold a confirmation vote.
Despite the holdup, Republicans vowed to bring the nomination up again after the Memorial Day recess, and predicted they would muster the votes to confirm Bolton.
The first casualty of Thursday’s vote, however, may have been the spirit of compromise achieved Monday when a group of 14 moderate and maverick Democratic and Republican senators signed an agreement on judicial nominees.
In that compromise -- which pulled the Senate back from what could have become a paralyzing partisan confrontation -- seven Democrats promised to filibuster judicial nominees only in “extraordinary circumstances” in return for Republicans promising not to vote to change the filibuster rules that allow the minority party to hold up nominations.
“Well, John Bolton is in extraordinary-circumstance purgatory right now,” said an angry Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), when asked whether the Democrats’ actions Thursday undermined the spirit of the agreement.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) issued a statement excoriating the Democrats: “Some 72 hours after hailing an agreement that sought to end partisan filibusters, the Democrats have launched yet another partisan filibuster.... Given the chance to advance the cause of comity in the Senate, the Democrats have chosen partisan confrontation over cooperation.”
But Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the minority leader, denied that Democrats were seeking to torpedo Bolton’s nomination. He said Democrats were prepared to give Bolton an up-or-down vote after the administration provides the information that they have requested.
“We’re not here to filibuster,” Reid said. “We’re here to get information.”
“Maybe this will now get the attention of the president, the attention of the chief of staff, and they will take a look at the information we’re seeking and realize that there’s no reasonable basis upon which to deny us the information,” said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and leader of the Democratic opposition to Bolton.
Frist tried throughout the day to meet Biden’s demand for information about records Bolton has requested over the past four years from the National Security Agency, the federal eavesdropping office that monitors overseas communications between Americans and foreigners.
According to a Frist aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the majority leader lobbied the administration to give Biden and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) access to the records sought by Bolton.
Previously, partial transcripts of the intercepted communications -- with the names of U.S. officials edited out -- had been shown to Roberts, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, and to Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), the panel’s senior Democrat.
Democrats wanted to see the intercepts as well as the names of U.S. officials contained in them to judge whether Bolton had sought the information to bolster his position in bureaucratic struggles.
The Frist aide said the administration agreed to show edited versions to Biden and Lugar, but the Democrats rejected that offer.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), one of the architects of Monday’s compromise on judicial nominees, downplayed the effect of Thursday’s vote on efforts by moderates and mavericks in both parties to overcome Senate partisanship.
McCain noted that the compromise did not extend to other, nonjudicial nominations. But McCain conceded the Democrats’ filibuster of Bolton could be seen as violating the spirit of the agreement. “It’s not related to it, but it’s unfortunate,” he said. “I had hoped that the vote would turn out differently.”
McCain had worked the floor throughout the vote, and pleaded unsuccessfully with Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) to vote to limit the debate.
Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said Thursday’s vote was “a setback for the compromise that was reached” and that “it certainly has strained the relationship between our leaderships.”
Reid had assured Frist that Democrats would not filibuster Bolton’s nomination, Lott said. An aide to Reid, speaking on condition of anonymity, denied that, saying that on the contrary, Reid warned Frist on Thursday that he probably did not have the votes to limit debate.
The vote was the third setback for a man who has become Bush’s most controversial foreign policy nominee.
Bush nominated Bolton, the undersecretary of State for arms control and international security, in March. The nomination quickly ran into opposition from Democrats, who said that Bolton -- a favorite of social conservatives -- was the wrong man for the job.
However, Republicans were confident that they could muscle the nomination through the Foreign Relations Committee, where they have a 10-8 majority.
But they were shocked April 19, when Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), a maverick, balked at voting for the nomination after Biden and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) mounted a fierce attack on Bolton.
Voinovich joined Democrats in demanding more time to explore allegations that Bolton had bullied intelligence analysts and sought to stretch intelligence assessments on the weapons capabilities of Cuba, Iran and Syria. Voinovich’s stance forced Lugar to agree to a three-week extension of the committee’s investigation into Bolton’s record.
Then, on May 12, Voinovich delivered a blistering critique of Bolton and said he would vote against his confirmation when it came before the full Senate. The committee, on a 10-8 vote along party lines, took the highly unusual step of sending Bolton’s nomination to the Senate with no recommendation.
After the Monday compromise on judicial nominees was announced, Republicans again seemed confident that they could quickly push through Bolton’s confirmation.
But once again, they failed to marshal the votes. In the 100-seat Senate, Republicans have a 55-seat majority. Democrats hold 44 seats. Sen. James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.) usually votes with the Democrats.
Only three Democrats -- Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas broke ranks and voted to limit debate. All three are moderates, and Nelson and Pryor were among the Democrats who led the effort to achieve the compromise on judicial nominees.
Sens. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) were not present for the vote. Specter had left earlier in the afternoon for Philadelphia, where he is undergoing treatment for Hodgkin’s disease. California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, both Democrats, voted against limiting the debate.
When it became clear that the motion would fail, Frist voted in favor of continuing the debate, a move that under Senate rules allows him to call the nomination up for a vote in the future. No other Republican, including those such as Voinovich who had expressed reservations about Bolton, voted in favor of continuing the debate.
Boxer, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, earlier had put a hold on the nomination, seeking to pressure the administration into turning over the documents on Bolton.
Bolton’s defenders -- including Bush -- acknowledge that he is blunt-spoken, but say he has never violated any laws or stepped outside the bounds of ethical conduct in strongly advocating his views within the State Department. They noted that no intelligence analyst who clashed with Bolton lost his job.
Bolton, his supporters contend, would be a strong advocate for reform and a spokesman who has credibility with many Americans who have lost faith in the United Nations as a result of its mismanaged oil-for-food program, which allowed Iraq to sell its oil to buy food, and other scandals.
“I applaud President Bush for his selection,” Frist said just minutes before Thursday’s vote. Noting instances of U.N. corruption, Frist said: “It is no surprise Americans are calling out for reform. John Bolton is the president’s choice to lead that effort.”
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said that particularly in a time of war, the president has the right to assemble the national security team he wants around him.
A day of political drama began Thursday with Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, and Dodd sending a letter to their colleagues. The pair argued that the Senate should not vote on Bolton until the administration handed over two sets of documents demanded weeks ago by the committee’s Democrats: internal State Department documents on discussions about testimony Bolton was to give to Congress on Syria’s weapons capabilities in August 2002, and the National Security Administration electronic intercepts.
Lugar responded that Democrats had put Bolton through a grueling investigation, and the time had come for an up-or-down vote on his nomination.
As the struggle over procedure played out in the Senate’s corridors and offices, Voinovich made another appeal to his colleagues to reject Bolton on the basis of the evidence that he was unsuited for the job and had been gravely harmed by the nomination process.
“If we do have a vote today, I urge my colleagues in the Senate to let their consciences and their commitments to the best interests of the nation guide them,” Voinovich said. “The allegations have caused great damage to Mr. Bolton’s credibility and the allegations will impair our credibility [at the United Nations.]”
But Republicans urged Bolton’s quick confirmation.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Bolton “sees clearly” where the United Nations “is going astray,” and “has the credibility to be a force for change” at the world body.
Times staff writer Maura Reynolds in Washington contributed to this report.