Panel Delays Vote on Bolton Nomination

By Pomper, Miles A. | Arms Control Today, May 2005 | Go to article overview

Panel Delays Vote on Bolton Nomination


Pomper, Miles A., Arms Control Today


The Senate Foreign Relations Committee April 19 delayed a vote on John R. Bolton's nomination as U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations. The holdup came after a series of hearings, press reports, and interviews by committee aides raised questions about Bolton, currently the Department of State's top arms control official. In particular, doubts surfaced about Bolton's temperament and his treatment of U. S intelligence officials and State Department career diplomats who questioned the facts behind some of his controversial policy judgments.

Panel chairman Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) had hoped to send Bolton's nomination to the floor on a 10-8 party-line vote. But Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) sided with Democrats in urging a delay in the vote. Unable to muscle the nomination through with a majority, Lugar delayed a vote until early May, and a new vote is now set for May 12.

In the meantime, Lugar and his Democratic counterpart Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware have agreed that aides will conduct formal interviews with as many as two dozen people, including former top CIA and State Department officials. In addition, the committee has prepared a list of about 20 additional written questions for Bolton, who has already undergone a full day of testimony and two rounds of written questions. The panel has also submitted requests for relevant emails and telephone logs.

Bolton's fate is unclear. Bush administration officials from the president on down have continued to push for the nomination. And Senate rules do not require the panel to approve the nomination by a majority. However, it would be politically risky for the nomination to be taken up on the Senate floor without such backing.

The delay came after Democrats indicated that they had new and damaging revelations about Bolton who has served as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security since 2001. Voinovich, who was absent from the first series of hearings, said he needed more time to study the matter. "I've heard enough that I don't feel comfortable voting for Mr. Bolton," Voinovich said.

Two other Republicans on the committee, Sens. Chuck Hagel (Neb.), second in seniority, and Lincoln Chafee (R.L), expressed misgivings about Bolton as well and indicated they might not vote for him in committee or on the Senate floor.

Even if Bolton's nomination is approved by the committee, he may face a fight on the Senate floor. Democrats have raised the prospect of a filibuster to block the confirmation. Republicans would likely need 60 votes to break such a filibuster, and there are only 55 Republican senators. With Bolton's nomination delayed, the committee has also not acted on the less controversial nomination of former Bush National security Council aide Robert Joseph as his successor.

The delay followed staff interviews and two days of committee hearings in which Democrats devoted the most attention to Bolton's temperament and the sometimes stormy relations between Bolton's office and intelligence and other career officials who disagreed with him. Less attention was paid to Bolton's controversial views on the United Nations (see ACT, April 2005) and the value of international law, as well as a raft of policy positions he has staked out in his current position.

In an April 20 interview with CNN, secretary of State Condoleezza Rice complained about the Democratic attacks. "The president deserves to have the person at the UN that he thinks best to carry out this job," Rice said. "I think we make a mistake when suddenly comments about management style become part of the confirmation process."

President George W. Bush himself weighed in April 21, blaming partisan politics for the delay in Bolton's confirmation. "John's distinguished career and service to our nation demonstrates that he is the right man at the right time for this important assignment," Bush said. "I urge the Senate to put aside politics and confirm John Bolton to the United Nations. …

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