ABOUT HALFWAY THROUGH SENATOR Richard Lugar's droning opening statement in the May 12 confirmation hearing of John Bolton to become the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a yawn made its way around the press table. And it lingered--until Lugar ceded the floor to the incalculable senator from Ohio, George Voinovich, when our listless eyes turned lively and the laptops fired to life. Would Voinovich break ranks and vote with the Democrats? Or would he duplicitously express his reservations before buckling to the administration's will?
As we now know, it was something in between. Voinovich may have enabled Bolton to scrape his way through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and move to the full Senate for a floor vote, but he nevertheless made himself an ally of those seeking to defeat Bolton's nomination. "Once we lost [Lincoln] Chaffee and [Chuck] Hagel, there was never a possibility of killing it in committee," said Don Kraus of Citizens for Global Solutions, a membership organization that provided key grass-roots opposition to the nomination. "I think what Voinovich did took guts. Sending it to the Senate floor without a recommendation means we can still fight it."
At press time, Bolton's fate was unclear. But even if he passes, progressive Washington accomplished several things in this fight. Democrats who were initially reluctant to go to the mat on the Bolton nomination were forced to do so via pressure exerted by an extremely active private and public grass-roots campaign. Once Democrats chose to fight, they did it effectively. And finally, the ensuing controversy has badly damaged the nominee and, by extension, the hard-line elements within the administration that he represents.
ON MARCH 7, WHEN SECRETARY OF State Condoleezza Rice first announced Bolton's nomination, progressives and moderates let out a collective groan. Almost immediately, a group of civic-minded intellectuals and activists decided to dig in. At the center was a close-knit group--which managed to stay out of the newspapers the entire time--of about seven individuals who, by their professions or experience, were in a position to get in contact with a bipartisan cadre of former cabinet members, ambassadors, and other high-ranking officials concerned with the damage Bolton could inflict on U.S. interests at the UN. Just before the committee vote, I spoke to one, who described to me how the group quickly mapped out a congressional strategy that paired individual senators on the committee with influential ex-officials whose opinions the senators were known to trust.
Complementing that inside strategy was an outside strategy led by a large network of organizations such as Citizens for Global Solutions and MoveOn. They began staging weekly meetings to mobilize grass-roots pressure against the nomination. On the front lines of that battle from the very beginning was Steve Clemons, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and the proprietor of The Washington Note blog. From Bolton's nomination onward, Clemons ran a one-man whip operation, relentlessly pressuring Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to state their opposition to Bolton for the record.
But Democrats were initially reluctant. "At first, no one on the Hill thought that this was a battle worth fighting," Clemons told me. "It was as if the Democratic political class was on this autopi-lot function where if the White House wanted something, they would simply roll over and let the White House have its way. …