New York Times
May 12, 2005
WASHINGTON, May 12 - John R. Bolton suffered a setback in his quest to become ambassador to the United Nations today when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee declined to recommend him even as it voted to send the nomination to the full Senate for consideration.
The 10-to-8 vote to send Mr. Bolton's name to the chamber, but absent an endorsement, means he will get a "yes or no" vote by the Senate. And since Republicans have 55 seats, Mr. Bolton has a good chance to be confirmed, provided there is no more erosion of support among Republicans.
The lack of a committee endorsement became inevitable after a key Republican member, Senator George V. Voinovich of Ohio, said he would vote against the nomination because the United States "can do better." Mr. Bolton's critics have complained of his hard-driving personal style as an under secretary of state. Some critics have accused him of pressuring intelligence analysts to tweak their findings to suit his biases.
The committee chairman, Senator Richard G. Lugar, Republican of Indiana, had predicted a 10-to-8 vote endorsing Mr. Bolton. But Mr. Voinovich's defection this morning raised the prospect of a deadlock that would have kept the nomination bottled up in the committee.
Mr. Lugar then brokered a deal in which the committee's Republicans agreed to send Mr. Bolton's name to the full Senate with no recommendation. The panel's eight Democrats remained united in opposing his nomination.
"It is my opinion that John Bolton is the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be," Senator Voinovich said. But Mr. Bolton still has the support of the White House. He also has numbers on his side: he needs only 50 votes to prevail, since a Senate tie would be broken by Vice President Dick Cheney.
Mr. Voinovich said he was convinced that a vote for Mr. Bolton, whose detractors have described him as a head-strong bully, would send exactly the wrong signal to the thousands of Americans working in the State Department in the United States and abroad.
While the lack of a committee endorsement is an embarrassment for Mr. Bolton, it is not as serious as a committee vote against him would have been. A vote against him would not necessarily have blocked a vote in the full Senate, but there would have been more serious procedural obstacles to overcome.
Three other Republicans on the Foreign Relations Committee have also expressed reservations about the nominee. One of the three, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, said today that Mr. Bolton had made "inflammatory" remarks about North Korea. Still, she said, she favored sending the nomination to the floor.
Mr. Voinovich, when asked outside the hearing room if he thought other Republicans would vote against the nominee, replied, "We'll see." During the hearing, Mr. Voinovich said President Bush and Mr. Bolton deserved to have a yes-or-no vote. The senator even said he liked Mr. Bolton personally. "I think he's a decent man," Mr. Voinovich said.
The concern now for Mr. Bolton and the White House is that the lack of committee backing will cause more Republican senators to have second thoughts about the nominee. Democratic senators have assailed the nomination, noting that Mr. Bolton has spoken disparagingly about the United Nations.
Senator Paul S. Sarbanes, Democrat of Maryland and a committee member, said Mr. Bolton's comments showed "outright hostility" for the international organization. "To send someone as our ambassador to the United Nations who does not demonstrate a basic respect for the institution and its legal foundation is a disservice to our national interest," Mr. Sarbanes said.
But a Republican panel member, Senator George Allen of Virginia, offered an opposite view. He said the need for reform at the institution was obvious. "I think the American people want someone at the United Nations who pushes strongly for reform and is not going to be seduced by flowery, evasive pontifications from those bureaucrats," Mr. Allen said.
Senator Voinovich said Mr. Bolton had "serious deficiencies" that would make him the wrong man for the United Nations post, and that his difficult personality would have got him "fired - fired - if he worked for a major corporation."
Senators Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, both Republican committee members, have also expressed reservations about Mr. Bolton. The other Republicans on the panel are Senators Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, John E. Sununu of New Hampshire and Mel Martinez of Florida.
The committee Democrats who remained united in their opposition are Senators Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the ranking minority member; Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut; John F. Kerry of Massachusetts; Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin; Barbara Boxer of California; Bill Nelson of Florida; Barack Obama of Illinois; and Mr. Sarbanes.