Thursday, May 12, 2005

Panel Sends Bolton Nomination to Senate

Panel Sends Bolton Nomination to Senate

AP Diplomatic Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A divided Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday sent the nomination of John Bolton to be U.N. ambassador to the full Senate. But it took the rare step of refusing to endorse the blunt-speaking conservative.

The move kept the contentious nomination alive, leaving its fate in the hands of the GOP-run Senate. By not recommending that senators approve Bolton's nomination, the committee delivered a slap at President Bush in one of the first big battles of his second term.

"It doesn't appear that Mr. Bolton has the confidence of the majority of this committee," said Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the senior Democrat on the panel. "And I would suggest that it may be worth the president's interest to take note of that."

The panel acted after a pivotal Republican member, Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, voiced opposition to the nomination, calling Bolton arrogant and bullying. Yet Voinovich broke a committee impasse by agreeing to let the full Senate vote rather than joining Democrats' effort to kill the nomination in committee.

All 10 Republicans voted to send the nomination to the floor. All eight Democrats voted no.

Bolton, 56, who is now the top arms control diplomat at the State Department, has strong ties among political conservatives both inside and outside the administration.

The panel delayed its vote for three weeks after four Republican members asked for more time to study accusations that Bolton bullied subordinates and exaggerated intelligence assessments.

Three of the four said they had decided to support Bolton, but Voinovich said he could not. "The United States can do better than John Bolton," Voinovich told the panel during a debate lasting over five hours.

The panel's Republican chairman, Richard Lugar of Indiana, declined to hold a vote on sending the nomination to the Senate with the committee's endorsement once it became clear that Voinovich's opposition would have caused a 9-9 split, with a majority needed to prevail.

Instead, he embraced Voinovich's suggestion to send the nomination to the floor without a recommendation. Committees usually endorse the nominees they send to the Senate for a vote.

Other Republicans fell in line behind Voinovich's suggestion.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., who earlier expressed misgivings about the nomination, told the panel he decided he had "enough confidence in this president to take him at his word, and take Mr. Bolton at his word."

But with Bolton short of enough votes for committee approval, Hagel announced he would support Voinovich's proposal to send the nomination to the floor with no recommendation.

Despite Voinovich's sharp criticism of Bolton, who now serves as undersecretary of state for arms control, the White House was clearly relieved that the Ohio senator had agreed to let the full Senate decide.

Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said the White House is now confident Bolton will be confirmed by the full Senate.

"We respect Sen. Voinovich's decision, but there are many people who agree with the president that John Bolton is the right person at the right time for this important position," he said.

Democrats have not ruled out using procedural delays to try killing Bolton's nomination in the full Senate. It would take the votes of 60 of the 100 senators to stop the delay.

Voinovich called Bolton "the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be." He said Bolton would be fired if he was in the private sector.

"That being said, Mr. Chairman, I am not so arrogant to think that I should impose my judgment and perspective of the U.S. position in the world community on the rest of my colleagues," he added.

Voinovich told reporters he would vote against Bolton in the full Senate. Will Bolton win eventual confirmation? "I have every faith in my colleagues. No one really is excited about him. We'll see what happens," he said.

He said he hoped the full Senate, where Republicans hold a 55-45 majority, would reject the nomination.

"What message are we sending to the world community?" Voinovich asked.

Lugar defended the nomination, while conceding that "Secretary Bolton's actions were not always exemplary."

Bolton misjudged the actions of subordinates and sometimes clashed with superiors in his current role as the top arms-control diplomat at the State Department, Lugar said.

But weeks of intense Senate inquiry turned up no evidence that Bolton did anything that would disqualify him as Bush's choice for the United Nations job, Lugar said.

"His blunt style alienated some colleagues. But there is no evidence that he has broken laws or engaged in serious ethical misconduct," Lugar said.

Biden opposed sending the nomination to the floor without a recommendation. "I think we have undermined our authority and shirked our constitutional responsibility," Biden said.

Later, Biden told reporters he did not know if Bolton's vote could be stopped in the full Senate. "Would I have liked it better to have a 'no' vote? Yes," he said.

Committee Republicans and Democrats alternately praised and denounced Bolton's qualifications and direct manner.

"We are not electing Mr. Congeniality. We do not need Mr. Milquetoast," said Sen. George Allen, R-Va., arguing that Bolton would be an effective agent for change at the United Nations.

But Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, last year's Democratic presidential nominee, portrayed Bolton as a loose cannon whose pronouncements would prompt other diplomats to ask, "Who is he speaking for?"