TOPICS > Politics

Senate Committee Delays Bolton Confirmation Vote

April 20, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: John Bolton’s nomination to become U.N. ambassador is still on the bill at the U.S. Capitol. But it could be another three weeks before the next act plays out.

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK, R-Kan.: I think John Bolton is an excellent nominee, and I think he’s the right person for the right time at the U.N. But this is a process.

KWAME HOLMAN: What’s developed so far is a plot filled with dramatic twists, sudden turns and new characters entering the political stage.

There’s John Bolton himself, who nine days ago appeared to survive eight hours of questions by Democrats, mostly about his temperament, and allegations he tried to have a lower-level analyst fired over an intelligence dispute.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN, D-Del.: Did you attempt to have him removed from your portfolio?

JOHN BOLTON: I may have mentioned it to one or two other people, but then I shrugged my shoulders and I moved on.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: So the answer is yes, you did.

JOHN BOLTON: And he was not moved.

KWAME HOLMAN: The next day came Carl Ford, a former State Department colleague of Bolton’s, called to attest to his character.

CARL FORD: He’s a quintessential kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy. There are a lot of them around here. I’m sure you’ve met them. But the fact is that he stands out; that he’s got a bigger kick. And it gets bigger and stronger the further down the bureaucracy he is kicking.

KWAME HOLMAN: And then yesterday, Senate Democrat Joseph Biden added to the saga the story of Melody Townsel, a former U.S. aid worker in Kyrgyzstan who claims Bolton harassed her in 1994.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: He banged on her door in the middle of the night, went to Kyrgyzstan before she got back there, saying she had absconded with U.S. funds, and so on and so forth, and that she shouldn’t be listened to.

“Mr. Bolton proceeded to chase me through the halls of a Russian hotel, throwing things at me, shoving threatening letters under my door and genuinely behaving like a madman.”

KWAME HOLMAN: Sitting next to Biden, Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, didn’t react. He simply tried to add this latest allegation to the already lengthy list and pushed for a quick vote to approve Bolton’s nomination.

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR, R-Ind.: Obviously this chair has been, I think, permissive, hopefully not to a fault. But we have had debate. But we’ve come to a time at which we must have conclusions.

KWAME HOLMAN: Democrats managed to push the debate for another hour, when suddenly from the far end of the table Ohio Republican George Voinovich spoke up for the first time.

SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH, R-Ohio: Mr. Chairman, first of all, I want to apologize to the members of the committee that I wasn’t present during the hearing on John Bolton. I was tied up with other responsibilities as chairman of a subcommittee, so I wasn’t here.

I’ve heard enough today that I don’t feel comfortable about voting for Mr. Bolton. I think one’s interpersonal skills and their relationship with their fellow man is a very important ingredient in anyone that works for me. I call it the kitchen test. Do we feel comfortable about the kitchen test? And I’ve heard enough today that gives me some real concern about Mr. Bolton.

KWAME HOLMAN: Voinovich suggested the committee take more time to gather information on John Bolton before it voted. Chairman Lugar, knowing that a “no” vote by Voinovich would create a nine to nine committee tie, had no choice but to agree.

White House Spokesman Scott McClellan dealt with the Bolton setback this way.

SCOTT McCLELLAN: Senator Voinovich wasn’t able to attend the hearings last week where John Bolton addressed all these issues and so he had some questions. And we’re more than happy to address those questions with him. And that’s what we’re doing.

REPORTER: Are you is suggesting he was at fault for some reason in skipping that hearing?

SCOTT McCLELLAN: No, I think members of Congress have a lot business that they have to focus on. I’m suggesting that what the facts are, that Democrats on the committee are playing politics with this nomination. There is sometimes a desire in this town to score political points. And that brings out the worst in Washington, D.C.

KWAME HOLMAN: And today Senator Voinovich said he still doesn’t know if he’ll support John Bolton’s nomination.

KWAME HOLMAN: You’re not there yet, senator?

SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH: No, I’m not. Frankly, I went in there to support him. And after hearing from some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, many of them for whom I have high regard, I didn’t sense that this was something that was political. I thought they were genuine about their concerns, and I thought that we owed it to them to try and resolve those concerns or at least clear the air and give Mr. Bolton a better opportunity.

KWAME HOLMAN: Finally, senator, any negative from your side of the aisle, any accusations that you surprised your chairman?

SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH: No, I didn’t. I went over to the chairman and apologized to him because he thought going in everything was fine. I just, you know, I came here to do what I think is right. Something inside of me said this is not right. It’s not right.

So we need to spend some more time on it. I think in the long run it’s the best thing for the committee. I think it’s the best thing for Mr. Bolton. I think it’s the best thing for our country in terms of the person that we want to send to the United Nations.

KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, senators on and off the committee reacted to the surprising change in developments. Illinois Democrat Barack Obama is a committee freshman.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-Ill.: Well, I think all of us were surprised because, I’ve only been here a few months but one of the things that I’ve come to learn is the degree to which partisan politics seems to shape a lot of what takes place in the Senate these days but Senator Voinovich I think has a reputation of being an independent thinker.

We weren’t that focused on Senator Voinovich because he hadn’t participated in the original Bolton hearing. But I was proud of what he did. I think that every once in a while this place works the way it’s supposed to. Argument and debate actually matters.

KWAME HOLMAN: Prior to yesterday’s session, Rhode Island’s Lincoln Chafee was thought to be the lone committee Republican considering voting against the Bolton nomination.

Would you have been the one if Senator Voinovich had not to go ahead and make it a tie?

SEN. LINCOLN CHAFEE, R-R.I.: Well, you digest the information as it comes but I’d say doubtful. I was prepared, as I said, to support the president’s nominee absent any new information.

KWAME HOLMAN: As for Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss, he dismissed concerns about Bolton’s interpersonal skills.

If it’s true that he verbally abused other employees, does that impact your decision?

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS, R-Ga.: Well, if I got upset with my parents every time they verbally abused me for something I did wrong, I don’t know, maybe I’d have a different attitude. But, you know, verbal abuse is in the mind of the beholder.

If you’re an employer or you’re a supervisor, there are going to be times when you have differences of opinion with folks under you. So I’m not overly concerned about those kinds of allegations against Mr. Bolton.

KWAME HOLMAN: Alaska Republican Ted Stevens:

SEN. TED STEVENS, R-Alaska: He’s like me. He punches to emphasize what he wants to do. If the people take offense, then they should understand. They shouldn’t be negative in terms of what he’s been trying to do. I really think he’s a good man.

KWAME HOLMAN: Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn:

SEN. TOM COBURN, R-Okla.: If we’re going to make the fact that every interaction we’ve ever had in our life the criteria by which we’re going to decide if anybody can serve this country, nobody can serve. Let’s cut to the chase. Let’s get somebody to the U.N. And if there’s a problem, he can be recalled. He is what we need now. We need a firm, tough voice that’s interested in making the U.N. what it should be. It’s not what it should be today.

KWAME HOLMAN: Chairman Lugar has given members of the Senate Foreign Relations committee until the second week of May before he brings them back to vote on the Bolton nomination.

They’ll have until then to review any and all information, and they may press to bring John Bolton back for another hearing.