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The Senate Delays U.N. Ambassador Nominee John Bolton Confirmation Vote

May 27, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


SEN. BILL FRIST: Mr. President, in 15 minutes or so, we will vote on the nomination of Undersecretary of State John Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations.

KWAME HOLMAN: Majority Leader Bill Frist had scheduled a cloture vote for 6 o’clock last night to end two days of debate on John Bolton’s nomination, believing he had the 60 votes needed to prevail. Frist’s plan was to have senators then vote immediately to confirm Bolton, before sending them off on their ten-day Memorial Day recess. But 6 o’clock came and went, and the Senate remained in a state of suspension.

As senators filled the floor, Frist could be seen moving from one Republican to another. It soon became apparent he did not have 60 votes. Earlier in the day, Democrats Christopher Dodd and Joseph Biden had urged colleagues to vote against ending debate until the White House released classified information they requested that might be damaging to Bolton’s confirmation.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: The senator from Connecticut and I and others have said we are ready to vote on Mr. Bolton’s nomination if — if you give us requested information that we’re entitled to in assessing whether or not Mr. Bolton should go to the U.N.

KWAME HOLMAN: Frist himself had intervened in an attempt to get the materials, but to no avail. Democratic Leader Harry Reid privately urged Frist to delay action on Bolton, warning Frist he would come up short of the votes needed to move the nomination ahead. But Frist persisted. And finally, 16 minutes late, the majority leader called for the vote to end debate on the nomination of John Bolton.

SPOKESPERSON: The clerk will now call the roll. Mr. Akaka. Mr. Alexander…

KWAME HOLMAN: Three Democrats — (Mark) Pryor of Arkansas, (Mary) Landrieu of Louisiana, and (Ben) Nelson of Nebraska — sided with Republicans in the attempt to end debate on Bolton and push the nomination to a final vote.

Those same three were among the group of Democrats who earlier in the week had signed an agreement with Republicans to break the Senate impasse over the president’s stalled judicial nominations. But their support last night was not enough as the vote to cut off debate on John Bolton failed.

SPOKESPERSON: The yeas are 56. The nays are 42. Three-fifths of the senators duly chosen and sworn, not having voted in the affirmative, the motion is not agreed to.

KWAME HOLMAN: Given the fragility of the agreement on judges, Democrat Reid’s response to the Bolton vote had a tone of damage control.

SEN. HARRY REID: I am disappointed that tonight we were unable to have a vote on Bolton, but it is not the fault of the Democratic Caucus. We are not here to filibuster Bolton. We’re here to get information regarding Bolton, information we’re entitled to get. There’s a lot of things we have to do here, and we do not want this to be a diversion, and the work we have to do is a diversion, but it is not the fault of the Democratic senators that it is a diversion.

KWAME HOLMAN: Majority Leader Frist, who never signed on to the agreement on judges, responded to Reid with suspicion.

SEN. BILL FRIST: Needless to say, I’m very, very disappointed in where we sit today. We have had an interesting week, a very challenging week, starting the week on one clear direction, and then sidetracked a little bit to what I thought was not an unreasonable feeling in this body that we’re going to be working together and that we were going to address the important issues to America.

And, John Bolton, the very first issue we turned to, we got what to me looks like a filibuster. It certainly sounds like a filibuster, looking at the vote today. It quacks like a filibuster. And I’m afraid, you know, shortly after we thought we had things working together in this body again, we have got another filibuster, this time on another nomination, not a judicial nomination but another nomination, the nomination of John Bolton. We’re going to come back and revisit it, but I think what America has just seen is an engagement of another period of obstruction by the other side of the aisle, and it looks like we have once again another filibuster. I yield the floor.

KWAME HOLMAN: And before he left the floor, Frist alerted members that the Senate would hold a vote to end debate on the controversial judicial nomination of Janice Rogers Brown on Tuesday, June 7, the day after they return from their recess.