Shields and Brooks Discuss John Bolton, the Senate Judicial Compromise and
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
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.
JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.
Mark, there’s no question that that was a filibuster last night, is there?
MARK SHIELDS: I don’t think it was a filibuster.
JIM LEHRER: You don’t?
MARK SHIELDS: I don’t. I mean, first of all, John McCain made the point — the architect of the agreement or at least the host of the compromise committee –
JIM LEHRER: Of the original, the judge thing.
MARK SHIELDS: On the judicial nominees. What is at work here, Jim, is not a filibuster. I think what is at work here is the Democrats are increasingly frustrated, increasingly angry, I think partly angry at themselves about the war in Iraq. And they see in John Bolton sort of the first example of a nominee of the party who in their eyes was somebody who pushed intelligence to meet preconceived notions. And it’s a war that has lost its popular support, losing its popular and political support and increasingly –
JIM LEHRER: Do you think that’s what’s behind it?
MARK SHIELDS: I think again the war is militarily, diplomatically, intellectually and probably morally indefensible. And I think that has become a — the Democrats feel frustrated about it, angry about it and angry at themselves and I think Bolton is a very convenient place to register that anger.
JIM LEHRER: Do you read it that way?
DAVID BROOKS: No. I don’t think they’re victims of the Iraq war. Listen, a lot of us who supported the Democrats on this filibuster issue did it because we thought the minority should have the right to have a filibuster so long as it wasn’t abused.
Well, three days later they abuse it, clear case of abuse. This guy Bolton, he may not be your favorite pick, but he had long hearings, 29 more witnesses after the first investigation was done, long set of hearings. Whether Joe Biden and Chris Dodd are happy or not, the guy has 50 votes, he has the votes to be confirmed.
And so what do they do? Instead of allowing it to happen they’re still involved in a fishing expedition; they delay the vote for another week, which makes it, by the way, certain he will have the 50 votes because so many Republicans are angry about this. And it’s fine to do it any time but to do it now, in the context, when the traditions of the Senate are hanging on by a thread, I just thought it was the wrong thing to do; I thought it was self-indulgent to do it now when the whole body is in such a fragile state. They’ve used us.
JIM LEHRER: Why do you think they did it, David?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think – I mean, you look at Joe Biden and Chris Dodd, two senators who are I think tremendously effective and I admire them as individuals; they’ve been hyped up about John Bolton. They’re fervently opposed to his nomination.
So to my extent, they were pushing, pushing, pushing, but there has to be a point when you say, okay, I don’t like this guy, Bolton, he’s got 50 votes but I’m looking at the context around me, we’re going to step it back a little.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think, Mark, that Chris Dodd and Joe Biden are trying to kill the nomination, or are they still trying to make a point? They know they don’t have the votes to defeat him. So what are they up to?
MARK SHIELDS: John Bolton is going to be confirmed. He would not be confirmed if it were a secret ballot. Let’s make that clear. There’s enough Republicans who have serious misgivings about him. George Voinovich is not alone in this respect. He could not –
JIM LEHRER: But he is going to be confirmed.
MARK SHIELDS: He will be confirmed.
JIM LEHRER: So what are they doing?
MARK SHIELDS: You got two things. I mean, Chris Dodd really believes this guy is bad news. I mean, he has made his position clear.
JIM LEHRER: You don’t question –
DAVID BROOKS: Absolutely.
MARK SHIELDS: He’s made the case against him. I think it’s been more than a plausible case, I think it’s been a persuasive case. But Joe Biden is really outraged. Joe Biden feels that the State Department on the information that they provide on John Bolton in these telephone intercepts –
JIM LEHRER: We need to explain what it is — what it is that Biden and Dodd want are Bolton asked for some intercepts and he wanted to know — the names were blacked out — and he wanted to know who was talking on the phone calls -
MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.
JIM LEHRER: — to some foreign leaders, right?
MARK SHIELDS: These were Americans.
JIM LEHRER: American officials talking to foreign officials.
MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.
JIM LEHRER: And he wanted the names of these people and the State Department or the U.S. — or the White House won’t give it to him, right?
MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. Whether it’s the State Department or the White House — but the White House makes the call. Bill Frist, to his credit, he was trying to get the vote yesterday; he worked with the White House. He called the White House. He implored the White House to release these, Jim. And the — the charge is that Bolton in one of the –revealed the name of one of the people in the calls, which would be a serious offense.
But aside from that, what the White House did do was to make the intercepts available to two senators: Pat Roberts of Kansas, a Republican who’s chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Jay Rockefeller, who’s the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee. And Biden who’s been in the Senate since 1972 and said “Look I have never leaked, why can’t I — we’re confirming this guy.”
JIM LEHRER: Is this an issue, a real issue –
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I don’t know. One of the interesting things is that apparently White House officials or federal officials ask for these intercepts all the time. I didn’t know that until a few weeks ago. I’m kind of appalled by it, by the way. And they said “Everybody does that.” I didn’t know that, but it’s kind of weird. But the second thing is, when you’re conducting an investigation –
JIM LEHRER: And they’re doing it through the national security agencies.
DAVID BROOKS: So you’ve got these big satellites monitoring cell phone calls.
JIM LEHRER: Exactly, everybody.
DAVID BROOKS: What are our people saying to them and we’re spying on our people, basically. That’s odd.
JIM LEHRER: But go ahead. I’m sorry.
DAVID BROOKS: But anyway, the other point is that you’re doing an investigation into somebody, and we’ve seen in every investigation, you’ve got all these different things out there you’re trying to get the guy. And you’ve got some dead ends and there are always some things hanging out there. If you’re involved in an investigation, there’s always going to be a couple of things hanging out there. And if you’re going to be vociferous, you’re always going to chase down those last leads but it comes to a point where you have to say, hey, for the greater good, he has the votes, I made my point; let’s move on.
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of moving on, let’s move back to how does the judicial compromise look now three days later to you, Mark, and putting the Bolton thing in that context –
MARK SHIELDS: Sure, I don’t think the Bolton thing belongs in that.
JIM LEHRER: You don’t think so?
MARK SHIELDS: No. To be very blunt about it, Bill Frist — and we saw it — I just gave credit to him for trying to get the White House to release the tapes – Bill Frist tried a little bit of self-redemption politically this week. The agreement was they were going to vote on three judges, okay: Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown and Bill Pryor. Okay.
And in the meanwhile – and they’re going to do those three — he just jumps Bolton in there ahead of it. Okay. And say “well, we’ll take advantage of this good nature and all the rest of it, this good feeling.” So there was a little bit of flimflam and bait-and-switch on that. I’d say this. I defend and admire even more than I did Tuesday night the 14 senators who made it. What I find most intriguing is that the hard liners on each side are the most angry.
JIM LEHRER: And they’re still angry, aren’t they?
MARK SHIELDS: And they say the other side won. The liberals say the White House ruled us and the conservatives say my God Almighty, those weak-kneed conservatives, once again they caved to the Democrats, which is probably a good sign.
JIM LEHRER: David –
DAVID BROOKS: That part I agree with.
JIM LEHRER: But you disagree with everything else.
DAVID BROOKS: Right, the last three words were perfect. I don’t agree that Bolton was thrown in as a flimflam because he was on the schedule even if the nuclear option had been invoked, but I do agree exactly with what Mark said. It’s funny, if you play all or nothing politics and if you think the idea of politics is to win 100 percent, which the people on the left and right to do, then you’re unhappy because you only got 50/50 or whatever it is. But to me, the deal is under strain, there’s no doubt about it. But it’s still holding, I think, because so for those 14 have held.
JIM LEHRER: Well, a lot of speculation was it would — the key to this was going to be how this played out in the country, whether these 14 people — forget the interest groups, we knew about what they — what their reaction was going to be. Were these people going to be seen as heroes — by ordinary folk — what’s your reading on that?
DAVID BROOKS: I think it may be too soon, but Stan Greenberg, the Democratic pollster had a poll that I saw today, the number of people who just think partisanship is worse than ever, and that’s shot upward. So I would think based on that take of public opinion, people would be pretty happy with the 14.
DAVID BROOKS: I talked to one Republican lobbyist today who told me he had been unable to get through to Lindsay Graham’s office, the senator from South Carolina who’s part of the 14.
JIM LEHRER: People beating up on him?
MARK SHIELDS: His phones were just absolutely – I mean, no numbers were available. I mean –
JIM LEHRER: You mean pro and con?
MARK SHIELDS: All con. And Susan Collins reported the same thing from Maine.
DAVID BROOKS: Right. But, you know, we’ve talked about this maybe in the past; I’ve asked people like McCain what happens when you really enrage the base and he’ll say “your phones light up for a few days but your numbers in your home state don’t move.” And I suspect that will be the case for Lindsay Graham, too.
JIM LEHRER: Now, there’s another event this week. It happened in the House where the House, even though the president said he was going to veto it, that several House Republicans went along with the Democrats to vote for a stem cell research bill that the president said he was going to veto. Is this part of a pattern or this just another isolated case?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think, Jim, for Republicans right now, this is really not a happy time. They’re going on a ten-daybreak right now with nothing but bad news. I mean, if you look at it that way politically, whether it’s Iraq, whether it’s the economy, whether it’s the president threatening the veto on stem cell research, whether it’s Social Security tanking and the whole speculation is how does the president extricate himself from what has turned out to be a signature issue that is going nowhere.
And stem cell — it’s one thing you never want to do is leave town for ten days because there’s no way you can get it back because the speculation with ten days, people are going to be talking about what’s wrong, what went wrong with the Bush administration? He got absolutely vilified in the Wall Street Journal editorial page today and by Wesley Pruden, the editor of the Washington Times, which has been a very loyal newspaper and support.
So on stem cell, it’s an intriguing issue because you had 50 Republicans cross the aisle and vote with the Democrats, or 14 Democrats did not support it. And among them were several pro-life people, people like Joe Barton, Duke Cunningham of California who spoke quite emotionally. It’s an issue that touches people personally where there’s an illness. They’re hoping that there will be a cure found.
JIM LEHRER: Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s Disease, several others.
MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. And I think that’s what, you know, that’s what really changes the equation.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read this? How do you read that vote?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, first, on the general point I think Bush is obviously a mixed bag. The Wall Street Journal editorial will sting in the House, House Republicans, because what it said was you guys have not accomplished much. And that’s a fair point. I’d say the president had a mixed week. I thought the deal on judges was on balance good for him because he gets a bunch of judges.
JIM LEHRER: He said it was; he said nice things about it.
DAVID BROOKS: Right. The biggest thing that happened this week was the great press conference with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, which will rocket around the Arab world — the Palestinian leader, American president really showing tremendous respect for each other. I think that’s a nice counterbalance to all the Guantanamo stuff that’s been coming out. So I think it’s a mixed bag on the broad picture.
On the stem cell stuff, the president’s in the minority. He knows that. It’s a matter of conviction. He doesn’t believe that we should be doing research on these kinds of embryos. So he votes his conviction but it’s clearly an unpopular position and it will be especially unpopular because while so many Republicans in the House voted against him, I don’t think they have enough to override the veto. So there probably won’t — it probably won’t pass after – he’ll have to veto it. And that will be unpopular with the country and it will be unpopular with half the Republican Party.
JIM LEHRER: And it will just be hanging out there and it won’t be enacted because the president vetoed it.
DAVID BROOKS: But I don’t know, by the way, how much the federal research matters to actually funding –
MARK SHIELDS: I disagree with David. I don’t think the president’s going to be hurt by it. I think the president’s position; he’s made it clear. I mean, there was a question at the outset and he took a compromise position on how many lines he would endorse when the pope came to see him four years ago. But I think that, you know, people understand this is George Bush’s strength, really, and –
JIM LEHRER: His conviction?
MARK SHIELDS: His conviction. And I think if he were to change, I think it would hurt him more. I will say this. The fact that there is research going on, I mean, whether it’s Massachusetts or New Jersey or California, in the private sector, I mean –
JIM LEHRER: You can do it -
MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.
JIM LEHRER: — you just can’t use federal funds.
MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.
JIM LEHRER: That’s what the issue here.
DAVID BROOKS: You can use federal funds on the ones the president said you can. And I think he’s increased spending on that quite a bit.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. We’ll leave it there. Thank you both very much.