May 12, 2005
WASHINGTON - In a tense atmosphere, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee debated John Bolton's fitness to be United Nations ambassador on Thursday. A critical Republican senator, George Voinovich of Ohio, agreed to let the nomination go to the full Senate but he called the diplomat "arrogant" and "bullying."
"This administration can do better than that," Voinovich said in the first big battle of President Bush's second term
Voinovich said he could not vote for the nomination, but would agree to send it to the floor without a recommendation of approval or disapproval.
"We owe it to the president to give Mr. Bolton an up-or-down vote on the floor of the U.S. Senate," Voinovich said.
Despite Voinovich's sharp criticism of Bolton, who now serves as the top arms-control diplomat at the State Department, 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 confident Bolton will be confirmed by the full Senate.
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 later told reporters he planned to 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.
Republicans hold an 10-8 edge on the panel. All eight Democrats have said they would vote against Bolton. Thus, a single "no" GOP vote would deadlock the panel and keep the nomination from going to the floor.
"After hours of deliberation, telephone calls, personal conversations, reading hundreds of pages of transcripts, and asking for guidance from Above, I have come to the determination that the United States can do better than John Bolton," Voinovich said
Voinovich had been the only holdout of four GOP committee members who expressed misgivings about the Bolton nomination.
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.
The Republican chairman of the panel, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, defended the nomination in opening remarks, 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 job as the State Department's arms control chief, Lugar said.
But weeks of intense Senate inquiry turned up no evidence that Bolton did anything that would disqualify him as President 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.
Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the senior Democrat on the committee, portrayed Bolton as the wrong choice for the post and opposed sending the nomination to the floor - even without a recommendation of approval.
"I think we have undermined our authority and shirked our constitutional responsibility," Biden said.
"We have already lost a lot of credibility at home and abroad after the fiasco over the intelligence on Iraq, and Mr. Bolton is not the man to help us to rebuild it," Biden added. 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.
In lively debate scheduled to last five hours, committee Republicans and Democrats alternatively 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?"
"What is at stake here is our national interest, our security interests, our ability to advance our interests within the United Nations," Kerry said.
An energetic diplomat who pioneered a program to curb the spread of dangerous weapons technology, Bolton has strong ties to political conservatives inside and outside the administration and shares their skepticism about some international treaties.
The spirited debate over the last month, however, has focused mostly on allegations that he berated several U.S. officials, especially intelligence analysts who did not agree with his assessments of Cuba and Syria's military strength.
The White House made a determined fight for the embattled nominee.
Bush, trying to turn the personality issue to Bolton's favor, has called Bolton "a blunt guy" who "can get the job done at the United Nations" and "who isn't afraid to speak his mind in the post of the ambassador to the U.N."
A 56-year-old lawyer, Bolton was senior vice president of the American Enterprise Institute before he became Bush's undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs four years ago.