The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has set a vote on John R. Bolton's nomination as ambassador to the United Nations for May 12 -- a delay that Bush administration officials acknowledged yesterday is increasing their anxieties about Bolton's prospects.
The fear, Bolton's backers said privately, is twofold. The new date will give opponents nearly three weeks to fan public reaction against him and to raise new questions about his conservative policy views and alleged bullying management style.
Vice President Cheney said allegations against John R. Bolton do not "stand up to scrutiny."
(Jonathan Ernst -- Reuters)
Panel Delays Vote on Bolton Nomination to U.N. (The Washington Post, Apr 20, 2005)
Bolton Often Blocked Information, Officials Say (The Washington Post, Apr 18, 2005)
Bolton Faces Allegations That He Tried to Fire Analysts (The Washington Post, Apr 15, 2005)
Former Colleague Says Bolton Abused Power at State Dept. (The Washington Post, Apr 13, 2005)
Bolton Assures Senators Of Commitment to U.N. (The Washington Post, Apr 12, 2005)
Bolton's Tough Style, Record Face Scrutiny (The Washington Post, Apr 11, 2005)
In addition, reports this week that former secretary of state Colin L. Powell told Republican senators his reservations about his former State Department subordinate's suitability for the post could alter the political dynamics of the Bolton battle. What had been a largely partisan quarrel could turn into a broader debate about whether Bolton's detractors have a reasonable case, a Bush administration official said.
A day after Powell's private comments became public in news stories, Vice President Cheney spoke out for a nomination he has aggressively promoted. "I have looked at all of the charges that have been made," he said at a conference of the Republican National Lawyers Association. "I don't think any of them stand up to scrutiny."
Referring to allegations that Bolton sometimes berated subordinates who presented opposing views, Cheney drew laughter from the audience by noting, "If being occasionally tough and aggressive and abrasive were a problem, there are a lot of members of the United States Senate who wouldn't qualify."
Still, White House officials and Senate leadership aides yesterday were nervously canvassing GOP senators, looking for signs of weakening support. There were conflicting signs of whether this was the case.
Republican sources on the Foreign Relations panel said that one of the committee's GOP senators, Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), told colleagues she is particularly troubled by the allegation that Bolton, as a private lawyer in 1994, became so angry at a government contractor that he chased her through a Moscow hotel, hurling objects and verbal threats, and later spread rumors about her. White House spokesman Scott McClellan has said Bolton is the subject of "trumped-up" charges and "unsubstantiated allegations."
A spokesman for Murkowski, Elliott Bundy, said she "thought it was appropriate" to delay a vote on Bolton that had been scheduled for last Tuesday, in deference to senators who want more time to consider the latest allegations. Bundy said he has had no indication that Murkowski's previously stated intention to support Bolton has softened.
The committee staff is to meet Monday to decide on a list of final interviews before the May 12 vote, congressional sources said. They will also confer on documents still required from the State Department and other U.S. agencies to provide answers to outstanding controversies over Bolton's role in policymaking and with personnel.
Democratic staff members are also preparing questions to submit to Bolton next week in writing.
In a sign of partisan tensions on the committee, Republican staff members yesterday interviewed Thomas Hubbard, a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, without Democratic staff members present. Hubbard has said he clashed angrily with Bolton.
A senior Democratic committee aide said the interview was unfortunate, because Democrats thought they had an agreement between committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) and Vice Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) for proceeding with interviews that would allow both sides to be present, along with a court reporter.
"When we asked to participate, we were refused," the aide said. "We hope this was an aberration, and that from now on they honor the rule that we proceed jointly. The proof will be in the pudding." He added: "We found out five minutes before it happened."
Meanwhile, some conservatives served notice that they are as ready to do battle with Republican opponents of Bolton's nomination as they are with Democrats. Sen. George V. Voinovich (Ohio) was one the Republicans who sought a delay in the committee's vote. Yesterday, the group Move America Forward said it is buying radio spots in Ohio -- it did not say how many or in which markets -- to denounce Voinovich's action.
In the spots, according to the group's release, a wife chatting with her husband reports indignantly that Voinovich missed most of the committee debate on Bolton, "but then shows up at the last minute and stabs the president and Republicans right in the back."
"That's ridiculous," the husband replies. "The United Nations needs reform, we need someone who will stand up for the United States and fight the U.N.'s corruption and anti-Americanism."
Staff writer Jim VandeHei contributed to this report.