GOP Pushes Bolton Floor Vote

By Jim VandeHei and Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, April 27, 2005

President Bush and Senate Republicans are intensifying their push to confirm John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations and are considering forcing a showdown vote on the Senate floor if the Foreign Relations Committee refuses to endorse the controversial nominee, according to White House and Senate aides.

With Bolton's confirmation jeopardized by allegations that he bullied colleagues who crossed him, Bush is planning a three-pronged strategy to win Senate approval next month of his nominee, aides said.

The White House is providing detailed rebuttals to any allegations Republican senators find troubling. Bush is also looking to make the debate over Bolton about reforming the United Nations, not Bolton's temperament, and working with Senate Republicans to produce a vote count this week showing there are enough votes to approve the nominee on the floor.

A "nose count that demonstrates majority support for Bolton ensures that any Democratic effort to drag heels again in committee is just struggling against the inevitable," said a senior Senate GOP aide. This marks the first time the GOP has threatened to circumvent opposition to Bolton on the Foreign Relations Committee, which would lessen the impact of having one or more Republicans on the panel oppose Bolton.

The aide, who would speak only anonymously because the vote count is not finished, said the White House and Senate GOP leadership obviously would prefer that all 10 committee Republicans vote for Bolton, which would send his nomination to the floor on a 10 to 8 vote and essentially guarantee a victory for Bush. But even if one or more Republicans eventually votes against the nomination in committee, the aide said, it still could reach the full Senate for a confirmation vote. A tie vote in committee can result in a nomination going to the floor "without a recommendation," the aide said. "We've done that many times."

Even a negative committee vote -- which would occur if two or more Republicans joined the panel's eight Democrats in opposing Bolton -- could result in the nomination reaching the floor with a negative recommendation, the aide said. There is precedent for this: Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork was given a vote in the full Senate after most Judiciary Committee members voted against him.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said in an interview that "I think there is" a majority of senators supporting Bolton. He predicted a few Democrats would be among them.

If Bolton's nomination makes it to the Senate floor, the only way Democrats could stop him would be for a few Republicans to change their position, or to mount a filibuster. Senate Democrats are reluctant to filibuster a nominee out of concern it would feed GOP allegations that they are obstructionists. Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), says Democrats have made no decision on whether to filibuster Bolton.

Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) caught the White House and Republicans by surprise last week when he sided with Democrats to put off a final committee vote on Bolton until the second week of May to allow more time to study allegations. Since then, three other Republicans on the committee have expressed concern, and former secretary of state Colin L. Powell privately told two of them the nominee's temperament is very problematic.

Based on private conversations, the president's staff is confident the four wavering committee Republicans are prepared to vote for him, the aides said. They are most worried about Voinovich and Chuck Hagel (Neb.) because they have kept their intentions largely hidden.

Bolton has been accused of mistreating intelligence analysts and subordinates, including high-level officials, and misleading members about the handling of classified materials. Initially, Democrats opposed Bolton because of his negative comments about the United Nations.

Dan Bartlett, a senior adviser to Bush, said the president is eager for a floor fight over the United Nations and the need to shake it up. "A vote for John Bolton will be a vote for change at the United Nations," he said. "A vote against will be for the status quo. The president believes the status quo is unacceptable and wants a person . . . who will be an agent for change."

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