Divided Panel Sends Bolton Nomination To Full Senate

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 13, 2005

A bitterly divided Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted along party lines yesterday to send the nomination of John R. Bolton to become U.N. ambassador to the full Senate without any endorsement.

Republicans agreed to the rare procedural move after a key GOP senator, George V. Voinovich (Ohio), made it clear that he would forcefully oppose promoting the 56-year-old undersecretary of state to the prestigious post because of allegations of arrogance and bullying, but that he would not object to bringing the nomination to the floor.

Administration officials and GOP lawmakers said they were confident Bolton would win approval from the GOP-controlled Senate, where they said few if any Republicans would join Voinovich in opposition. The embattled nominee may also pick up as many as three Democratic votes, they added.

Bolton "is the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be," Voinovich said in a blistering speech that surprised even Democrats with its ferocity. "I have come to the determination that the United States can do better than John Bolton," he said, adding that he thought Bolton's behavior at the State Department would get him fired in the private sector.

Bolton's inability to win unconditional approval amounted to a rebuke of the White House, which has put tremendous pressure on Republican lawmakers to support Bolton. Several GOP lawmakers on the committee expressed deep misgivings, though they said they would vote for him, while the committee chairman, Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), gave only lukewarm support during a 42-minute speech rebutting Democratic attacks.

Democrats alleged Bolton sought to oust intelligence analysts, stretched intelligence views, was abusive to subordinates and gave the committee misleading testimony. In the past three weeks, the committee staff has interviewed nearly 30 people and examined hundreds of documents to address allegations stretching back two decades.

Lugar painstakingly addressed many of the complaints, saying they "have proven to be groundless or, at worst, overstated." He said that Bolton has thought carefully about U.N. reform and that President Bush deserves to have his choice for the job.

"Bolton's actions were not always exemplary," and "his blunt style alienated some colleagues," Lugar said. "But there is no evidence that he has broken laws or engaged in serious ethical misconduct."

One fence-sitter, Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee (R-R.I.), sat through much of the hearing with a pained expression and looked especially troubled during Voinovich's address. He spoke briefly about his apprehension that supporting Bolton would be "signaling an endorsement of that intimidation." But he told reporters later that he was inclined to vote yes on the Senate floor.

Voinovich in recent days had privately signaled he would vote against Bolton, GOP aides said, but in a deal arranged before today's vote, he agreed not to block the nomination from reaching the full Senate. Sending a nomination without a recommendation has become relatively common for judicial posts, but it has happened only twice for diplomatic positions, most recently in 1993.

After five hours of debate, all 10 Republicans voted to send the nomination to the floor; all eight Democrats opposed the motion. A floor vote has not be scheduled, but it appears unlikely before the week of May 23.

The Republicans control the Senate 55 to 44, with one independent, so six Republicans would need to break ranks to defeat the nomination if all Democrats were firmly opposed. But Republicans identified Democratic Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.), Mary Landrieu (La.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.) as potential pickups for Bolton. All three were among the tiny group of Democrats who supported Bolton when his appointment as undersecretary was approved 57 to 43 in 2001.

Lieberman and Landrieu have said they are undecided, while Nelson is leaning in favor, a spokesman said.

Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), the type of moderate Republican that Democrats will need to woo if they are to defeat Bolton, said: "Absent some new evidence or revelations" about the nominee, "I intend to support Mr. Bolton's confirmation."

Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) has not ruled out a filibuster on the floor, which would require 60 votes to overcome. But several Democrats have said it may be politically difficult to filibuster Bolton because the party already is being branded "obstructionist" for blocking judicial nominees.

Democrats pleaded yesterday for their Republican colleagues to kill the nomination, saying that allegations that Bolton abused his authority and cherry-picked intelligence to advance his policy views made him unacceptable for the job. "It should end here," said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.). "We owe it to the American public and ourselves to end this matter."

Voinovich had derailed Bolton's nomination on April 19, when he suddenly announced at a hearing called to vote on the nominee that he was not prepared to vote favorably at that time. Yesterday, Lugar arranged for Voinovich to speak second, after Lugar's opening comments, sparking a protest from Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) that, as the ranking Democrat, he should speak after Lugar.

The nine other Republicans were seated as Voinovich spoke; Lugar spokesman Andy Fisher said they had all been told in advance that he would oppose Bolton. Democrats -- about half of whom were missing at this point -- clearly were taken aback by Voinovich's comments. "Much of what I was going to say would be redundant and not as eloquent as what we just heard," Biden said.

Voinovich took special note that former secretary of state Colin L. Powell "was conspicuously absent" from the list of GOP officials endorsing Bolton, even though he had been Bolton's immediate boss. He also said that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had told him that Bolton "would be closely supervised" at the United Nations.

Biden echoed Voinovich's remarks, saying Rice had told him the same thing. "Why would you send someone to the United Nations that needed to be supervised?" he asked.

A senior State Department official said he did not want "to buy into their characterization" of Rice's private conversations. But he added that "obviously an ambassador gets instructions" that are drafted in Washington and is expected to carry them out.

The Foreign Relations Committee last sent a nomination to the floor without a recommendation when it deadlocked in 1993 on the nomination of M. Larry Lawrence, a wealthy San Diego developer, to be ambassador to Switzerland. The Senate, which was controlled by Democrats, confirmed him 76 to 16.

Kenneth Adelman, another hard-line conservative, faced a tough confirmation fight when was nominated to be director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in 1983. In that case, the committee reported him to the Senate floor unfavorably by a vote of 14 to 3, but he was confirmed by a GOP-controlled Senate 57 to 42.

Staff writer Charles Babington contributed to this report.

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