Democrats Extend Debate On Bolton
Friday, May 27, 2005
Senate Democrats refused to end debate on John R. Bolton's nomination to be U.N. ambassador yesterday, extending the contentious issue into next month and angering Republicans only three days after many had heralded a bipartisan breakthrough on judicial nominees.
Some Republicans expressed confidence that they can confirm Bolton eventually, but yesterday's action seemed to stun party leaders and undermine talk of a newfound comity stemming from Monday's brokered deal on judges.
"The honeymoon is over," Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) said sharply as he left the floor moments after senators voted 56 to 42 in favor of ending debate on Bolton's nomination. The vote fell four short of the 60 needed to halt a filibuster and move to a confirmation vote, which would require only a simple majority in the 100-member chamber.
All the Republicans present voted to end debate, but they were joined by only three Democrats: Ben Nelson (Neb.), Mary Landrieu (La.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.). Congress is in recess next week, and the Senate will resume the Bolton debate in early June.
Democrats said they launched the delaying tactic only as a means of pressuring the Bush administration to provide documents related to Bolton's handling of classified information and his role in preparing congressional testimony about Syria in 2003. They rejected the administration's argument that some of the requested information is not relevant to the confirmation debate.
"We are not here to filibuster Bolton -- we are here to get information," Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said on the floor shortly after the vote was taken. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), who led the opposition to Bolton, said: "I have absolutely no intention of preventing an up-or-down vote on Mr. Bolton." He later said he did not know whether full disclosure of the information he is seeking would sink the nomination.
The filibuster question is sensitive because senators narrowly averted a showdown over the parliamentary tactic earlier this week. With Republicans threatening to bar filibusters of judicial nominees, a bipartisan group of 14 senators struck a compromise intended to make judicial filibusters highly unlikely this year or next.
Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who appeared dour as yesterday's 35-minute roll call took place in an unusually crowded chamber, called the results "very, very disappointing." Earlier in the day, he said on the floor, Reid had given a speech calling for "comity and cooperation."
"But tonight, after the Democrats have launched into yet another filibuster of a presidential nomination. . . . those words seem empty and hollow," Frist said.
Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) told reporters that Democratic leaders had assured Frist that he would get 60 votes to end debate if he tried. But Reid spokesman Jim Manley said the Democratic leader "told Senator Frist this afternoon he did not have the 60 votes needed, and urged him to consider holding off on the vote" while Biden and others pressed the administration for the requested documents.
Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) told reporters that the setback to Bolton "is temporary, and I believe it might actually lead to his much easier confirmation when we come back." He said Democrats will be "a little bit embarrassed about this, and now they have pushed it over the edge."
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said, "Just 72 hours after all the goodwill and bipartisanship in the Senate, it's a shame to see the Democratic leadership resort back to a partisan approach."