By Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff Writer
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."
He rejected Democratic complaints that they did not have enough information. "They have what they need," McClellan said.
Biden said yesterday's vote was meant "to tell the administration that they cannot dictate to the United States Senate."
"Maybe they'll take notice," Biden added. "But the administration is so arrogant, you can't be sure."
Sen. George V. Voinovich (Ohio), Bolton's sharpest Republican critic, voted to end debate yesterday but said he will vote against confirmation once the issue reaches the floor.
"Please, find a better candidate," he implored President Bush as he finished his midafternoon speech.
Freshman Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) also voted for "cloture" but said he would vote against confirmation, in apparent protest of the administration's inclusion of Ellsworth Air Force Base, the state's second-largest employer, on a list of recommended base closings. He said of Bolton, "I don't think he's the best man for the job."
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a Bolton supporter and one of the 14 who signed the agreement on judicial filibusters, said yesterday: "Maybe this was just a bridge too far at the end of the most stressful week in recent memory. . . . The spirit that we were trying to create has been damaged."
Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), also a Bolton supporter and one of the 14 negotiators, said the Bolton vote had "no linkage" to the deal on judges. It was about "the mystery of the unknown" in the requested documents, he said.
The failed bid to end debate capped two days of Senate speeches, in which even Bolton's strongest defenders acknowledged he has upbraided subordinates and aggressively interpreted intelligence to argue that Syria, Cuba and other nations are more dangerous than many think.
"Let's be frank," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said yesterday. "He is not a career diplomat, either by profession or temperament." But previous ambassadors have proved "that directness and forcefulness are assets, not hindrances, to effectiveness at the U.N.," he added.
Bolton once told an audience, "the [U.N.] Secretariat building in New York has 38 stories. If you lost 10 stories today, it wouldn't make a bit of difference." Several Democrats cited the quote, and similar statements, in yesterday's debate. His "blatant hostility toward the institution at which he would serve and his history of pursuing his personal policy agenda while holding public office lead me to question whether Mr. Bolton's appointment as our ambassador to the United Nations would serve U.S. interests," Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) said.
Bolton's supporters said a blunt, no-nonsense ambassador is exactly what the United Nations needs, especially in the aftermath of the oil-for-food scandal involving Iraq before Saddam Hussein's ouster. "John Bolton was picked by the president" and "a president ought to be able to bring people into his administration" who share his values and goals, Allen said. Criticisms of Bolton, Allen said, are "tangents" that distract from "the dire need for change in the United Nations, the need for accountability . . . the need for reform."
In yesterday's floor debate, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said: "The obvious conclusion from the administration's stonewalling is that the documents being withheld from the Senate contain nothing to support the nomination and will only make it even clearer that Mr. Bolton is the wrong choice" for the United Nations.
Staff writers Peter Baker and Mike Allen contributed to this report.