Bush Names Bolton U.N. Ambassador in Recess Appointment

Bush Appoints Bolton
President Bush, center, stands with John Bolton, left and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as he announces Bolton's installation as United States ambassador to the United Nations. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (J. Scott Applewhite -- AP)
By Jim VandeHei and Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, August 2, 2005

President Bush installed John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations yesterday, employing the presidential power to make temporary appointments to break through a wall of Democratic opposition to Bolton's confrontational brand of conservatism.

Frustrated by the refusal of Senate Democrats to permit a final vote on Bolton's nomination, Bush said he resorted to the 17-month recess appointment to circumvent "partisan delaying tactics" in Washington and to send a resounding message that the White House is serious about reforming the United Nations.

The move, ending a grinding five-month battle, drew sharp protests from Democrats and a mixed response from the foreign diplomats Bolton will be working with at U.N. headquarters in New York.

"This post is too important to leave vacant any longer, especially during a war and a vital debate about U.N. reform," Bush told reporters, with Bolton by his side. "I'm sending Ambassador Bolton to New York with my complete confidence."

Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), echoing the concerns of fellow Democrats, said Bush abused a presidential power intended for narrow circumstances in order to dispatch "a seriously flawed and weakened candidate" to the United Nations.

Although ambassadors confirmed by the Senate serve as long as the president pleases, Bolton's term, by law, expires when the current Congress concludes on Jan. 3, 2007. Bolton thus has less than a year and half to implement changes at the United Nations -- unless he wins over Senate critics in the interim or gets another recess appointment, which by law would require him to work without pay for the final two years.

The Bush administration, citing the large number of recess appointments made by presidents, said there is nothing extraordinary about the appointment. But most recess appointments have involved lower-level government positions and do not represent such direct defiance of the opposition party. "It is highly unusual to use it at this level," said Paul C. Light, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who specializes in executive-branch staffing.

In the 19th century, the constitutional power to make recess appointments was frequently used out of necessity to keep the government staffed and running when lawmakers were away for long periods. In recent decades, they have increasingly become a convenient way for president to circumvent Senate opposition to controversial picks. President Bill Clinton, for instance, used the power to appoint Bill Lann Lee as assistant attorney general for civil rights over GOP objections.

Bolton sought to make up for lost time, flying to New York shortly after the announcement and holding a late-afternoon staff meeting at the United Nations. "I am prepared to work tirelessly to carry out the agenda and initiatives" of the president, Bolton said at Bush's news conference. Bolton succeeds former senator John C. Danforth (R-Mo.), who left the post in January.

Bolton arrives at the United Nations as major crises are unfolding in Iran -- which threatened last weekend to restart its uranium-reprocessing program -- and Sudan, where the death of former rebel leader John Garang has threatened to disrupt the peace process. And the war in Iraq seems to cast a shadow over every U.N. debate.

U.N. diplomats said that not securing Senate confirmation would have only a limited impact on Bolton's ability to do his job. More important to his influence, they say, is the recognition that Bolton enjoys the backing of President Bush and Vice President Cheney, who has been a powerful patron within the administration.

"What matters in our eyes is that he's the president's choice and that he's close to the president," said Abdallah Baali of Algeria, the lone Arab ambassador on the Security Council. "That gives him certainly the authority to deal with us in New York."

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