Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist first announced today that he was finished calling votes on John R. Bolton's nomination as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, calling it a pointless exercise. But about an hour later, after a meeting with President Bush, the Tennessee Republican did an about-face: He will continue pushing for a floor vote on the controversial nominee after all.
"The president made it very clear that he expects an up-or-down vote," Frist told reporters in the White House driveway after he joined other GOP lawmakers for a luncheon with Bush. "It's not dead."
The Senate majority leader admitted, however, that the controversial Bolton nomination was going to require "some continued talking and discussion."
"We'll continue to get an up-or-down vote for John Bolton over the coming days, possibly weeks," Frist said.
Earlier in the day, Frist had told the Associated Press that it was useless going back to the Senate again because Democrats would only continue stalling the vote. "Whether it is politics or whatever their concerns are with, the goal post's constantly shifting. Bringing up another vote's not going to change anything," the Associated Press quoted Frist as saying.
Frist's flip-flop comments came one day after the Senate refused for the second time to confirm the controversial nominee.
The three-month-long Bolton stalemate is a setback for Bush and the latest in a string of partisan impasses that also have stymied his efforts to appoint judges and restructure Social Security.
Some senators said yesterday that a recess appointment now appeared to be Bolton's only hope, even though it would be politically contentious and would send him to the United Nations under a cloud.
Democrats and Republicans traded jabs after the Senate voted 54 to 38 Monday -- six votes shy of what was needed to advance Bolton's candidacy -- to end debate on his nomination. Republicans denounced Democrats as obstructionists; Democrats said it's Bush's fault for picking a nominee known for his abrasive style and criticism of the United Nations and then rejecting lawmakers' requests for documents related to Bolton's tenure at the State Department.
Opposition to Bolton, a former undersecretary of state for arms control, originally centered on his sharp criticism of the United Nations and his brusque style of dealing with subordinates who disagreed with him. Over time, however, Senate Democrats began focusing on the administration's refusal to provide documents they said were needed to assess Bolton's fitness for the job.
Washington Post staff writers Charles Babington and Jim VandeHei contributed to this report.