SO NOW SENATE Majority Leader Trent Lott wants to take a "second look" at the nomination of Richard Holbrooke to be ambassador to the United Nations before allowing the full Senate to vote. Mr. Lott is "suspicious," a spokesman tells the Washington Times and New York Times, of why the administration is trying to "rush this nomination through."

Rush it through? The notion gives preposterous a bad name. President Clinton nominated Mr. Holbrooke for this position in June -- of 1998. The nomination was forwarded to the Senate in February, after a lengthy vetting in the executive branch. The Foreign Relations Committee grilled Mr. Holbrooke at a public hearing, submitted further written questions and waded through thousands of pages of documents. Then, led by Sen. Jesse Helms, it unanimously endorsed the nomination.

Nor was Mr. Holbrooke some kind of unknown quantity before this latest examination. He entered the Foreign Service 37 years ago. He has been confirmed unanimously by the full Senate on three separate occasions -- twice to serve as assistant secretary of state, once as ambassador to Germany.

Mr. Lott first embarrassed himself in this matter when he allowed a spokesman to reveal that several senators had put "holds" on Mr. Holbrooke's nomination -- without admitting that Mr. Lott was one of those senators. It then came to light that the majority leader was holding the Holbrooke nomination hostage to an appointment he favored for the Federal Election Commission. That being an indefensible abuse of senatorial power to delay an important Cabinet-level appointment, Mr. Lott may have devised this latest rationale to extricate himself from his earlier embarrassment. But he seems only to have dug himself a deeper hole.

This is not just a matter of politics. The secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff both complained last week that U.N. tardiness in filling positions in Kosovo's new government is putting U.S. troops at risk. As Republican Sens. John Warner and Chuck Hagel both pointed out nine days ago, a strong U.S. advocate at the United Nations might work to lessen that risk. Our view is that Mr. Holbrooke would be such an advocate. If some senators disagree, let them vote no. But let them vote.