A key Democratic senator warned yesterday that the Bush administration may be losing ground in its bid to confirm John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations, as the White House continued to rebuff Democrats' request for documents related to the nominee.
Senate GOP leaders, acknowledging no apparent progress on Bolton, said they will call for another vote to end debate in a renewed effort to portray Democrats as obstructionists, probably this week. But one of the three Democrats who sided with them on an unsuccessful "cloture" vote on May 26, Sen. Mark Pryor (Ark.), said he may abandon the Republicans, leaving them farther from their goal than they were three weeks ago.
If Democrats "continue being reasonable [in their requests] and the White House won't provide the information, I want to reserve the right to change my vote," Pryor told reporters.
Some Republican lawmakers expressed dismay that the effort to confirm Bolton, an outspoken conservative who has sharply criticized the United Nations, remains so difficult. Critics have cited his beratings of State Department subordinates who differed with him, but the most recent sticking point has involved Democratic requests for documents concerning Bolton's work activities.
The administration says senators have no need or right to review information regarding his role in shaping the 2003 congressional testimony on Syria or his efforts to learn the names of U.S. officials mentioned in conversations intercepted by the National Security Agency. The impasse has lasted two months.
"As long as the White House is not allowing the information to come forward, there's going to be no change in the vote," Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said yesterday.
On May 26, the Senate fell three votes short of the 60 needed to shut off debate and allow a confirmation vote to occur. Three Democrats -- Pryor, Mary Landrieu (La.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.) -- sided with Republicans in voting to end the filibuster.
Republicans, who have spent much of the year depicting Democrats as obstructionists in the battle over judicial nominees, had hoped a few more moderate Democrats would yield as President Bush continued to press for Bolton's approval. But with Democrats appearing to stand firm, Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said yesterday that he will try to increase the pressure by scheduling another vote to end the debate, possibly tomorrow.
"The only way we're going to get there is have another cloture vote to demonstrate that the other side is unreasonably and irresponsibly filibustering this nominee," Frist told reporters.
But Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), a leading opponent of Bolton, said the administration is showing disrespect for the Senate by refusing to provide pertinent information that numerous executive-branch officials have seen. "They're filibustering their own nominee," Dodd said. White House compliance with the Democrats' requests, he said, would quickly lead to a confirmation vote in which Bolton would need a simple majority in the 100-member Senate. Republicans hold 55 seats.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), the chamber's second-ranking Democrat, said: "Instead of calling a vote, [Frist] should call the White House. Because if they will produce the basic information which [Bolton] and his staff had access to . . . it's the end of the controversy. Clearly, there is something in those documents which is so damaging to Bolton, they don't want to release it."
"This is about partisan politics, not about documents. They have the information they need," said Erin Healy, a White House spokeswoman.
The administration says Bolton, while undersecretary of state for arms control, obtained the names of 19 U.S. officials and companies mentioned in conversations monitored by the NSA. When the administration refused to divulge the names to high-ranking senators, Dodd and his allies offered to specify about three dozen people and to ask if any were among the 19. The administration rejected that request as well.
Frist said yesterday that Democrats keep "moving the goalposts," but Dodd said Democrats have changed their requests only to narrow them. "Thirty-six names is not excessive," he told reporters, given that Bolton learned the identities of 19 people or firms mentioned in secretly monitored conversations.