The U.S. Senate's foreign relations committee,
in a surprise move driven by a key Republican, voted Thursday to send the embattled
nomination of John Bolton as U.S. ambassador at the United Nations to the full
Senate without a recommendation a rebuff to President George W. Bush.
Republican Senator George Voinovich agreed to allow Bolton's nomination to
proceed to the full Senate so long as the committee did not recommend a vote
in favor of Bolton. He told reporters he would vote against Bolton when the
issue comes before the full Senate. Voinovich had stunned the committee last
month by joining Democrats in delaying Bolton's confirmation process.
Bolton is currently undersecretary of state for arms control.
"It is my opinion that John Bolton is the poster child of what someone in
the diplomatic corps should not be," Voinovich said Thursday.
His opposition dashed the White House's hopes of winning the committee's endorsement
of Bolton, its nominee to be the top U.S. representative at the United Nations.
The former governor of the state of Ohio told the committee the Bolton nomination
would be a setback for U.S. public diplomacy and would make it more difficult
to reform the United Nations.
"Why in the world would we want to send anyone to the UN who has to be
kept on a short leash?" Voinovich asked, referring to comments by Secretary
of State Condoleezza Rice that she would closely supervise Bolton at the United
Voinovich added that he was concerned with Bolton's interpersonal and management
skills, lack of discipline, and the lack of an endorsement from former Secretary
of State Colin Powell, who the senator described as "conspicuous by his
A nomination can be sent to the full Senate floor in three ways: with a positive
recommendation from the committee, with a negative recommendation, or with no
recommendation at all. While there is precedent for sending a nomination to
the floor without a recommendation, it is unusual and generally considered as
weakening a candidate's chances of winning full Senate approval.
The senior Democrat on the foreign relations committee, Senator Joseph Biden
of Delaware, told his colleagues he had never witnessed a confirmation hearing
in which so many members of the president's own party had come forward in opposition.
The committee's next Republican speaker, Senator Lincoln Chafee, told the committee
he was concerned about allegations that Bolton sought to bend intelligence to
suit his own views but he said he was prepared to take Bolton at his word and
to support the Voinovich motion.
In his oral testimony before the committee last month, Bolton told the panel
that if confirmed, he would pursue four priorities: strengthening institutions
that bolster democracy and freedom, stemming the proliferation of weapons of
mass destruction, supporting the war against terrorism, and fighting humanitarian
crises such as the spread of HIV/AIDS.
In a vote at the close of Thursday's five-hour hearing, the committee's 10
Republican members voted for the no-recommendation option while its eight Democrats
voted against it.
At the committee's previous hearing three weeks ago, Voinovich surprised his
committee colleagues by asking for a delay in the confirmation process to gather
more information on Mr. Bolton.
Chafee, from the heavily Democratic state of Rhode Island, had not before Thursday
asserted a positive position on the nominee. His was at one point considered
the Republican vote most likely to sink Bolton's confirmation, but he has said
more recently he would probably support it.
Political insiders have said Chafee, who was appointed to the senate to succeed
his late father, would have most to lose among his state's Democratic voters
by supporting the nomination. They point out that Voinovich would be in a less
precarious position as one of the most popular political figures in Ohio.
Democrats on the committee have fought to block the nomination, arguing that
Bolton is unsuitable because of his temperament and his past, sometimes blunt,
condemnation of the United Nations. In one assessment in 1994, Bolton said that
there is no such thing as the United Nations. He also has said that if the UN
secretariat building in New York lost 10 stories, this would not make "a
bit of difference." He did not work for the U.S. government at the time.
Opponents to the nomination have accused Bolton of having a "bull in the china
shop" style, saying this would further tarnish the image of the United States
worldwide and would impair U.S. ability to effect changes in the world body.
The Bolton nomination has the strong support of Bush and Rice.
Voinovich voiced strong concerns about Bolton's suitability for the post, saying
that sending him to the world body would send a contradictory message to the
world about U.S. public policy.
"I have great concerns with the current nominee and his ability to get the
job done," Voinovich said, adding, "The United States can do better than John
Bolton." He cited conflicts reported between the nominee and several people
with whom he had worked.
"I like Mr. Bolton. I think he's a decent man. Our conversations have been
cordial and candid but I don't believe he's the best man we can send to the
United Nations," Voinovich said.
"If [the Bolton nomination] goes to the floor, I would plead to my colleagues
in the Senate to consider the decision and its consequences carefully and to
ask themselves several questions: Will John Bolton do the best job possible
representing a trans-Atlantic face of America at the UN? Will he be able to
pursue the needed reforms at the UN despite his damaged credibility?"
Last month, senators heard testimony from Carl Ford, former chief of the State
Department's bureau of intelligence and research, that Bolton bullied underlings
and tried to have an analyst fired in a dispute over intelligence. Bolton had
planned to say in a May 2002 speech to the Heritage Foundation that Cuba had
a secret bio-weapons program but the analyst would not approve the language
used until it reflected more ambiguous intelligence assessments.
More than 100 ambassadors and former ambassadors have signed a letter to the
committee opposing Bolton's elevation to the UN post. In contrast, all living
former secretaries of state, with the exception of Colin Powell, have endorsed
Senator Richard Lugar, the committee's chairman, said that while Bolton's actions
were "not always exemplary," evidence heard by the panel did not support a
disqualification of the nominee. "The end result is that many of the accusations
have proven to be groundless or, at worst, overstated," Lugar said.
If confirmed by the full Senate, Bolton would replace John Danforth, a former
senator from Missouri who left the post in January after less than seven months
on the job.
(Inter Press Service)