The White House is remaining steadfastly behind the nomination of John Bolton to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and blaming the delay in his confirmation on unfounded allegations circulated by Democrats.
“I think what you’re seeing is the ugly side of Washington, D.C., that people are playing politics with his nomination,” Scott McClellan, President Bush’s press secretary, said Wednesday.
Bolton, the undersecretary of state for arms control and national security, appeared to be on his way to gaining the approval of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday despite reports that he abused subordinates and those with whom he disagreed and had uttered statements holding the United Nations in contempt.
But a vote was delayed, probably until early next month, when Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, expressed concerns about the nomination. A Voinovich defection likely would have resulted in a tie vote and a defeat for Bolton. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., the panel chairman, agreed to a postponement.
The wrangling caught the White House off-guard. Bush has come to expect the Senate to approve his nominees, even controversial ones, since Republicans hold a 55-44 edge over Democrats with one independent. McClellan expressed confidence Wednesday that Bolton will prevail.
“I think what you’re seeing is some Democrats on the committee trumping up allegations and making unsubstantiated accusations against someone the president believes will do an outstanding job at the United Nations,” McClellan said. “He is someone who has been an effective manager, a strong diplomat who has gotten things done.”
Voinovich, McClellan said, proved reluctant to vote because he was absent when Bolton appeared before the committee to answer questions; the Ohio lawmaker was busy chairing another meeting. The White House has since been in contact with Voinovich, McClellan said, “to make sure he has answers to the questions he has.”
Democrats, McClellan said, have “continued to trump this up.” But Voinovich isn’t the only committee Republican to express reservations. Sen. Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island has been on the fence for several days. Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska said he likely would vote for Bolton in committee but didn’t know what he might do once the nomination went before the full Senate.
The debate over Bolton has not centered on his politics _ he is considered one of the administration’s top neo-conservatives and a hawk on subjects like Iraq _ but his temperament. The most recent allegation came in the form of an open letter from Melody Townsel, a former contract worker for the U.S. Agency for International Development, who said Bolton, as a private lawyer in 1994, pounded on her hotel room door and shouted threats at her because of a business dispute.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said the committee “did the right thing” by postponing the vote, but added that Bolton has emerged from the dispute as “a damaged piece of goods.”
(E-mail Bill Straub at StraubB(at)shns.com.)