Democrats said they hoped the Senate’s vote to delay confirmation of John R. Bolton as U.N. ambassador would force the White House to release long-sought classified information about the embattled nominee, or perhaps to pick someone else for the job.
In a renewal of intense partisanship, the Senate put off a final vote on Bolton on Thursday, the latest setback for the tough-talking conservative whom President Bush has called strong medicine for corruption and inefficiency at the United Nations.
Democrats forced the delay in part because they claim that the White House has stonewalled on information that might prove damaging to Bolton, whose brusque style Democrats said would be ill-suited to U.N. diplomacy.
“I would hope the president will think about what happened here,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. “I hope cooler heads will prevail and we see a new nominee.”
The procedural vote to advance Bolton’s nomination to a confirmation vote was 56-42, four short of the 60 votes that Bolton’s Republican backers needed.
Republicans hold a 55-44 majority in the Senate, with one independent, and the White House has predicted repeatedly that Bolton would eventually win confirmation.
A final vote on Bolton will not take place until at least June, after the Senate returns from a Memorial Day recess.
“What you see here is partisanship, and that is unfortunate,” said Sen. George Allen, R-Va., adding that Republicans plan to keep fighting for Bolton.
Thursday’s vote lasted about 50 minutes _ far longer than the 15 minutes generally allowed for roll calls _ as GOP leaders futilely hunted for enough support to prevail.
The outcome raised questions about Bush’s ability to win speedy confirmation of some of his more ideologically conservative appointees as he begins his second term in the White House. And it was a setback for Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who was hoping to end nearly three months of delays and investigation and finally deliver Bolton’s nomination for the president.
Frist said the Bolton matter soured the air of cooperation the two parties’ centrists forged just days ago after months of wrangling over Bush’s judicial nominees.
“John Bolton, the very first issue we turned to, we got what looks to me like a filibuster,” Frist said. “It certainly sounds like a filibuster … it quacks like a filibuster.”
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the administration was pleased that Republicans would revisit the vote after the recess and criticized Democrats for the newest delay.
“Just 72 hours after all the goodwill and bipartisanship, it is a shame to see the Democratic Senate leadership resort back to such a partisan approach,” McClellan said. “This is a nominee that enjoys majority support.”
The material Democrats have sought for weeks involves Bolton’s use of government intelligence on Syria, and instances in which he asked for names of fellow U.S. officials whose communications were secretly picked up by a U.S. spy agency.
“I think the Senate, by voting this way, has increased the likelihood that we might get access to this information,” said Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., who also made a personal pitch to Bush in an unrelated White House meeting Thursday to make the data available.
A deal to turn over part of the information fell through earlier Thursday. Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, rejected an offer to see edited versions of the classified communications picked up by the National Security Agency that would not reveal the names of the U.S. officials.
Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana were the only Democrats to break ranks and support the move to have an immediate final vote. Frist was the only Republican to vote against ending the delays, but he only did so because that gave him the procedural right to force the Senate to vote again on the issue.
Sens. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., did not vote.
Thursday’s daylong debate touched on the issues that have made the Bolton nomination one of the Bush administration’s toughest fights: Bolton’s dismissive remarks about the United Nations, his reputation as an uncompromising and hotheaded conservative, and allegations that he shut out or retaliated against any voices of caution or dissent.
The White House has lobbied hard for Bolton, especially among a handful of moderate Republicans with public misgivings about his temperament. Only one Republican, George Voinovich of Ohio, spoke against Bolton on the Senate floor.
Voinovich’s surprisingly strong opposition to Bolton had forced a delay of last month’s planned Foreign Relations Committee vote on the nominee, and the panel subsequently denied Bolton its customary endorsement.
Democrats cried foul as soon as Bush nominated Bolton in March, and pointed to his remark that it would not matter if 10 stories of the United Nations’ New York headquarters were to vanish.
Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report