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 Nations.
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 absence."
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 the nomination.
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.