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Democrats force delay on Bolton vote

A deal on judicial nominees meant little as the debate continues over the president's pick for U.N. ambassador.

Associated Press
Published May 27, 2005

WASHINGTON - Democrats forced a postponement Thursday in a confirmation vote for John R. Bolton, a setback for President Bush's tough-talking choice as U.N. ambassador and a renewal of partisan fighting in the Senate after a brief respite.

The vote to advance Bolton's nomination to an immediate confirmation vote was 56-42 - four short of the 60 votes needed.

Aides to Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist said Democratic leader Harry Reid had offered assurances earlier in the day that obtaining the 60 votes would be a mere formality.

"I never said that," Reid told reporters as he ducked into a post-vote meeting in Frist's office.

Democratic aides said that despite the vote, Bolton's nomination did not appear to be in jeopardy.

A final vote on Bolton will not take place until at least June, after the Senate returns from a Memorial Day recess.

The vote again raised questions about whether Bush would be able to win approval for some of his disputed appointees. And it was a setback for Frist, R-Tenn., who has said he hoped to end nearly three months of delays and investigation and deliver Bolton's nomination for the president.

Frist said the Bolton matter has soured the air of cooperation the parties forged just days ago after months of fighting over judges.

"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."

Democrats said the White House had stiff-armed the Senate over classified information on Bolton's tenure in his current job as the State Department's arms control chief, and sought more information before the Senate can give Bolton an up-or-down vote.

Bush has called Bolton strong medicine for corruption and inefficiency at the United Nations, but Democrats said he lacks the diplomatic touch to advance U.S. interests at the world body and repair the American image abroad.

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said Democrats do not want to postpone an up-or-down vote indefinitely.

"We are willing to vote 10 minutes after we get back in session, if in fact they provide the information," Biden said.

Thursday's vote lasted about 50 minutes - far longer than the 15 minutes generally allowed for roll calls - as GOP leaders sought enough support to prevail.

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."

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 U.N. and allegations that he shut out or retaliated against any voices of caution or dissent.

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 spy agency.

The White House has lobbied hard for Bolton, especially among a handful of Republicans with public misgivings about his temperament. Only one Republican, George Voinovich of Ohio, spoke against Bolton on the Senate floor.

Bolton is among Bush's most hawkish foreign policy advisers, with hard-line views on Cuba, North Korea, Syria and other world hot spots. Democrats and some Republicans have said Bolton's nomination seems out of step with Bush's second-term emphasis on repairing frayed alliances and improving the U.S. image in the Middle East.

The administration and many in Congress have expressed outrage at corruption recently revealed in the U.N.'s oil-for-food program and at what even current U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called an unwieldy U.N. bureaucracy.

[Last modified May 27, 2005, 00:41:05]

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