WASHINGTON – Citing lack of cooperation from the Bush administration, Senate Democrats on Thursday blocked the confirmation of John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, promptly souring the bipartisan atmosphere set by an earlier agreement on judicial nominees.
Republicans fell short of the 60 votes needed to end debate and bring Bolton’s confirmation up for a final vote.
Democrats insisted they were simply trying to compel the administration to release additional documents about Bolton, an outspoken critic of the world body and a past proponent of go-it-alone U.S. foreign policy.
“I implore the administration to provide the information,” said Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “We are willing to vote 10 minutes after we get back in session if in fact they provided the information.”
The vote came a day after the Senate overcame four years of Democratic delaying tactics to confirm Priscilla Owen of Texas as an appellate court judge. Owen was the first beneficiary of a new bipartisan agreement designed to limit the number of times Democrats used extended debate, or filibusters, to block judicial nominees.
The Bolton nomination wasn’t part of that deal, but its timing made it a symbolic test of the week’s new bipartisan goodwill.
“The very first issue we turned to, we got what to me looks like a filibuster,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. “It certainly sounds like a filibuster. … It quacks like a filibuster. … What America has just seen is an engagement of another period of obstruction by the other side.”
Three of the seven Democrats who negotiated the deal on the judicial nominees voted with Republicans to end the debate on Bolton: Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.
Nelson and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who also helped broker the deal, worked fiercely on the Senate floor to secure more Democratic votes but to no avail.
Overall, 57 senators voted to end the debate. But the official vote was 56-42 because Frist switched sides at the end of the roll call so he could move to have it reconsidered when the Senate returns on June 7.
Though Bolton was expected to win confirmation if his nomination were put up for a vote, he has been one of President Bush’s most contentious nominees.
At issue are Bolton’s temper and management style, charges that he wanted intelligence analysts punished for disputing his views, his disparagement of the United Nations and his close identification with the part of the Bush administration that favors a go-it-alone foreign policy.
“We need a credible spokesman at the United Nations, and Mr. Bolton’s past conduct casts serious doubt on his ability to be one,” said Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md. “For the sake of the country, we can do better.”
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said the charges against Bolton amounted to “character assassination” and a “smokescreen” by critics seeking an excuse to attack Bush’s foreign policy.
He said Bolton’s achievements, experience and blunt manner made him the right person to represent the United States and champion much-needed reforms at the scandal-scarred United Nations.
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