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Senate again rejects U.N. choice

Liz Sidoti Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats blocked John Bolton’s confirmation as U.N. ambassador for the second time Monday, and President Bush left open the possibility of bypassing lawmakers and appointing the tough-talking former State Department official on his own.

The vote was 54-38, six shy of the total needed to force a final vote on Bolton and represented an erosion in support from last month’s failed Republican effort.

Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, who voted in May to advance the nomination, switched positions and urged Bush to consider another candidate. The setback left Bush facing stark choices – most of which could leave him appearing weak at a time he is facing sagging poll numbers and fighting lame-duck status six months into his final term.

Only three Democrats sided with the White House and voted to end debate on the nomination.

One of them, Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., asked whether Bush should exercise his power to give Bolton a temporary appointment without confirmation, said, “I would prefer it not happen, but it is the president’s prerogative.”

Bush has the power to install Bolton during the Senate’s upcoming July 4 recess.

The so-called recess appointment would only last through the next one-year session of Congress – in Bolton’s case until January 2007.

Should Bush decide against that, he could withdraw the nomination or authorize further concessions to Democrats who are demanding access to information, some of it classified, about Bolton before they stop stalling.

Even before the vote, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., predicted the Senate would block the nomination again – leaving Bush in a ticklish situation.

“The president will have to make a decision whether he wants to send this flawed candidate to the United Nations,” Reid said.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., accused Democrats of being unwilling to compromise.

“The plain and simple truth is that some on the other side of the aisle are obstructing a highly qualified nominee, and I believe by not allowing him to assume this position yet are doing harm to our country,” Frist said.

Bush has said Bolton, with a history of blunt talk and skepticism about the U.N.’s power, would lead an effort to overhaul the world body’s bureaucracy and make it more accountable. Critics say the fiery conservative, who has been accused of mistreating subordinates, would backfire and hurt U.S. efforts to work with the U.N. and other countries.

Although Monday’s vote seemed destined to fail in advance, some Republicans argued that holding it at least put Democrats on record once again of delaying final confirmation.

That could provide political cover for the White House for a recess appointment or to withdraw Bolton’s nomination by letting the administration claim they were forced to take those steps because of Democratic stonewalling.

Several senators did not vote because they were at home preparing for regional hearings by a commission considering whether to sign off on Pentagon’s plans to close military bases in their states.

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