Wednesday, April 20, 2005


Bolton Down The Nomination

Okay, right off the bat, call me agnostic on the topic of John Bolton's nomination to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. My general belief is that a president should be permitted his executive-branch nominees, unless there is some overwhelmingly outrageous action or behavior in the pick's past.

(Judicial nominees are a bit different, should be examined in more depth and should pass a higher standard. These are, after all, lifetime appointments.)

It appears that there is a pattern in Bolton's background of rather intemperate behavior towards subordinates. In short, he doesn't suffer fools (actual or perceived) gladly. Of course, being an obnoxious boss shouldn't be a non-hire-able offense (if that makes sense) -- particularly in Washington, DC. However, the nomination has moved into a much stranger realm. There are charges that Bolton tried to keep important information away from both Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice and accusations that Bolton may have used NSA surveillance information for his own purposes.

By holding together and eventually raising enough doubts among Republicans, the Democrats have succeeded in
delaying the nomination. And, in situations like this, delay usually means death (I'm avoiding obvious references to the good gentleman from Texas).
Nominations rarely survive a three-week "time-out." It's always so much easier to find more "dirt" (legitimate or otherwise) on a candidate when you have more time.

Meanwhile, it was pretty clear that Chairman Richard Lugar lost control of the Foreign Relations Committee. A chairman isn't supposed to be blind-sided like he was by George Voinovich on Tuesday. True, Voinovich can be something of a flake (last year, he made noises about voting against the tax cut, but then pulled back), but Lugar is supposed to know what's going on. He went into the hearing expecting to pass the nomination out of committee on a 10-8 vote. By the end, he was looking at a 9-9 tie or an 8-10 loss. Not exactly a case of doing one's homework.

Then again, the whole situation in the FRC has like a game of "Whack-A-Mole" ("Whack-A-Mod[erate])?" First, Lincoln Chafee made noises that he might oppose Bolton; then, he said he was leaning toward voting for him. Then Chuck Hagel suggested he had problems with it. Finally, out of nowhere, Voinovich brings things to a screeching halt, saying that, having missed the previous hearings, he hadn't heard about all the accusations against Bolton and couldn't vote in favor based on the Democrats' charges that he had just now heard.

Hagel then piped up with his reservations again. Given that Chuck Hagel is one of many senators thinking about running for president in 2008, he might consider being more straightforward about his caveats/opposition/concerns on Bolton. His, "I'll vote to send him out of committee, but don't make any assurances on the floor" line is a perfect example of why it's so hard for senators to run for the White House. Consider it Hagel's I-voted-for-him-before-I-voted-against-him problem. (FYI, Joe Lieberman pulled the same stunt earlier this month on the bankruptcy bill. He proudly proclaimed how he voted against it on final passage, to ingratiate himself with his Democratic base -- yet voted to invoke cloture, which is the action that actually puts a bill on the glide-path to passage.)

If Bolton ends up going down, the person almost single-handedly responsible for it will be Steve Clemons of the New America foundation. Steve's a friend, despite various political differences. He's a Democrat who worked for Jeff Bingaman for a few years. We've been fortunate enough to end up on a couple of foreign junkets On his blog,
The Washington Note, he has been pushing the Bolton-is-unfit/untrustworthy meme with the intensity of a pit bull with its teeth in someone's leg. It's strange, because Steve, though a Democrat, is not exactly a reflexive partisan, but he really despises Bolton. Via his blog, he may end up doing to Bolton what Bill Kristol did to the Clinton health plan in 1993-94 through his "Project for the Republican Future" memos. The stakes aren't exactly the same, but the comparison is apt. Does this suggest a significant future role within the Democratic Party/liberal policy network for Mr. Clemons? Only time will tell.

The larger question though is whether it is really in the Democrats best interests to put so much energy into defeating a nominee for a position that is, ultimately, a relatively minor part of the United States foreign policy chain.

UPDATE: Minor edits made 4/21/ 05. to help make the sentence about Voinovich comprehensible.

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