Senate committee delays vote on Bolton until May

Decision follows alarm voiced by GOP senator over U.N. nominee

April 20, 2005|By Gwyneth K. Shaw and Julie Hirschfeld Davis | Gwyneth K. Shaw and Julie Hirschfeld Davis,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Prodded by the last-minute concerns of a Republican member, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday postponed a vote on President Bush's controversial nominee to be ambassador to the United Nations until at least early May.

While the nomination of John R. Bolton has been hotly debated for more than a month, Sen. Richard G. Lugar, the Indiana Republican who heads the committee, seemed determined to hold a vote yesterday. The committee is split 10-8 in favor of Republicans, and despite a barrage of concerns from Democrats, no member of the GOP had said definitively that he would oppose Bolton.

Democrats tried to convince Lugar to postpone the meeting because of allegations that continue to emerge about how Bolton has treated former subordinates and others he has worked with at the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

FOR THE RECORD - Because of an editing error, Sen. George F. Allen's name was rendered incorrectly yesterday in an article about Senate hearings on the nomination of John R. Bolton to be United Nations ambassador.
The Sun regrets the errors.

But even as the meeting grew more contentious, Lugar held firm.

Then Sen. George V. Voinovich, an Ohio Republican, spoke up.

"I've heard enough today that I don't feel comfortable about voting for Mr. Bolton," he said.

Voinovich apologized to his Republican colleagues for not being at the committee's hearings last week, at which Bolton and Carl W. Ford Jr., a former State Department colleague, testified. But, he said, the allegations troubled him.

"I think we all ought to get some more information about this man before we vote him out of this committee," he said.

Voinovich's comments - on top of earlier remarks from Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who said he thinks the allegations about Bolton warrant "a full examination" on the Senate floor - gave Democrats the extra leverage they needed. Lugar agreed to put off a committee vote until after the Senate's weeklong recess in early May, to give the panel more time to examine some of the charges.

Bolton, 56 and a native of Baltimore, has been the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security for almost four years. When Bush first put Bolton forward as his pick in early March, it was Bolton's frequent criticism of the United Nations that drew the ire of opponents. Several dozen former diplomats sent letters to Lugar opposing Bolton.

Then, as the committee was forced to delay its original hearing because of the pope's funeral, charges emerged that Bolton had tried to have two intelligence analysts transferred because of a squabble over information. The day after Bolton testified before the committee April 12, Ford told the panel that Bolton was a "serial abuser" and "a quintessential kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy."

Democratic Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. and others convinced Lugar to put off a vote that had been scheduled for last Thursday. Over the weekend, committee Democrats released an e-mail from a Texas woman who claimed Bolton threatened her in 1994 after he became angry over her work on a private contract with U.S. AID in Kyrgyzstan.

Although the woman has subsequently worked with a group that opposed Bush, the e-mail fanned the flames.

On Monday, The Washington Post reported accusations from State Department officials that Bolton had at times kept information from his bosses, former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and his successor, Condoleezza Rice. Yesterday, The New York Times quoted Powell's former chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, as saying he thought Bolton would be an "abysmal" ambassador.

"He is incapable of listening to people and taking into account their views," he said.

Biden, of Delaware, and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, praised Lugar for granting more time.

"To me, issues have been raised over the last week that really must be examined," Dodd said.

Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, who complained during the hearing about the rapid pace with which the committee was being asked to consider Bolton, said the issues need to be resolved before a vote can take place.

"My guess is that a number of people on that side were sort of bothered by this, because, in effect, they were being asked to go on the hook when you had all these allegations out there which had not been adequately examined or addressed," said Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat. "That's not a very comfortable basis on which to make a decision."

Bush showed no sign yesterday of backing down from his support for Bolton.

"John Bolton is exactly the kind of person we need at the United Nations during this time of reform," Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, said yesterday afternoon before the move to delay the vote.

Asked whether Bush had second thoughts about choosing Bolton, given the questions raised during his confirmation hearings, McClellan said, "Absolutely not."

However, Voinovich's sudden ambivalence over Bolton's nomination seemed to embolden other Republicans, who have long harbored reservations about him, to sharpen their questions.

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