Bush installs Bolton as ambassador to U.N.

Recess appointment avoids battle in Congress

August 02, 2005|By Julie Hirschfeld Davis | Julie Hirschfeld Davis,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - President Bush sidestepped Congress and installed John R. Bolton as his envoy to the United Nations through a recess appointment yesterday, three days after the Senate adjourned for the summer without breaking a bitter deadlock on the nomination.

In making the appointment, Bush brushed aside the stinging objections of Democrats - who accused Bolton of abusing underlings and twisting intelligence to suit his conservative ideology - and strong reservations among some Republicans - who have said sending the embattled official to the United Nations without Congress' blessing could undermine U.S. foreign policy interests.

Bush said he had "complete confidence" in Bolton, a Baltimore native who he said would "bring tremendous wisdom and expertise" to the job and work hard to institute needed changes at the U.N.

"This post is too important to leave vacant any longer, especially during a war and a vital debate about U.N. reform," said Bush, flanked by Bolton and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the White House's Roosevelt Room.

Bolton said he was "honored" and "humbled," and he pledged to carry out the directions of Bush and Rice at the U.N.

"We seek a stronger, more effective organization, true to the ideals of its founders and agile enough to act in the 21st century," Bolton said just before he was sworn in. He went to U.N. headquarters in New York yesterday afternoon.

The recess appointment - allowed under the Constitution when Congress is not in session - lasts only until a new Congress convenes in January 2007.

For Bush, the action was an unvarnished exercise of executive power that underscored the limits of his influence on Capitol Hill.

Bush first tapped Bolton, a former State Department official on nonproliferation issues, nearly five months ago. The Senate twice failed to muster the 60 votes needed to overcome the Democrats and approve the nomination.

Bolton fell victim to "partisan delaying tactics by a handful of senators," Bush said.

But Republicans, too, had concerns; a Senate committee took the rare step earlier this year of advancing Bolton to the Senate for a confirmation vote without endorsing him.

Still, many Republicans praised Bush's decision.

Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader, said Bush "did the right thing" by going around the Senate to appoint Bolton, whose nomination had been "stymied in the name of politics."

"I understand and accept the unfortunately necessary decision by the president to use his authority to make this recess appointment," said Sen. George Allen of Virginia.

There is deep worry among some Republicans, however, that the recess appointment - never a popular tactic among senators, who jealously guard their institutional prerogatives - is particularly inappropriate in Bolton's case.

Sen. George V. Voinovich of Ohio, who had been vocal in his opposition to Bolton, said he was "disappointed."

"I am truly concerned that a recess appointment will only add to John Bolton's baggage and his lack of credibility with the United Nations," Voinovich said in a statement yesterday.

Democrats reacted with outrage to Bush's widely expected move, made the day before he's set to depart Washington for his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts called the appointment an "abuse of power," and a "devious maneuver" that "only further darkens the cloud over Mr. Bolton's credibility at the U.N."

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland said Bush's action "sends a terrible message to our intelligence professionals" and "is the wrong signal for our intelligence reform efforts."

Worries about the implications of Bush's decision go beyond politics and directly to how effective Bolton can be at the U.N., former diplomats and foreign policy analysts said.

"It means we're sending an ambassador to the United Nations who may have the confidence of the president of the United States, but does not have the confidence of the wider public that is so helpful" to a diplomat, said David L. Mack, a State Department official in the first Bush administration and Ronald Reagan's former envoy to the United Arab Emirates.

Some Republicans in the administration and Congress "are very nervous about what this is going to mean to have someone who has this little confidence up in New York dealing with these very sensitive issues," Mack said.

Democrats accuse Bolton of distorting intelligence to suit his hard-line beliefs, a particularly damaging charge in light of revelations that Bush's main justification for invading Iraq - reports of Saddam Hussein's efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction - was based on faulty intelligence.

Senate hearings on Bolton's nomination did not uncover evidence that he misused intelligence, but they featured vivid accusations from administration officials that he had been abusive and unprofessional. Those charges struck a chord with Voinovich. The former governor said yesterday that he planned to send Bolton a book on effective management.

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