WASHINGTON (AP) – John R. Bolton, President Bush’s sharp-elbowed nominee to become U.N. ambassador, survived a cliffhanger Senate committee vote Thursday after renewed criticism from both Democrats and Republicans, leaving the final confirmation decision to the full Senate.
The Foreign Relations Committee voted 10-8 along party lines to advance Bolton’s nomination without the customary recommendation that the Senate approve it. The procedural move spared Bush outright defeat in the Republican-led committee but still represented an embarrassing setback early in his second term.
The pivotal vote came from Ohio Republican Sen. George Voinovich, who said Bolton was a sometime bully whose short fuse would have gotten him fired in the private sector.
“This is not behavior that should be endorsed as the face of the United States to the world community at the United Nations,” Voinovich said. “It is my opinion that John Bolton is the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be.”
It was not clear when Bolton’s nomination would come to the Senate floor. Republicans hold a 55-44 majority, making confirmation likely. One wild card: Democrats could still try to block a final vote.
The White House predicted eventual victory despite Voinovich’s harsh assessment and weeks of tumult over whether Bolton abused subordinates, stretched government intelligence to fit a preconceived ideology or misled the Senate committee.
Public misgivings among four of the panel’s 10 Republicans held up the Bolton vote for three weeks, and the White House launched a full-throated lobbying campaign.
In the end, only Voinovich broke GOP ranks. The committee’s chairman, Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, gave point-by-point answers to many of the allegations against Bolton, such as instances when he may have improperly pressured or retaliated against government analysts who disagreed with him.
Even that lengthy defense of Bolton carried an asterisk, however.
“Secretary Bolton’s actions were not always exemplary,” Lugar said. “On several occasions, he made incorrect assumptions about the behavior and motivations of subordinates. At other times, he failed to use proper managerial channels or unnecessarily personalized internal disputes.”
Democrats were united in opposing Bolton almost from the moment Bush nominated him in March. Initially, opposition focused on Bolton’s well-known hostility to the United Nations. He once famously said that it would not matter if 10 stories of the world body’s New York headquarters disappeared.
By the time of Bolton’s nomination hearing in April, Democrats had focused on complaints about his conduct in his current job as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs. They pointed to testimony from a former Republican State Department colleague that Bolton was a “serial abuser.”
“He’s the wrong choice,” said the panel’s senior Democrat, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware. “We can do a lot better.”
Biden suggested that Bush should withdraw Bolton’s nomination, but also said he did not expect that outcome.
Republicans on the committee stressed foreign policy and arms control successes Bolton had achieved over the four years since the same committee approved him for the arms control job.
“We are not electing Mr. Congeniality. We do not need Mr. Milquetoast,” said Sen. George Allen, R-Va., arguing that Bolton would be an effective agent for change at the United Nations.
Voinovich rejected the White House argument that Bolton’s acknowledged blunt manner is good medicine for a moribund bureaucracy and ingrained corruption at the United Nations. Bolton might do more harm than good, and alienate nations whose cooperation the United States needs, Voinovich said.
“He is an ideologue and fosters an atmosphere of intimidation,” Voinovich said. But he said it would be arrogant of him to vote with the Democrats and kill the nomination.