| John Bolton: Cooling heels
Washington, June 21: The Bush administration suffered a stinging defeat last night when Republican senators failed to force through the contentious nomination of the conservative hawk John Bolton as America’s next ambassador to the UN.
The vote was seen as a virility test for President George W. Bush’s administration as it tries to restore momentum to his stalled second-term agenda. The Republicans had demanded that the Senate end a filibuster, a procedural device allowing minorities to block legislation and appointments.
They needed 60 votes but received only 54 after a fight that has taken two months of parliamentary time.
Anticipating defeat, the White House indicated that it would consider using a disputed backdoor means of bypassing the Senate and appointing Bolton temporarily during next month’s recess.
Officials were quoted saying such a decision, though hugely controversial, “was now a very real possibility”. The administration has been annoyed by its inability to get its programme through Congress, despite near unprecedented Republican majorities in both Houses.
Democrats were cock-a-hoop after delivering a slap in the face to a high-profile hawk and to Bush, who has in the past emerged victorious from such face-offs.
With central elements of the President’s second-term agenda now stalled and the polls showing fragmenting public support, the vote on Bolton was seen as emblematic of the administration’s woes.
Democrats, who see Bolton as a bully who should be denied high office, derided the White House threats to impose him by the back door.
Such a move would result in the dispatch of an ambassador to the UN “who lacks the confidence of the US Senate,” said Senator Christopher Dodd, a campaign leader.
Bolton is a hero of the Right who served as under-secretary for arms control in Bush’s first term, when he advocated confrontation with Iran and North Korea.
He has a penchant for undiplomatic language, once saying that if the UN headquarters in New York lost “10 storeys, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference”.
The Democrats believe they have the upper hand for the first time in years. Bush’s plan to reform social security has failed to gain support among congressional Republicans; fundamental tax reform is in serious trouble and the rising list of casualties in Iraq has frayed Republican nerves.
The fact that the administration was even considering bypassing the Senate is significant. It would be regarded as a sign of Republican weakness in Congress and allow the Democrats to claim the President is trampling on established privileges.