WASHINGTON — In an unforeseen setback for the Bush administration, a Senate committee delayed a key vote on John R. Bolton's nomination to be U.N. ambassador after a Republican senator announced Tuesday that he was not prepared to vote for Bolton.
Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) surprised Republicans and Democrats by saying he would not vote to confirm Bolton, based on evidence laid out by angry Democrats that Bolton had bullied and intimidated intelligence analysts and subordinates.
Bolton now must withstand at least three more weeks of investigation by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which could subpoena new witnesses or require him to appear again to answer fresh questions.
Senators and aides from both parties said they could not predict the outcome of the battle over Bolton, whose blunt and tough personal style as much as his ideology had made him the most controversial of President Bush's nominees.
The delay, a victory for Senate Democrats, was the latest sign that Republican moderates in Congress might be starting to bridle at their party leadership's strong tilt to the right and insistence on party discipline.
Before Tuesday's committee meeting, two moderate Republicans, Sens. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, had said they were concerned about the allegations against Bolton, but remained inclined to support him.
That led the committee chairman, Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), to conclude that the 10 Republicans on the committee would rebuff pleas from the eight committee Democrats for more time. Lugar expressed irritation at parliamentary moves earlier Tuesday by Democrats seeking to delay the vote, and insisted a committee vote be held Tuesday.
"We were not born yesterday," Lugar told the Democrats. "The Republicans want to vote for John Bolton, and there are 10 Republicans here."
Democrats complained that Lugar was trying to ram the nomination through the committee and that they had not had time to substantiate or refute allegations against Bolton that began when a fellow State Department official testified that Bolton was a bully and a "serial abuser" of underlings.
Lugar attempted to cut off the debate. "We have indulged, I believe, in a lot of give," he said. "So, the give is over."
Then, however, Voinovich spoke up, saying that the treatment of subordinates was an important issue to him, and that if forced to vote Tuesday, he would oppose Bolton. "I've heard enough today that I don't feel comfortable about voting for Mr. Bolton," Voinovich said.
Facing a 9-9 tie that would block the nomination from going to the full Senate and potentially embarrass Bush, Lugar agreed to delay the vote until mid-May.
A tie would prevent the committee from forwarding the nomination to the full Senate, where Republicans hold a 55-45 majority. The committee also could forward the nomination to the full Senate with no recommendation, but that action also would require a majority committee vote.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) gave his word that Democrats would not to try to delay a vote on Bolton beyond mid-May.
None of the three key GOP moderates said they planned to oppose Bolton, but they agreed more time was needed to address outstanding questions.
Voinovich, who missed last week's confirmation hearing, is known as a maverick Republican who has disagreed before with Bush administration stances.
Chafee had said just before the committee meeting that he had decided to vote for Bolton. But Tuesday night, Chafee spokesman Stephen Hourahan said continuing revelations and questions about Bolton's veracity under oath had put Chafee back into the undecided camp.
Hagel said he might vote in committee to send Bolton's nomination to the full Senate, but could vote against confirmation on the Senate floor.
"I think these charges are serious enough to demand ... further examination," Hagel said.
Bolton, who has served since 2001 as undersecretary of State, has been a harsh critic of the United Nations. His supporters say that qualifies him to lead U.N. reform efforts.
But Biden and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) tried to persuade Republicans not to send an official accused of politicizing intelligence to the U.N. at a time when U.S. credibility on such issues was at a low point.
The Democrats sought to close the meeting to present unproven new allegations against Bolton, but Republicans refused. So in an unusual public session, Biden and Dodd questioned Bolton's truthfulness and described new evidence they believed should be examined.
In one case, according to Biden and committee staff, Bolton had been involved in a bitter dispute while working at the Justice Department with an attorney who attempted to extend her maternity leave for health reasons. Bolton reportedly threatened her with dismissal if she did not return to work, they said.