The Nation

Bush Steps Around Senate, Names Bolton U.N. Envoy

President says the post is too crucial to leave open. Kofi Annan welcomes the appointment.

August 02, 2005|Warren Vieth | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Blocked for nearly five months by Democratic lawmakers, President Bush on Monday used his power to bypass the confirmation process and named John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations. Within hours, the blunt-spoken diplomat took the oath of office in Washington and headed for New York, where he ended the day on the job.

Bush invoked his constitutional authority to fill an open job while Congress was in recess, instead of trying to resolve a deadlock with senators who had called Bolton unfit for the job; the Democrats had been using a parliamentary maneuver to block a vote on his confirmation.

Under a recess appointment, Bolton can serve until the end of the next Senate session, expected in the late fall of 2006.

"America has now gone more than six months without a permanent ambassador to the United Nations," Bush said at a White House appearance with Bolton and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "This post is too important to leave vacant any longer, especially during a war and a vital debate about U.N. reform."

Bush's decision to appoint Bolton without a confirmation vote was denounced by Democrats, who predicted it would undermine the diplomat's credibility at the U.N. and create more partisan rancor on Capitol Hill. Bolton's sharp tongue and direct style have alienated some subordinates, but enchanted many conservatives.

"At a time when we need to reassert our diplomatic power in the world, President Bush has decided to send a seriously flawed and weakened candidate to the United Nations," said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada. On Sunday, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) called Bolton "damaged goods."

But there were no signs Monday that Democrats would respond to the appointment by taking action against other Bush nominees, such as his choice of John G. Roberts Jr. for the Supreme Court.

The White House said Bush decided over the weekend to proceed with a recess appointment; the Senate completed action on a raft of legislation late Friday and suspended for a five-week summer break. The president is leaving Washington today for his own five-week working vacation at his Texas home.

During the White House ceremony, Bolton, 56, said he intended to do Bush's bidding.

"You have made your directions for U.S. policy at the United Nations clear," Bolton told the president. "I am prepared to work tirelessly to carry out the agenda and initiatives that you and Secretary Rice direct."

Bush said the recess appointment was justified because Bolton had gone through lengthy confirmation hearings and had the support of a majority of senators. He blamed the deadlock on "delaying tactics by a handful of senators."

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters he welcomed Bolton's appointment "at a time when we are in the midst of major reform" and said he considered it Bush's prerogative to bypass the confirmation process.

But Annan suggested Bolton's effectiveness in carrying out Bush's agenda would be determined by his willingness to accommodate other points of view, a characteristic that some critics have said the new ambassador may be lacking.

"I think it is all right for one ambassador to come and push," Annan said. "But an ambassador always has to remember that there are 190 others who will have to be convinced, or a vast majority of them, for action to take place."

Bush's critics have questioned Bolton's appropriateness for the job, expressing concern about his caustic criticism of the U.N. and allegations that he tried to intimidate intelligence analysts who disagreed with him.

In the Senate, Democrats have used the filibuster, or extended debate, to delay a floor vote on Bolton on grounds that the administration had refused to provide sufficient information about his track record as a top State Department official -- including his efforts to obtain secret National Security Agency intercepts of overseas communications.

Democrats had asked to see unedited copies of 10 intercepts given to Bolton that contained the names of 19 American officials.

Democrats said they wanted to be sure that Bolton did not seek the information to intimidate intelligence analysts.

It takes 60 votes in the 100-member Senate to end a filibuster. While it appeared Bolton would win the simple majority required for confirmation, Republican leaders failed twice to muster enough votes to end the filibuster and proceed to a vote on his nomination.

Bolton's backers argue that the tough-talking diplomat is exactly the kind of person needed to make the case for change at the U.N. as the world body struggles to respond to allegations of ineffectiveness, mismanagement and corruption.

"Sometimes a blunt style is needed in order to get things done," White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters.

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