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This Hearing on U.N. Envoy Is More Diplomatic

Senators are still divided on John R. Bolton, who was installed by Bush last summer while Congress was in recess. A panel may vote soon.

July 28, 2006|Tyler Marshall | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — America's combative U.N. ambassador, John R. Bolton, launched a second campaign to win full Senate approval Thursday, saying he had done his best "to work with others to advance our national interests" during his year at the world body.

"I do believe important advances have been made," he said during a 3 1/2 -hour hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senate Democrats blocked a vote on Bolton's confirmation last year, after one of the most divisive debates over a presidential nomination in recent memory.

Bolton's critics at that time cast him as a smart but inflexible ideologue with few people skills, who screamed at subordinates. His backers argued he was just the man to shake up a lethargic, bureaucracy-heavy United Nations. After Congress adjourned for last summer's break, President Bush appointed Bolton using his authority to fill open jobs while Congress is in recess -- an assignment that expires with the Senate term, in January.

Now the White House is trying again for a permanent appointment.

The Foreign Relations Committee could vote on the nomination as early as next week. But Democrats are expected to ask for a delay, and a floor vote by the full Senate is not expected before September.

Though Republicans and Democrats appeared as divided as ever over Bolton, Thursday's hearing lacked the tension and animosity of last year's sessions. The only real drama came when two members of the public shouted anti-Bolton remarks. They were escorted from the room.

Most Republicans either praised the envoy or asked questions that let Bolton talk of his achievements.

Bolton cited such successes during his tenure as a unanimous Security Council resolution condemning North Korea's recent test-firing of ballistic missiles and demanding it suspend the missile program.

Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) predicted confirmation because Bolton was a key member of Bush's foreign policy team: "I do believe, without any reservation whatsoever, that the Senate will and should give that advice and consent to this nominee because he becomes an integral member of the president's national security team at a time when our nation is faced with these many complex issues." Warner is not a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senate panel member George V. Voinovich of Ohio, who defied the GOP last year as the only Republican to join Democrats in blocking a full-chamber vote on Bolton's confirmation, affirmed he planned to support the appointment this time. He referred colleagues to his commentary in the Washington Post last week, in which he cited Bolton's ability "to work with others and follow the president's lead by working multilaterally" and he suggested that removing Bolton "during this critical time" might weaken U.S. influence.

The only committee Republican to press Bolton hard was Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, who at one point read aloud a Bolton assertion that terrorism alone had caused current Middle East turmoil, then said to him: "Now, you're a brilliant man. That statement doesn't make any sense. Terrorism is a device. Can't you get any deeper?"

Chafee suggested he saw a gap between Bolton's talk of the need for an independent Palestinian state and the administration's effort to help forge one. A Chafee press aide, Christopher Spina, later indicated the senator had yet to decide how he planned to vote on Bolton's nomination.

Republicans need the votes of all the party's committee members to avoid the risk of a repeat of last year, when the panel split on party lines to send Bolton's nomination to the floor without an endorsement. Chafee expressed unease with Bolton at the time too.

The Democrats made clear Thursday that their position on Bolton had not changed.

In prepared remarks, the senior Democrat on the committee, Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, accused Bolton of alienating America's allies with his heavy-handed style.

"Instead of isolating the bad guys, Mr. Bolton's approach is to allow the bad guys to isolate the United States," Biden said.

Panel member Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) said of Bolton: "My objection isn't that he is a bully, but that he is a very ineffective bully -- he can't win the day when it really counts."

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