Excerpts from the Press Conference with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and Senator John Mccain (R-AZ) on the John Bolton Nomination
10:30 a.m. Tuesday, 14 June 2005
Mansfield Room, U.S. Capitol
We are here to urge our colleagues to allow the Bolton nomination to come back to the floor for an up-or-down vote. That’s the purpose of John McCain and Bill Frist today spending a few minutes with you. And I believe we can accomplish that. There’s a lot going on in terms of negotiations and letters and talking.
But now we’re at a point where the filibuster against Bolton — and, yes, I’ll call it a filibuster, because that’s where we are until we get it to an up-or-down vote on the floor of the United States Senate — is continuing.
Just looking back at the data and the statistics, it was over 200 days ago that the position of the U.N. ambassador came open with the resignation of our former colleague, Jack Danforth, who was then ambassador at the United Nations.
On March 7th, the nomination was announced. On March 17th, the nomination was sent to this body, the United States Senate. On April 11th, the Foreign Relations Committee held its hearing. On May 12th, sent to the floor, to our executive calendar. But on May 26th, through a cloture vote, this filibuster was begun.
At the same time, we have seen a whole sequence of events, over the last 200 days. We’ve seen the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, the vote in Iraq, the vote in Palestine, the hope of opening the presidential elections in Egypt.
It’s been 200 days that this vacancy sign above our U.N. ambassador’s door in New York has been blinking. It is now a time to end that.
I think it’s very important — it’s very important — that the United States be represented today in the United Nations.
I am convinced that if we’re going to see true reform in the United Nations, as now proposed by a bipartisan commission just in the last few days, as proposed by the secretary general himself, the United States, who contributes enormously taxpayers’ dollars in the functioning of the United Nations, should be represented.
I believe that John Bolton has proven his credentials. I also believe that a president should have the right to appoint their own team, particularly in as important a position as ambassador to the U.N.
So I am very hopeful that we can continue these negotiations, wrap them up as quickly as possible.
In my usual nonconfrontational style, I have urged Leader Frist to go ahead and schedule a vote on Bolton on cloture and get people on record, because this is very important.
I do not deny the Democrats their right to do this, I just hope that they would see their way clear in recognizing that this is a very important situation and a post that cannot remain unfilled. It’s not in the best interest of the United States.
When we say that negotiations are under way, we really say that in part because John has said we need to go out and do another up-or-down vote. We need to get to an up-or-down vote. The only way we’re going to get there is have another cloture vote to demonstrate that the other side is unreasonably and irresponsibly filibustering this nominee.
When we say negotiations are under way, let me also say that the goal post keeps shifting again and again and again. I believe the administration has handled this very well. They have — for the issues that have been raised by Senators Dodd and Biden, have fully briefed our Intelligence Committee, the leaders, in a bipartisan way. That briefing was complete and that briefing has been shared in terms of the concerns that have been raised by Senators Dodd and Biden.
There’ll be questions about a letter which was sent or copied to me from last either Thursday or Friday. The letter requested a list of 36 names. And then there was some statement that if these 36 names were turned over or were checked and were double-checked, that would move us a step closer. I forgot the exact words.
These goal posts are shifting. Initially, people were talking about five or six names.
I believe that the administration has provided all of the information that is necessary, that is relevant to John Bolton serving as our U.N. ambassador. And I believe that, yes, we need to continue talking over the several days, but that after a couple of days or several days we do need to bring this back to the floor of the United States Senate and let 100 United States senators speak their will with an up-or-down vote.
QUESTION: Two questions. First, are you saying that you will schedule an up-or-down vote? And second, have either of you discussed this with the White House and urged them to perhaps deal with the Democrats?
FRIST: I have discussed this and actually worked with Joe and Chris in terms of opening up for other opportunities or information. And let me just say, every time that I’ve offered to provide that information in some shape or form, a lot more information has been demanded and more background that is beyond any, sort of, reasonable limits.
Number two, we would take it back to the floor with a cloture vote again.
FRIST: Well, you just heard. Right now, my good friend here John McCain is saying, Let’s go do it today. And I’m saying, let’s continue talking.
That doesn’t mean — the letter that they sent last Friday is absurd in the requests that are being made. And therefore, I don’t want people to look back at that request or that letter and say that is a starting point.
But some time — I would say at the end of the week. But, again, we want to continue talking with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle.
Here is question posed by TWN:
QUESTION: Senator McCain, you mentioned the words executive privilege. There are three evidence requests which are still pending made in April, and in the press you’ve said that you saw that your Democratic counterparts had a point; that there was a point about these evidence requests. Have you changed your position?
MCCAIN: What I’ve said is…
QUESTION: And also on executive privilege, the White House has been very careful not to use those words. So I’m interested in your use of them now.
MCCAIN: Well, my use of them is that, in order to withhold any information you have to say, This is executive privilege. I don’t know if you have to send a formal letter saying so.
But what I said was, and I continue to hope, is that there can be some agreement worked out which protects the rights of the executive branch to have privileged communications within the executive branch and at the same time satisfy the concerns that Dodd and Biden have. They are both highly respected, highly regarded members of the Senate.
MCCAIN: And I continue to hope that can be worked out.
Now, I didn’t say that they had a point or not have a point, because, frankly, I haven’t seen the information that they are seeking.
But I do know that they have an appreciation for the need to get this position filled, and I’m glad that negotiations and conversations continue between them and the executive branch.
QUESTION: Most of the discussions have been on the intercept issue and not — hardly any discussion of the Syria testimony of 2003. Have either of you had any discussions, like, when Secretary Rice was here last week, did you (OFF-MIKE)
FRIST: On the Syria issue, I have not talked to Secretary Rice directly.
I can tell you at the end of last week, as we were moving toward what I thought and what I have been encouraged by the Democratic leadership would be an up-or-down vote, I, on behalf of our really collegial relationship with Senator Biden and Dodd, did say, What is the problem? One of the issues had to do with Syria and the speech that had been given. And I made the offer, which was turned down, to get more information about that speech. And when I did that, even earlier drafts, I thought I was making pretty good headway and then further requests were made, not just earlier drafts, but e-mail traffic, all the background.
And, again, these shifting goal posts is what’s bothering me a little bit now, is that every time we, sort of, make a step forward, the demands grow and numbers of names being looked at, or shifting goal posts in terms of background information.
It makes me think that it isn’t really whether or not John Bolton would be a good ambassador, representing us as we address the challenging issues at the United Nations, but there is something beyond that. And that’s what’s frustrating for me as leader.
QUESTION: What did you offer to get them?
FRIST: Again, I’m going to keep that. Let me just say…
FRIST: I’ll say what I just said. Earlier drafts and then — I really don’t want to go into the details of what sort of negotiations.
But my point is, is that these goal posts keep shifting, which is going to make it impossible ever to get to an up-or-down vote unless we just set it another date, which we probably will have to do.
Full transcript available for those who email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Steve Clemons
(ed. note: Thanks to N.P. for making this material available.)