The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will take up the matter of John Bolton’s confirmation today. He has been working at the United Nations without the blessing of the U.S. Senate for the past year as a recess appointee.
The administration did not like losing this battle, but until now the Dems and a few Republicans had kept Bolton’s confirmation in purgatory until the administration complied with the Senate’s request for documentation about his inquiries into the American names in secret National Security Agency intercepts. The administration still has not provided this information, but the vote will proceed in any case.
Senator Schumer, on this issue, is the enemy inside the tent.
Several of the Democratic parties biggest supporters — financial and organizational — have called Schumer in the last few days to modify his support of Bolton, and yes — he is actively supporting Bolton. One of these mega-funders reported back after a disappointing encounter with Schumer that the conversation would save him “a lot of money” in donations the next year (i.e., Schumer was now int he dog house).
Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, and some other Senators have been working hard inside the caucus to make the case against Bolton and to attack the notion promulgated in part by Schumer that “a vote against Bolton was a vote against Israel.”
Schumer’s views on this — as well as the calls from some American Jewish organizations — dangerously conflate the question of Israel’s interests and this Bolton vote. The fact is that Republican and Democratic Ambassadors at the UN have been effective stewards of the US-Israel relationship and of Israel’s interests. To overly personalize this around Bolton is bad policy — and reckless for Schumer to help propogate.
Those opposing Bolton had some hope that Senator Chuck Hagel who has been giving some of the best articulations of a smart American foreign policy would oppose Bolton because the Ambassador is the antithesis of everything Hagel stands for. But Hagel has put out the word that after a phone conversation with John Bolton earlier this week, he has decided to support the confirmation.
I personally know that this is a tough call for Hagel, but I would ask the Senator to ask himself this:
If John Bolton was the Senator, and Chuck Hagel was the nominee — and let’s presume that Hagel had been as clear and articulate about American foreign policy as he recently has — would Bolton vote to confirm Hagel?
The answer would be NO. John Bolton would use his vote to support carbon copies of his own views and that of the wing of Jesse Helms-admiring, pugnacious, international-rejectionists from which Bolton comes.
Senator Lincoln Chafee is really the last Senator on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who is undeclared — and I have no insight into how he might vote. If this vote were on September 14th, two days after the Rhode Island primaries, I suspect that Chafee would tilt no against Bolton. He already set himself up to oppose Bolton after a brilliant and tough exchange with the unconfirmed Ambassador at the last Bolton session of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In fact, Chafee’s questioning of Bolton was the only truly interesting part of that meeting.
But Chafee is in a tight race both in his own party, and then statewide. I think Chafee will beat his challenger in the Republican primary and that he should be bold about this, but Chafee may not feel the same. I fear that Chafee may decide to vote in favor of Bolton today in Committee so as not to anger Republicans in his state — and then to vote against him on the floor of the Senate if the vote is held after September 12th. There is a rationale that could be constructed and marketed for this kind of conflicting set of votes.
However, Chafee may decide that he will get a bounce out of being bold and bucking the administration and voting no on Bolton. I think it would make him stand out as a maverick and help his image enormously.
There will be more to this story even after the Committee vote, so stay tuned.
— Steve Clemons