I participated in a terrific lunch today hosted at the home of the Dutch Ambassador, Boudewijn Johannes Van Eenennaam, for Anneka and Marc Chavannes, who is the brilliant outgoing Washington Bureau Chief for the NRC Handelsblad, Holland’s most important daily newspaper.
Chavannes does the kind of unlazy, informed, empirical, non-ideological serious journalism that I wish more American journalists were on par with. We have great journalists in this town too — such as Doug Jehl at the New York Times, Walter Pincus at the Washington Post, Warren Strobel at Knight-Ridder, and others — but many could do better.
In any case, at today’s small lunch, many proposed and somewhat asserted conclusions about the Bolton battle to me, adding a question mark at the end testing whether or not I agreed. They said, “There’s going to be a deal on Bolton. . .right? Didn’t I hear about a deal today?” And the other oft-repeated assertion/question: “He’s going to get through. . certainly. . .right?”
The answer to both is not if we continue to win these battles — and so far, we are.
The White House could have confused matters if it had compromised on one or two of the evidence requests and stiffed the Senate on the most important. But remarkably, the White House is stiffing the Senate on all three — the NSA intercepts complete with identities of U.S. officials, the material on Bolton’s planned Syria testimony, and the client list of Matthew Freedman, a well-paid, part-time old Bolton-pal turned “management consultant” who had a role in the Bolton-Melody Townsel affair that turned Bolton, in part, into a household name about ravingly bad bosses (though he wasn’t her boss — just a lawyer who apparently harassed Ms. Townsel).
If the White House had yielded on the Syria material and Matthew Freedman’s client list, TWN thinks that the up-down vote on Bolton would be upon us, even though all evidence requests were not met and even though that would still leave a principle to fight for. Or if the White House gave in on the NSA intercepts and held back the other two items, it would have been concession enough for some Democrats to step forward and support cloture on the Bolton vote.
Providing just the Freedman material would not be enough; one of the other two requests would have had to accompany any revelations about this former lobbyist for the Marcos family and Nigeria.
But quite surprisingly, the White House is saying NO, NO, NO. It has refused to entertain any of the flexible deals that Senators Dodd and Biden have proposed. It snubbed Senator McCain for trying to suggest an arrangement where the “needs” of the White House and the duties of the Senate were both met. Lugar is just staying out of it — but reportedly is not at all irritated that the White House is now paying a price for the bad candidate it sloppily shoved through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The White House is so CLEARLY the obstructionist in this battle over Bolton documents that Scott McClellan is just becoming a ridiculous caricature of a guy accusing others of doing what he himself is doing. Again, let me remind all that none of these vignettes on John Bolton-related politics would be possible without a significant degree of Republican complicity.
And what makes this fight even more winnable is that Senator Frist has very little invested in Bolton. As TWN has argued all along, if Dems are angry about the appointment of right-wing ideological judges, then a vote against Bolton shows their constituents that they are still fighting on other fronts. For those 14 Senators who did the deal to save the filibuster on judicial nominees, then they can show that the Senate tool still exists for non-judicial nominees.
But most importantly, with the White House screwing up and just saying NO, NO, NO on all the documents requests — Bill Frist is not going to bring the Bolton matter back up until he’s assured of victory, otherwise it’s egg on his face. And it seems to TWN that victory is becoming ever more distant for the pro-Bolton faction in town.
To make my point, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist just announced the Senate schedule for next week.
On Monday, there will be a debate on one more judge. After that, a “lynching apology bill” will be brought up.
On Tuesday, the Senate begins debate on energy legislation. Those in the know predict that the energy bill will consume up to two weeks.
Then the Senate hopes to complete two appropriations bills before the 4th of July.
There was no mention of John Bolton and no mention of the Defense Authorization Bill. Senator Warner must still be on President Bush’s naughty list.
That’s a full plate. Conceivably, Senator Frist could call for Bolton action whenever he thinks he has a vote — but the absence of Bolton’s line-up from the roster of work means that people should begin changing their assertive questions on Bolton’s survivability.
Bolton’s not getting through I guess. . .right? The White House is just killing any possibility of a deal on Bolton. . .right?
The one legitimate “Bolton might get through” assertion/question folks could still make is the possibility of a July 4th week recess appointment — but that too would be precedent-setting. More here on how rare that would be.
— Steve Clemons