Reuters reports a comment by Senator Biden that indicates the Senator’s assessment that the Bolton confirmation battle is quickly coming to a close.
Joanne Kenan writes:
“If they don’t have (the documents) by the end of the day, it’s finished,” the Delaware Democrat said of the bitter dispute over President Bush’s choice to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
TWN has done some digging into whether this was Biden drawing a firm line and what drove this comment yesterday evening.
Biden’s declaration that all document requests must be satisfied by close of business today — or all deals are off — is more the Senator’s “assessment that the window for confirming Bolton is closing fast,” according to an official familiar with Biden’s stance.
But TWN has learned that Biden’s comment fits in a context of interactions with Senator Frist these past several days about potential deals on the document requests.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist approached Biden on Tuesday asking that if Frist could, in fact, secure access for the Senators to the requested NSA documents and names of U.S. officials redacted from these documents, what mechanisms could Biden’s side propose that would be satisfactory to the Democrats given the sensitivity of the material.
There was no indication whether the White House was supporting Frist’s initiative or whether Frist was on his own — attempting to demonstrate to the administration and to Bolton supporters that he was doing all he could to try and secure an up-or-down vote on Bolton.
Nonetheless, Biden’s side took Frist’s proposal seriously.
Frist wanted to know how the NSA materials would be handled. What mechanism would be proposed regarding access to the documents? Which Senators would need to see the documents? Would digests of the NSA intercepts be enough? Or, what form of the NSA intercepts would be acceptable to Biden and Dodd?
Frist sounded Biden out on all of these questions, and serious discussions were had.
However, according to reports from those close to this negotiation process, Frist backed off from all of his offers and chose not to pursue the matter further. It’s not clear whether Frist was trying to demonstrate some illusion of progress or whether the White House — when it learned what Frist was negotiating with Biden — told Frist to back off and stop trying to “successfully” negotiate a deal on the NSA intercepts and the Syria testimony — two of the three pending document requests made by Senators.
TWN has learned that Senator Biden made clear in these discussions with Senator Frist that while he, Senator Dodd, and other Senators were not going to request more documents if the pending requests were satisfied, they would need some time to assess the significance of the evidence.
In other words, a day or two would be needed after getting access to the materials to connect the dots. Biden had no sense that anyone — including Senator Frist — objected to this if they were going to actually provide the documents.
Then, indicating either White House intransigence on the issue of not conceding to the requests by Democrats or that Bill Frist may have been unable to deliver on the deal he was cutting, there was no follow-up to this discussion.
During this period of discussions, Biden’s team gave some serious thought to the questions posed by Senator Frist and prepared some very detailed mechanisms to assure responsible management of the NSA materials and still satisfy the need of the Senators to interpret and communicate any problems (or not) discovered in the Bolton material.
One part of this story that has not been reported in the press is that the Democrats offered that JUST ONE Senator seeing the “unedited” NSA intercepts would be enough to satisfy that element of the document requests.
The three Senators that the White House could choose from would be Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Joe Biden, Ranking Member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence John D. Rockefeller IV, or Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid. Senator Dodd agreed to defer to either of these three Senators as interpreters of the NSA material with the expectation that the chosen Senator would report back on findings.
Biden’s staff had begun to work out a plan to highlight the “topical areas of concern” and roster of “connect the dot scenarios” for whichever Senator was given access as Biden had been closer to the micro-detail of the Bolton investigation than either Senator Rockefeller or Senator Reid.
This suggestion of a “single Senator” was an attempt by Biden’s team to be flexible about modalities of gaining access to this material. Biden has repeatedly made it clear that he and the other Senators requesting access to the NSA material and the Syria documentation are aware of the sensitivity about the materials, even though the NSAS has made clear that there are no “sources and methods” issues involved.
Biden’s comment last night is that the clock is ticking. As one staffer told TWN, “time is awasting. . .”
Today is Friday — and if the materials are not received today, or at the latest on Monday, there will be no time for Senators to be able to interpret and assess the materials so that a vote can be held next week.
Karl Rove is known for Friday “close-of-business document dumps,” so there remains a possibility that the White House will provide something this evening. We just have to wait and see — though there is no evidence of movement by the White House — and no one on the Democratic side reports that a deal is anywhere near being reached.
The other procedural reality is that a NEW cloture petition on the Bolton nomination will have to be made. What that means is that Frist will have to announce his intention to call for another cloture vote — but that petition will have to “ripen” for 2-3 days.
That means that if Frist calls for a new vote today (Friday), then Senators can consider a vote on Tuesday or Wednesday. But if the Senate puts the cloture petition on the schedule next Monday, the Bolton debate and vote really mucks up the mountain of other business Senators want to get through before close of business Thursday when Senators want to go into recess for the July 4th break.
— Steve Clemons