This morning, Senator Majority Leader Bill Frist and Senator John McCain held a press conference in the Mansfield Room of the U.S. Capitol in order to “urge” their colleagues “to allow the nomination of John Bolton to serve as Ambassador to the United Nations to come back to the floor of the Senate for an up/down vote.”
Senator Frist said that the position that John Bolton has been nominated to fill became vacant 200 days ago and that since that time, “a velvet revolution broke out in the Ukraine and Lebanon. Democratic progress has been made in Iraq, Egypt, and Palestine. . .and yet these last 200 days, America has not been represented in the U.N.”
Frist reiterated that it is time to get to the work of reforming the U.N. and that he wants to bring the Bolton vote back to the floor “in the next several days” and put cloture to a test again. He said that if Democrats want to continue their “filibuster — and I will call it that,” Frist said, then let their votes be counted.
When pressed as to whether or not he was scheduling an actual vote, Frist said “no.” He wanted to wait a few days to see how negotiations between Senators Biden and Dodd and the White House went — to give them time for something to work out.
Frist did say, however, that he felt that the Senate Democrats kept “moving the goal posts” on the evidence and information that they were requesting from the White House. Frist also said that he had tried to be helpful in some of the documents requests but had been rebuffed by Senators Biden and Dodd, whom both Senator McCain and Frist kept complimenting repeatedly despite differences on Bolton and the evidence requests.
When pressed as to what his precise role was in the negotiations over document requests, Frist stated that he had offered to try and get several “earlier drafts of the Syria testimony” that Bolton had planned to give and which is one of the topics of three outstanding evidence requests made by Democratic Senators of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Frist said that after making that proposal, then he got requests to get email traffic, and “all sorts of other information” and that his Senate Democratic colleagues kept moving the goal posts. Frist would not respond to a question of what he thought was an appropriate as compared to an inappropriate evidence request — or what the proper “goal posts” should be.
Frist gave the impression that he felt that Senators Biden and Dodd had continued to widen and broaden their requests. During the press conference and later in discussion in the corridor with Senator McCain, McCain made clear that he did not have much detail about what the pending evidence requests were or the degree to which they had been widened or narrowed. Several senior journalists at the meeting expressed their surprise to McCain that Frist had lodged such a complaint as nearly every journalist there was aware of the number of times that the bar on evidence requests had been lowered by the Democrats.
Senator McCain used the term “executive privilege” to describe the reason why the White House was blocking some material from the Senate. TWN followed up with a question to Senator McCain asking if he had changed his mind about his earlier comments that Senators Biden and Dodd “had a point” in their evidence requests of the administration and asked about this use of the term, “executive privilege,” which the White House has been careful not to use.
McCain said that he thought that Senators Biden and Dodd were outstanding Senators and doing what they thought they needed to do to try and use leverage to extract information from the administration. But he also believed that we had come to a point where we needed to get serious representation of American interests in the U.N. McCain said he strongly supports bringing the Bolton vote to the floor for an up/down vote.
It was made clear to Senator McCain by other members of the press that the White House has not yielded on a single evidence request — all of which had been lodged in April 2005. McCain said that he was “hopeful” that the negotiations would lead somewhere and that a balance could be struck between protecting the rights of the Executive Branch while at the same time addressing the concerns of Senators Biden and Dodd.
McCain continued to articulate a line that implied some contrition or flexibility by the White House would be useful in this standoff over Bolton.
When asked if either Senator had discussed the pending evidence requests of the State Department on John Bolton’s role in generating Congressional testimony in 2003 on Syria with Condoleeza Rice, Senator Frist stated that he had not talked with her about this.
Senator McCain said that while he had been promoting the notion of a compromise between the White House and the Democratic Senators, he had not been directly involved with negotiations. Frist said that he was also not directly involved in negotiations at this point but had tried to be helpful in the past. Frist said that this debate on Bolton “really isn’t whether he’s a good Ambassador or not but about other things. . .and the Democrats keep moving the goal posts of what they want.”
In the corridor outside the Majority Leader’s office, TWN asked Senator McCain about this line that “President deserves his team,” which so many Bolton supporters use to justify his confirmation. I asked what the Senator’s criteria would be for rejecting a nominee — or should everyone just be let through that the President nominates.
Senator McCain responded thoughtfully stating that McCain would vote against any nominee “who supported policies inimical to the national security interests of the United States or had personal or ethical difficulties that surfaced.” McCain said that in the latter case, those kind of difficulties usually surface early on “before the nomination gets to the floor.”
McCain said that on those grounds, he had “voted for Clinton nominee after Clinton nominee even though I had some serious differences on policy with some of these people.”
When asked why McCain had joined Frist in this press conference, McCain stated “because Bill Frist asked me to.” McCain made clear that he had been supportive of the Bolton nomination throughout the process and thus it was no hard thing to support a call for an up/down vote.
However, the press conference really broke very little new news — other than that Bill Frist is attempting to pressure Senate Democrats to yield on their objections to a cloture vote and may call for a vote this week — even if Frist fails once again to get cloture.
Essentially, the state of play remains the same. . .for the moment.
— Steve Clemons