Frist Rebuffs White House on Timing of Bolton Vote


TWN‘s earlier post about the likely timing of the Bolton vote seems to be holding.
The Hill reports that Bill Frist and the White House split on the preferred timing of the Bolton vote. The White House wants Bolton confirmed “before” the nuclear option is triggered by Frist and the Dems over judicial nominations and the filibuster. Frist disagrees and reserved the right and privilege to set the Senate’s agenda as he sees fit.
Here is an excerpt of Alexander Bolton’s illuminating report:

A split has opened between the White House and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) over the timing of the “nuclear option.”
The Bush administration would prefer the Senate to deal with the nomination of John Bolton to be U.N. ambassador before it gets down to the issue of filibustered judicial nominations.
Although Eric Ueland, chief of staff to Frist, denied that the administration wants Bolton’s nomination to take precedence, GOP aides said White House lobbyists have pushed for quick action on Bolton.
Ueland told The Hill that White House aides only expressed a sense of “ardor” that the Senate confirm Bolton. “They have made it crystal clear that scheduling decisions are with the leader,” Ueland said.
At the same time, Erin Healy, a White House spokeswoman, said, “The Senate leader is the one who sets the floor schedule.”
But GOP Senate sources said White House aides told Frist they would like to see Bolton’s nomination considered first. A GOP aide said Frist “pushed back within minutes and that was the end. It was immediately rejected.”
Another GOP aide said, “In hall conversations, it was expressed as a preference” by the White House that Bolton come up before the Senate considers the nomination of Texas Judge Priscilla Owen to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The GOP aide said, “The feeling is that time is not on our side” because it’s expected that it would take several days to move Bolton’s nomination through the chamber. In addition, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has put a hold on Bolton’s nomination.
The aide said the issue was resolved Monday night when Frist decided to move ahead on the long-stalled judicial nominations instead.

Alexander Bolton (no relation to John Bolton) then offers some comments from Senator Richard Lugar whose general “vibe” on Bolton seems certainly to have waned:

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of Foreign Relations, said that he has not heard that the White House would prefer that the Senate confirm Bolton before battling over judges. But Lugar said that Frist has made clear that the Senate will complete action on judges before moving to Bolton.
“Dr. Frist has indicated that we’ll take the judges up tomorrow and move it through to a conclusion,” Lugar said. “The leadership wants to complete the judicial question before we get to Bolton.”
Lugar said he did not think acting on Bolton after the judicial nominees would make it more likely that Democrats would filibuster his nomination.
“If he’s going to be filibustered, he’s going to be filibustered,” Lugar said.
The Senate confirmed Bolton as the State Department’s undersecretary for arms control and international security in 2001 by a vote of 57 to 43, three votes shy of the 60 needed to end a filibuster. Republicans have since expanded their majority to 55 seats.

Clearly, the Republican leadership places higher priority on the fight over judges than on confirming Bolton — which some Republicans oppose anyway. Given that the Republican caucus will be under some stress in maintaining unity on Bolton, it is a “smart move” by Frist to hold off on Bolton. He knows that there is a real risk of Bolton being blocked, and even voted down.
A loss or hiccup over Bolton on the Senate floor would weaken Frist in the battle over judges.
So, we learn two things from this.
First, Senator Frist knows what he is doing; he’s very smart. He’s also willing to buck the White House when it comes to establishing priorities.
Secondly, while Bolton opponents see their hand strengthened by a Bolton vote delay — Frist’s bigger investment is in the judges, not Bolton.
This can be used by the Dems and moderate Republicans in taking down Bolton. He is the likely casualty of the bigger battle — and it’s now clear that Frist is betting big on other gambles, but not on John Bolton.
More later.
— Steve Clemons