Frist’s Move Backfires: Mark Pryor Thinking of Joining Other Dems Opposing Cloture on Bolton


The Washington Post‘s Charles Babington covered the Frist/McCain press conference yesterday as did Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times. In the press gaggle that followed the formal press conference, both journalists confronted John McCain with queries about Senator Bill Frist’s insistence that the Dems kept “moving the goal posts.” During the conversation with McCain, both of these reporters made the point that if anything the Dems had made it far easier for the administration to satisfy document requests.
McCain responded suggesting that he just had not followed the document request issue and didn’t know whether the requests had broadened or narrowed — but was not surprised at all by the comments by Babington and Stolberg. McCain then offered that he thought that Senators Biden and Dodd were reasonable people with reasonable objectives. He maintained his view that there should still be an up or down vote on Bolton — but he steadfastly refused to criticize the right of Dodd, Biden and others to do what they could to wrangle documents from the administration.
But it seems like Bill Frist’s gambit in calling for another cloture vote has backfired. Mark Pryor is now signalling that if the White House fails to concede on these key document requests, he will join his fellow Democrats in opposing cloture on the Bolton nomination.
As Charles Babington reports:

A key Democratic senator warned yesterday that the Bush administration may be losing ground in its bid to confirm John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations, as the White House continued to rebuff Democrats’ request for documents related to the nominee.
Senate GOP leaders, acknowledging no apparent progress on Bolton, said they will call for another vote to end debate in a renewed effort to portray Democrats as obstructionists, probably this week. But one of the three Democrats who sided with them on an unsuccessful “cloture” vote on May 26, Sen. Mark Pryor (Ark.), said he may abandon the Republicans, leaving them farther from their goal than they were three weeks ago.
If Democrats “continue being reasonable [in their requests] and the White House won’t provide the information, I want to reserve the right to change my vote,” Pryor told reporters.

And as the New York Times‘ Stolberg writes:

But support among Democrats for the filibuster seems only to have deepened recently, and a number of Democrats seemed mystified by Dr. Frist’s remark about goal posts.
“If the goal posts have been moved at all, they’ve been moved in the administration’s direction,” said Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, who is pressing the case for more information. When the nomination came up last month, three Democrats – Senators Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas – joined with Republicans in favor of ending the filibuster. But Mr. Pryor has now suggested that the Bush administration is in danger of losing his support.
“If they continue to be reasonable,” Mr. Pryor said, referring to Democrats, “and the White House won’t provide information, I want to reserve the right to change my vote. I think this is a matter of balance of power and checks and balances.”

Other key comments made yesterday:

Senator Richard Durbin: “Instead of calling a vote, [Frist] should call the White House. Because if they will produce the basic information which [Bolton] and his staff had access to . . . it’s the end of the controversy. Clearly, there is something in those documents which is so damaging to Bolton, they don’t want to release it.”
White House spokesperson Erin Healy: “This is about partisan politics, not about documents. They have the information they need.”
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist: “Democrats keep moving the goalposts.”
Senator Christopher Dodd: “If the goal posts have been moved at all, they’ve been moved in the administration’s direction”
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid: “As long as the White House is not allowing the information to come forward, there’s going to be no change in the vote.”

Senator Frist seems to be nuking the Bolton nomination by calling for a second cloture vote which will fail. With Pryor defecting, the White House is losing even more ground on Bolton.
This doesn’t mean that those opposing Bolton are sure to win.
The White House could surprise us all by providing generous access to the NSA intercepts and names of redacted identities of U.S. individuals. Condi Rice could say that since the State Department provided other “documents on policy deliberation” to the Foreign Relations Committee on Bolton, she might as well send over the documents on Bolton’s planned Syria testimony in 2003. And White House ethics could send over the roster of Matthew Freedman’s international clients, which he maintained while pulling down more than $110,000 a year for a part-time gig with John Bolton’s office as “Special Assistant.”
The White House could provide these three modest packages of information — and the vote on Bolton would occur very soon after.
TWN hopes that the material is enough to derail a couple of other Senators on Bolton, but the White House could still surprise us with a dose of magnanimity.
It’s not at all likely. . .but I suppose it could happen.
— Steve Clemons