Scott Paul: A Tale of Two Nominees


It turns out John Bolton is not the first UN Ambassador nominee to consider a recess appointment: in 1999, President Clinton floated the idea of a recess appointment for Richard Holbrooke, one of his UN Ambassador nominees, but Holbrooke refused. No, Bolton has another place in the record books: he is the first nominee to actively campaign for a recess appointment.
There couldn’t be a starker contrast in priorities and conduct between nominees. Holbrooke had the support of an overwhelming majority of senators, but he insisted on having the full body’s stamp of approval before taking the job. Bolton, on the other hand, is the most contentious UN Ambassador nominee in history. Chances are he couldn’t steal 45 votes in the Senate on a secret ballot. Yet, as the White House comes out day after day with its “up-or-down vote” pleas, Bolton is actively pushing the recess appointment option.
The Holbrooke revelation came out earlier this week, thanks to Janine Zacharia and Roger Runningen, two reporters for Bloomberg. They wrote:

At one point during the long stalemate, White House officials raised the prospect of a recess appointment with Holbrooke, according to two people who were involved in the matter. Holbrooke refused, saying it would diminish his credibility at UN.

The recess appointment idea for Holbrooke was not public knowledge, even among most foreign policy insiders. Rather than accept the offer and weaken our hand at the UN, Holbrooke waited – for what turned out to be 14 long months. And Holbrooke, unlike Bolton, had the support of majorities in both parties.
Meanwhile, Bolton – whose nomination has been moving backwards for months – is working behind the scenes to make himself a recess appointee. On June 13, Dafna Linzer and Charles Babington reported in The Washington Post that Bolton would accept such a move by the President.

“He’ll take the recess” appointment, said the administration source, who is familiar with Bolton’s thinking. “The president has made his selection, and the president is asking the Senate to confirm the selection, and if the Senate refuses to do that, then most assuredly [Bush] will make a recess appointment.”

According to what we have heard from sources in the State Department, Bolton himself planted this story. Why President Bush would continue to extend his loyalties to an individual who tries to pressure him to make a recess appointment is beyond me. It’s certainly beyond the pale, even in Washington. Bolton should respect tradition, keep quiet, and sit out the debate in those offices he keeps trying to expand.
Remember, Richard Holbrooke has a reputation for arrogance that even he acknowledges. Yet, Holbrooke was smart enough, and selfless enough, to understand that he could never make up for the credibility he would lose through a recess appointment. He believed firmly that accepting it would cripple the U.S. at the UN. He was right, and six years later, the rules are still the same. If only we could count on Bolton to follow Holbrooke’s example of grace and humility.
Scott Paul