Tales of Two Filibusters: The Judges & John Bolton


The Battle over Bolton lurks just behind the showdown between Republicans and Democrats on the slate of contested judicial appointments. The major similarity in both cases is that there are some Republicans who oppose changing Senate filibuster rules — and there are Republican Senators who find the Bolton nomination disagreeable and offensive.
The head count is very close when votes are actually called.
There are some Democrats, including Senator Joseph Lieberman, who are still studying the Bolton matter — and who have not yet weighed in on the debate or studied the excellent work of the minority staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — or have not read the interviews of senior Republicans who object to Bolton’s appointment to the U.N. — or have not considered yet what Colin Powell’s conspicuous absence among those supporting Bolton means.
Senator Lieberman is a co-chair of the Committee on the Present Danger, and many of those who populate the list are ‘friends’ of John Bolton. But still, Lieberman should be able to maintain his objectives and interest in the national security agenda he cares about and still make the judgment that John Bolton will do more harm than good to American national interests in a UN Ambassadorship.
Lieberman is Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security & Government Affairs Committee and will need to keep in mind the signals it will send if someone like Bolton — who has lied to Congress and who has actively tried to sabotage the diplomatic efforts of his boss, Colin Powell — were allowed to proceed to a post as important and visible as the U.N. Ambassadorship.
Lieberman has not made up his mind on the matter yet, but TWN encourages him to read George Voinovich’s statement, read the staff report on John Bolton, consider the evidence, and consider the politics of the situation.
In doing battle with other major stakeholders on U.N. reform, we need someone who is effective, someone who can push or ‘seduce’ other nations to go a bit farther than they might as well as someone who can sell a package of reforms to the American government and to U.S. citizens so that trust can be reestablished in the institution of the United Nations.
John Bolton is not credible selling the President’s agenda — and America’s reform agenda for the U.N. (though TWN would certainly like to know what the administration wants the U.N. to look like in the future) — to either other major players in the U.N. or to the American public.
Many have written to ask me what Bolton’s chances are now. They got much worse when Senator Frist decided to pursue the judges conflict before Bolton. The White House tried to push Frist to do Bolton first — and he bucked the White House’s legislative team.
Frist knows that his caucus is much more ‘crumbly’ on Bolton than he wants to show before the showdown on judicial appointments, and Bolton’s political survival is not something he is willing to invest his own presidential aspirations in. Frist sacrificed Bolton to some degree to get contested conservative judges moved forward.
The best outcome for John Bolton right now would be that a “deal” is struck between Democrats and Republicans on the contested judges and on the filibuster rules.
Such a deal, if accomplished next week will perhaps lead Democrats to not filibuster on Bolton even though there are fundamental problems with the administration’s failure to provide the NSA intercepts and other requested evidence to Senators before the vote. TWN hopes this is not the case — but to be fair to the process, the Dems may yield if they win something from Frist on this showdown.
On the other hand, if Frist steamrolls on, and the nuclear option is triggered — as seems to be happening next Tuesday as a vote has been called for that day on one of the contested judges — then we need to see how the votes will fall on ending the ability of Dems to filibuster judicial confirmation votes.
If the Democrats and various Republican allies lose that vote, then TWN sees Bolton’s nomination being indefinitely held. The White House will then have to go to a recess appointment, or withdraw his nomination.
And as I have written before, there are Republicans considering voting against Bolton and taking cover beneath George Voinovich’s heroic and important commentary on the consequences of this important Ambassadorial appointment.
If Lieberman or other Dems waiver after the act of conscience by Voinovich — and the clear “concern” about the appointment expressed by Hagel, Chafee, and Lisa Murkowski — then they may be seriously underestimating how offended much of America is by the Bolton appointment.
The reason that this debate on Bolton is even taking place as it has is because nearly ALL players in the debate — in Dick Cheney’s office, on Senator Chafee’s staff, even among Democrats — have underestimated the political consequence of this nomination.
— Steve Clemons