The John Bolton Battle: Who is Winning?


Today is April 23rd, Saturday. Yesterday, major front page articles appeared throughout the major press that Colin Powell had entered the fray on John Bolton and apparently joined the “Bolton is Unfit” side of the equation.
Senate Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have agreed that the next “business meeting” on John Bolton will occur on Thursday, May 12th. Another hearing on Bolton may take place this day — and it seems that Lugar intends to call for a vote on Bolton that day.
Although many in the press are depicting this battle as one between the Democrats and Republicans, knowing what I now know about the extreme level of indigestion in Republican circles about the nomination, depicting this investigation as a partisan one seems nonsensical.
Thus, I think we need new terms to describe what is going on. I think we need to re-cast the players in three camps:

1. The Cheney-Bolton Advocates
2. The Cheney-Bolton Opponents
3. The Undecided and Wavering

The Cheney-Bolton Advocates include Senators Norm Coleman and George Allen. Senators John Sununu and Mel Martinez also fall into this category because they have given rumblings of their intent to support the President. Regrettably, TWN must include Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar who has decided to support Bolton it seems no matter what the evidence and no matter what the circumstances. He sees his job as getting the nomination of Bolton out of Committee and not having the Senate preempt this Bush administration choice — no matter how bad it may be.
The Cheney-Bolton Opponents include all of the Democrats on the Committee: Senators Biden, Sarbanes, Dodd, Kerry, Feingold, Boxer, Bill Nelson, and Obama.
The Undecided and Wavering include Senators Lincoln Chafee, George Voinovich, Lamar Alexander, Lisa Murkowski, and Chuck Hagel.
Lisa Murkowski made her discomfort with circumstances known yesterday — and this is something TWN thought might be cooking. While Lamar Alexander has not made such a public comment (yet), TWN has reason to believe that Senator Alexander may feel that John Bolton’s dossier “offends the sensibilities” of many. Lamar Alexander, a former Presidential candidate, and someone who values decency and fair play probably shares the view that America ought to be sending someone to the United Nations whom America can be proud of — and that person is not John Bolton.
So, there is a great deal of fragility in this battle. TWN believes that a 9-9 tie is no longer likely in the battle over Bolton. Either Senator Chafee or some other Senator will indicate a steadfastness to oppose Bolton and vote against him in Committee and bring with that vote several others, or alternatively, the Republicans will maintain a block.
That means we will either see something that looks like a 12-6 or even 13-5 vote against Bolton, or we will see a 10-8 vote in favor of Bolton. One Senator can make the difference, but once one Senator unambiguously moves and indicates a decision to oppose, then several other Senators will quickly move as well.
The White House is the driver here — and Lugar is feeling excruciating pressure not to have his committee collapse on this nomination, and it is nearly “abusive” of the White House to be doing this to Lugar and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee because the battle will soon not be cast as one between Democrats and the White House — but rather between the White House and the Senate on whether the President will respect the role and function of the Senate confirmation process.
While the Cheney-Bolton Opponents and the Undecided and Wavering now have more than two weeks to investigate — the clock is ticking. There is new material on the way.
There is a story brewing regarding John Bolton’s role as a disruptive force in the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom that involves a well-respected scholar, Jeremy Gunn. Dr. Gunn resigned his positions as Director of Research and Deputy General Counsel of the Commission because of matters that “related to Mr. Bolton.”
TWN does not know more, but knows that Mr. Gunn has decided to share his experiences with Mr. Bolton with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee so as to have a more complete record of John Bolton’s profile.
There is also a case of another still-closely-held, serious abuse incident that occurred at the State Department. TWN has no idea who the individual is — but just that the incident is as offensive as the one involving Christian Westermann. For reasons I don’t understand, this incident is still blacked out and serious political players in D.C. are trying to bring the incident and matter into the public record on Bolton — while still protecting otherwise innocent people who might be harmed when matters are disclosed. This sort of issue is complicated — as there seem to be many victims of Bolton abuse in Washington, but coaxing them to come forward and speak requires time and investigation. To be fair, John Bolton should also be given opportunity to respond.
TWN also believes that the most serious challenges regarding John Bolton are not his pattern of “serial abuse” but rather his pattern of delinquency and recklessness regarding national security objectives and delicate diplomatic initiatives. TWN is also alarmed at the seeming indifference that Senators Lugar and others have attached to the fact that John Bolton seems to have lied to the Committee on a broad number of questions — and seems to have lied in a robust, emphatic manner.
While all of these issues above would normally seem to indicate that the Cheney-Bolton Advocates are in for a tough time, and they are, they also have a number of things working in their favor.
First, Vice President Cheney and President Bush have continued to be loyal to their nominee, standing by a person who is divisive and offends the sensibilities of many. Bolton helped deliver Florida in the contested Presidential election in 2000 — and they are going to the mat for Bolton, much like Bolton went to the mat in a furious, hard-headed way in 2000. That kind of support from the White House turns this battle into a big one — but that’s the problem with this White House. All battles seem to be big ones because they expect the Senate Republicans to treat Bush as infallible. Losing any battle means losing them all, some in the White House feels, and this lack of maturity and common sense, is making the battle over Bolton about much more.
Another troubling and unreported item is that Senator George Voinovich, the hero of last Tuesday’s hearings, who stood before the pro-Bolton machine and said “stop,” may be wavering the wrong direction and/or playing both sides of the debate for different audiences. A well-placed source has reported to TWN that Voinovich has told State Department lobbyists that while he felt he must raise questions about Bolton’s character and style in the Committee hearing, he intended to “be with the administration in the end.”
This is disconcerting news because Voinovich has no idea what evidence may be coming forward and to what degree the serious charges against Bolton may continue to make his confirmation something that balanced, credible, and decent people simply can’t pass off on. Perhaps Voinovich made no such comment to State — but the source is a good one. Alternatively, Voinovich may be stating this to get the State Department people off of his back to give him some space and room to maneuver. Voinovich is also being threatened by the rabidly anti-United Nations and pro-John Bolton group, Move America Forward, which has threatened to run anti-Voinovich ads in Ohio.
What I think may be happening is that Voinovich is indicating to State and the White House that he will support Bolton as things look now — but that he expects that either a bomb shell will explode in the next two weeks, or it won’t. If the bombshell explodes, then Voinovich won’t be faulted for opposing the White House’s nominee.
The fact is that while Voinovich does deserve a “Conscience of a Conservative Award” for his role at Tuesday’s hearings, the future is still murky. Chafee is re-crafting his role in this hearing and plans to aggressively investigate. Colin Powell is now giving Senators cover to oppose Bolton if they choose to do so. Senator Chuck Hagel has been getting very close to “I voted for him before I voted against him” kind of a position — and needs to weigh that kind of stance carefully.
There is a lot going on, and the momentum is clearly on the side of the Cheney-Bolton Opponents. But that doesn’t mean for a moment that the other side can’t rebound.
The National Security Agency intercepts will be a fundamental factor in what lies ahead. There is nothing more important than this evidence coming before the Senators. TWN understands that Senator Rockefeller has requested that he be able to see what John Bolton requested as well; and Rockefeller is not even on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
In TWN‘s view, the trancripts will either end the debate on Bolton and kill his nomination — or if inconclusive in their impact, the transcripts may give the White House just enough cover to threaten, cajole, and corral Republicans to kick Bolton’s nomination to the Senate floor.
This will be a brutal couple of weeks ahead. Stay tuned.
— Steve Clemons