The Latest on John Bolton Battle: Bolton Could be Appointed Deputy and then Made “Acting Ambassador” with Pay Cut


(Lincoln Chafee with former President George H.W. Bush and his late father, Senator John Chafee)
So far, there has been no sign that the Bush administration’s considerable efforts to get Ambassador John Bolton confirmed are yielding any success in changing the environment currently blocking him.
But the White House has considered a shocking plan to keep the Ambassador in his position at the UN that may not involve a second recess appointment to his current position — which would mean that he could not be compensated, may not be eligible for travel funds, may not be able to actually use government facilities for his work, and would possibly be time limited to a certain number of days that he could remain in this position, even if largely stripped of all taxpayer support.
The White House is studying appointing Bolton as one of the deputies at the United Nations, specifically the “political deputy.” This position also carries the title of Ambassador, as do four other slots at the US Mission to the UN. Bolton would take a pay cut, and would then be made “Acting Ambassador” and chief of mission.
Those I have bounced this news off in the diplomatic community are stunned by even the conceptualization of this strategy and have a hard time believing that the administration would allow itself to appear in such a desperate position to retain Bolton.
I have no indication that this course is “likely.” I only know that it is on the roster of options being considered about Bolton.
Senator Richard Lugar, according to some sources close to him, is irritated with the administration’s failure to “service” this nomination appropriately and effectively. Bolton is not Senator Lugar’s cup of tea so to speak — but Lugar decided some time ago to support the administration’s request and to do his best to get the nomination to the floor of the Senate for a vote.
But Lugar hates “messiness” and believes in thoughtful, deliberative legislative process that reflects honest debate about the nominees from the executive branch. Lugar reportedly believes that the administration was surprisingly sloppy in preparing the way for the Bolton nomination — and the mere fact that two Republican senators have been the key road blocks to Bolton’s nomination inside the Committee is all the evidence that Lugar needs that the administration belly-flopped on this one.
There was almost a third Republican voice poised against Bolton in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last year — and that was Senator Lisa Murkowski, whose statement and passionately articulated concerns about Bolton rivaled Voinovich’s Committee statement opposing Bolton. My sources tell me that the administration has done nothing to assure that Senator Murkowski’s position on Bolton has remained firm and to address concerns that she too had about him a year ago.
For the record, Murkowski has indeed reported that like last year, she would ultimately vote for Bolton — but it is lukewarm support. The administration has not fully accepted the fact that even among its rank-and-file, enthusiasm for John Bolton continuing in his position is lukewarm.
That’s not the kind of environment where “50% plus one” tactics work well — and leaks that the White House is willing to endure virtually any cost to keep Bolton in place while not at the same time tending to the explicit concerns of Senators in anything other than ad hoc and highly reactive ways offends the sensibilities of not only Richard Lugar but of a good number of the Republican senators on the Foreign Relations Committee.
There are only a few legislative days left before Congress breaks before the November elections. It is still highly unlikely that the White House can engineer a quick vote on Bolton — but it is not impossible.
The only time that this battle could lurch forward is if Senator Chafee does yield to the pressure from the White House and communicates his intention to Lugar that he will vote for Bolton.
There is a Senate Foreign Relations Committee business meeting on Tuesday, September 26, at 2:15 pm in S-116 of the US Capitol. In the public announcement of the meeting, there is an ominous line at the end of the announced agenda:

Additional items may be added. . .

I have no information on whether the administration’s latest efforts to cook up a Middle East initiative have impressed Chafee or not.
After the back room shoving around of Palestinians by the White House after the President’s speech at the UN this week, Chafee ought not to allow himself to get snookered by an administration that it is not ready to be fair-minded in efforts to get a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine.
But one must consider all possibilities. The administration could secure a deal with Chafee and hold this as a closely held secret.
Lugar could add Bolton’s vote to the business meeting next Tuesday afternoon knowing Chafee’s possible switch — and this could be voted out of Committee. It could then be brought to the Senate Floor as early as Wednesday or Thursday — when a battle over cloture will ensue.
Those opposing Bolton on the floor have a number of tactics they can use to stall and delay a vote on him on the floor — but Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist would see this as a top priority and hold up much of the nation’s other business to pound this through (we suspect).
The drama would be high, and the tension between parties intense. But the discomfort inside each of the parties would also be serious. Many Republicans don’t like this kind of brinksmanship over someone with a track record like Bolton’s. And Democrats will really pound Senator Chuck Schumer for his earlier stated position to support cloture on a Bolton vote and for his conflating the substantive concerns about Bolton with the question of American support at the UN for Israel’s interests.
What Schumer has failed to understand is that Democrats and Republicans alike have been stalwarts for Israel’s needs and interests at the United Nations. For Schumer to extend to John Bolton groveling praise for his Israel efforts over-personalizes what Bolton has done and robs his own party of its considerable level of commitment to Israel’s security and place at the UN.
More later, but those interested in the Bolton battle must remain vigilant this week. There is a “sneak play” that could unfold on Tuesday, and it could happen before anyone knew the Bolton vote had been teed up again.
I don’t think Richard Lugar will like such tactics. But despite the discomfort of all of this for him, he still sees his job as getting the administration’s choice to the Senate floor to a vote.
Let’s hope that Senator Lincoln Chafee does not get too easily seduced by the White House’s late in the day Middle East talk.
As Chafee said during the July 27th hearing with Bolton, the Senator stated that despite Bolton’s assurances that he believed in a viable, two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine standoff, Chafee argued that the distance between the administration’s actions and rhetoric was great and that the administration had precious little credibility in this policy arena.
Stay tuned.

— Steve Clemons


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