I have spent much of the day trying to learn what, if anything, came from an alleged strategy session between White House top brass and State Department legislative strategists on the nomination of John Bolton to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
There is no news. Absolute silence. Everyone is guessing now that what air was left in the effort to get Bolton to Turtle Bay is dissipating rapidly.
Demetri Sevastopulo of the Financial Times has the best of recent surveys on the White House’s inscrutability on Bolton.
Here is an excerpt:
President George W. Bush is unlikely to seek a recess appointment for John Bolton in the near future, increasing the sense that his nomination for US ambassador to the United Nations is running out of steam.
A senior administration official suggested that a recess appointment a presidential confirmation of an official while the Senate is in recess would antagonise relations with Democrats ahead of what is expected to be a contentious Senate debate over filling a vacancy on the Supreme Court.
The debate over Mr Bolton has been overshadowed since Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced last week her pending retirement from the Supreme Court. The White House is now gearing up for a battle to find a replacement.
Over the past two months, Senate Democrats have twice blocked a vote on Mr Bolton’s nomination, raising the prospect that Mr Bush would use a recess appointment to bypass the Senate. The Democrats say they will allow a vote after the administration hands over documents that could shed light on whether Mr Bolton had skewed intelligence while serving as undersecretary of state for arms control.
Sevastopulo then gets into this odd claim that appeared in an AP article yesterday that the White House still claims to be negotiating with Democrats. I posted a query about this item yesterday.
The White House is now embarking on a more public effort to show it is consulting senators on the nomination. Mr Bush said on Wednesday: “My staff has done a lot of work. They continue to work today not only in reaching out to the Senate, but also spending time making sure that all the candidates will be put forward in a proper way.”
But one Senate aide said there had been no recent talks between the White House and Democrats over documents requested by Joseph Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee, and Chris Dodd, another Democrat on the committee. The aide said Democrats had no intention of allowing a vote until they receive the information they have demanded.
“Perhaps [the Bush administration] is trying to send a signal to [Mr Bolton] that he should withdraw his name,” the aide said.
Let me repeat the aide’s comment: Perhaps the Bush administration is trying to send a signal to Mr. Bolton that he should withdraw his name.
TWN believes that time has come. There are better candidates to send to the United Nations, and Mr. Bolton can only harm American interests by going to the U.N. by way of recess appointment. This would send a tremendously negative message to the rest of the world.
Many Republicans in the Senate would be seriously disturbed as well because this really would harm the standing of America in a valuable international institution.
There are now so many complicating factors building that the White House can ill afford to allow this nomination-ulcer to keep bleeding.
The White House must deal with Karl Rove’s complicity in the Valerie Plame outing. This issue could easily backfire on President Bush who — at the time — demanded to know who the villain among his staff was who would compromise American national security by this petty and vindictive exposure of Plame’s CIA identity.
The administration also has three weeks to push through a mountain — a real huge pile — of important appropriations bills and other legislation that it hopes to get through before the August recess, which will probably mark the definitive beginning of Bush’s lame duck presidency.
On top of that, the battle over Sandra Day O’Connor’s seat is only just beginning — and will dominate the news for the weeks ahead.
And yet on top of that drama, we have a major terrorist attack in London — another tremendous tragedy. That too will take attention and time and calls for the White House to send a constructive, bridge-building personality to the U.N. to strengthen the league of those who stand against this type of violence and want to build an “ideology of hope,” to use President Bush’s words.
The White House’s intense obsession with winning all battles at nearly any cost — which so offends moderates in both parties — will undo its larger goals, and Bolton is the most obvious battle for Bush to concede if he hopes to maintain support from moderates and not whip those Democrats who smell blood into a tenacious, obstructionist fury.
The White House wrongly thinks that if it concedes on Bolton, then Dems will try to stop them on everything. The fact is that Bolton has been an exhausting but important experiment for moderate Republicans and Democrats. After his nomination is disposed of, many Dems want to get back to deal-making and are eager to be co-opted by the White House in the appropriations wrangling ahead. But bull-headedness by Cheney and Rove will just continue to erode the administration’s position.
The silence on Bolton is deafening. It’s loud. There is no more bashing of the Democrats who are calling for the documents. None of the fireworks that could be expected if the White House was making the case for a recess appointment are occurring.
Bolton’s nomination is just withering.
— Steve Clemons