With the decision by incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to eliminate extended recesses next year until the traditional August break, it is unlikely that President Bush will have a chance to use his recess appointment authority to install a successor to outgoing U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton. That sets the stage for a pivotal test of Bush’s ability to work with Congress’ new Democratic leaders as well as his commitment to renewing efforts with Congressional Republicans to present a more united front, GOP and Democratic aides said Monday.
The selection and approval of Bolton’s replacement “could be an important test,” a senior Democratic leadership aide said Monday, warning that Bush has sent mixed signals to Democrats since the elections, on the one hand calling for bipartisanship while on the other hand sending a host of controversial nominations — including Bolton’s — to the Senate.
“To date, the president has offered not only words of bipartisanship but also a handful of controversial nominees,” the Democratic leadership aide said. “The question is where do they go from here.”
Republicans, for their part, said that how the White House chooses to handle the task of replacing Bolton will be an early test of whether Bush and presidential adviser Karl Rove are truly committed to changing how they do business with Congressional Republicans — a relationship that often was marked by a lack of communication and coordination over the past six years.
One senior GOP leadership aide acknowledged that in the past, the White House often has not given leaders enough support once a nomination has been announced, and added that party leaders are aware that closer coordination will be needed.
“If people thought moving the president’s nominees was tough with a 55-45 Republican majority, they haven’t seen anything yet. And I think there is an increasing awareness that our message has to be coordinated — between the Senate, House and White House — if we hope to have any chance of overcoming the roadblocks that the Democrats will raise in the next two years,” the aide said.
Bolton, who was appointed to the slot in 2005 after Democrats and a handful of moderate Republicans blocked his nomination in the Senate, resigned in the face of all-but-certain defeat in a Democratic-controlled Senate next year.
In a terse statement released by the White House on Monday, Bush said he was “deeply disappointed that a handful of United States Senators prevented Ambassador Bolton from receiving the up-or-down vote he deserved in the Senate. They chose to obstruct his confirmation, even though he enjoys majority support in the Senate, and even though their tactics will disrupt our diplomatic work at a sensitive and important time.”
Likewise, outgoing Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) accused Democrats of playing politics with the nomination.
“Despite Ambassador Bolton’s exceptional record, some in the Senate refused to grant him the courtesy of an up-or-down vote. While Ambassador Bolton was vigorously advancing America’s interests at the United Nations, the Democrats were playing politics with his nomination.”
The resignation was greeted happily by Senate Democrats, who argued that it was a sign that Bush knew Bolton’s nomination was doomed next year.
Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) — a critic of Bolton’s often gruff style and hostile attitude toward many U.N. programs — praised the decision to step down and called for the White House to choose a less polarizing figure to succeed Bolton.
“I’m glad to see the Bush Administration has decided not to press Mr. Bolton’s nomination any further. I would encourage the Administration to put forward an individual who believes in diplomacy and has strong bipartisan support,” Dodd said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Jim Walsh (R-N.Y.) called on Bush to nominate veteran Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) to succeed Bolton, arguing in a letter that “doing so would be a strong demonstration of a renewed bipartisan foreign policy and show a real commitment to the best tradition of United States diplomacy.”
Leach, who lost his re-election bid this year, is a popular figure in the House and in a nomination battle, he would have many former House colleagues to rely on for support among both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate.
Blumenauer and Walsh, predicting that Leach would garner unanimous support in the Senate, added in the letter that “we cannot think of another American who is better suited to advancing United States interests at the United Nations by temperament, by experience or by intellect than Jim Leach. Jim carries a deep commitment to strong United States diplomatic efforts and an effective United Nations.”