Senate Panel to Vote on Bolton's U.N. Nomination

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee votes Thursday on the nomination of John Bolton to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. First, senators will consider additional information about Bolton's tenure at the State Department. Senate Democrats are challenging his temperament and suitability for the job.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee meets this morning for what is expected to be a final debate on John Bolton. He's the president's controversial pick for ambassador to the United Nations. Committee staffers have spent the past few weeks interviewing more than 30 former and current government officials and going over e-mails and speeches to determine whether Bolton should be confirmed for the job. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:

Democrats have painted Bolton as an ideologue bent on intimidating intelligence analysts who disagreed with him about Syria and Cuba. California Senator Barbara Boxer says she'll use today's committee meeting to highlight her concerns about the nominee.

Senator BARBARA BOXER (Democrat, California): There are so many reasons to vote against John Bolton. I think the most important is trying to politicize intelligence. He tried to exaggerate it. He absolutely tried to fire people who wouldn't give him the information he wanted. This is very serious.

KELEMEN: Senate staffers investigated whether the undersecretary for Arms Control snooped on other US officials, and they got insight into how his speeches were cleared. Robert Hutchings, who ran the National Intelligence Council for two years, says he encouraged his analysts to play hardball. When Bolton's office sent over a draft speech about Syria, the initial version, Hutchings said, went well beyond what US intelligence supported. In his testimony and in an interview with NPR, Hutchings also recalled how Bolton clashed with a national intelligence officer over a speech on Cuba.

Mr. ROBERT HUTCHINGS (Former head, National Intelligence Council): The national intelligence officer for Latin America was excluded from meetings because he lacked the trust and confidence of people like Mr. Bolton and others. Now they could give you one version of that reality, but the version I saw was that the lesson drawn is that if you have a certain view on Cuba or Venezuela, you're excluded from meetings. If you have the so-called correct political view, you are invited in.

KELEMEN: While Bolton's critics say such actions had a chilling effect on intelligence analysts, Bolton's supporters say he was challenging low-grade work. One of President Bush's former advisers on Latin America, Otto Reich, testified on behalf of Bolton and complained that some Senate staffers were only seeking negative information.

Mr. OTTO REICH (Former Bush Adviser): This has not been a search for the truth. This has been a search for information to destroy the character of a distinguished American who's been nominated by the president to occupy a very important position representing the United States at the UN.

KELEMEN: Bolton's personality and diplomatic skills have been on trial. Lawrence Wilkerson, who was chief of staff for former Secretary of State Colin Powell, described Bolton as a lousy leader, adding that top State Department officials would often come into his office to complain about Bolton. Wilkerson told Senate staffers that Bolton's tough talk on North Korea on the eve of negotiations so angered Richard Armitage, Powell's deputy, that Armitage began monitoring Bolton's public appearances more closely. That's yet another reason why Democrat Barbara Boxer doesn't see Bolton as the right man for the job.

Sen. BOXER: Why on earth would you pick someone for the UN that you're so fearful of that you've got to lock his lips?

KELEMEN: However, Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy says Bolton has been loyal to the White House. He says underneath all the talk about the nominee's personality, this is really a debate over policies.

Mr. FRANK GAFFNEY (Center for Security Policy): This is going to be a watershed vote. I believe it will do much to shape the character of the second Bush administration. I think it will also do much to determine whether, in fact, we see reform, let alone the transformation of the United Nations, which really everybody at least pays lip service to now.

KELEMEN: Though the White House has shed little light on how it wants the UN reformed, it argues Bolton is the right man for the job, and administration officials are predicting a favorable vote, even though some moderate Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have expressed reservations. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

INSKEEP: You can find background on the hearings and statements given about John Bolton by going to our Web site, npr.org.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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