Senate Set to Vote on Embattled U.N. Nominee

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Alex Chadwick talks with Los Angeles Times reporter Mary Curtius about the controversial nomination of John Bolton to be U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Curtius reports on claims by Democrats in Congress that they have "overwhelming evidence" of Bolton's bullying and also of misleading testimony. A Senate panel could vote as early as today on whether to send his nomination to a full vote of the Senate.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From NPR West and Slate magazine online, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

The lead today, Capitol Hill and political fights. We'll hear from a leading Democrat on plans for changes in Social Security. First, John Bolton. He's President Bush's controversial pick for US ambassador to the UN. He's accused of bullying subordinates and manipulating intelligence. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee votes on that nomination today after several weeks' delay to investigate these charges. Here's the chair of the committee, Senator Richard Lugar, speaking earlier today.

Senator RICHARD LUGAR (Republican, Indiana; Chair, Foreign Relations Committee): The picture is one of an aggressive policy-maker who pressed his missions at every opportunity and argued vociferously for his point of view. In the process, his blunt style alienated some colleagues, but there is no evidence that he has broken laws or engaged in serious ethical misconduct.

CHADWICK: Democrats may disagree with that, and four Republican senators earlier withheld their support for Mr. Bolton. Joining us is Mary Curtius. She's congressional reporter for the Los Angeles Times. She's on Capitol Hill.

Mary, in your piece this morning, you make reference to wavering Republicans. One of them is Senator George Voinovich of Ohio. He also spoke at the beginning of today's proceedings. Here's some of what he said.

(Soundbite of hearing)

Senator GEORGE VOINOVICH (Republican, Ohio): John Bolton is the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be. I worry about the signal that we're sending to thousands of individuals under the State Department who are serving their country in foreign service and civil service, living at posts across the world and, in some cases, risking their lives.

CHADWICK: Well, that doesn't sound like a yes vote to me, but is he actually going to vote no? Would this be a Republican against Mr. Bolton?

Ms. MARY CURTIUS (Congressional Reporter, Los Angeles Times): Well, it's certainly a Republican against Mr. Bolton, but whether he votes no is another question altogether. What he said was he believed that Mr. Bolton should come for an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor and that he wanted a chance to persuade colleagues there that this man is not the right man for the job. He urged his colleagues to send this nomination to the floor without a recommendation, which would be an extraordinary move. You normally do send them with a positive recommendation. You recommend the nomination to the full Senate.

CHADWICK: And in the dance of Senate procedure, it would be all right for Mr. Voinovich to say, `OK. I'll vote for him to come out of committee, but once it gets on the floor, I'm going to be part of the charge against him.'

Ms. CURTIUS: Well, it's certainly not all right to the Republicans on the committee. It's not all right to the White House, and it's not all right to the Republican leadership, all of whom must be reeling right now because this was a devastating indictment of President Bush's nominee.

CHADWICK: What has come out in this three weeks of investigation, this delay, to look into Mr. Bolton's past? I mean, there hasn't been an absolute condemnation of him by evidence, has there?

Ms. CURTIUS: No, the Republicans certainly say there has not been an absolute condemnation. Even the Democrats will concede they have found no single smoking gun or silver bullet. What the Democrats are arguing and what Mr. Voinovich agreed with just now is that they have uncovered a pattern of conduct that Mr. Voinovich said he found seriously disturbing. He described Mr. Bolton as an ideologue who fosters an atmosphere of intimidation. He said he does not tolerate disagreement. He does not tolerate dissent. He noted that one State Department official who had worked with Mr. Bolton testified that he had never seen anyone at the State Department hate as badly as Mr. Bolton had. And also Mr. Voinovich said he'd been talking to State Department employees on a recent trip to Slovenia and they had told them they did not believe Mr. Bolton would be a good choice to represent the United States.

CHADWICK: Well, what about the rest of the members of the committee? I mean, do you think this is going to pass out of this committee? And what would happen if there were a tie vote?

Ms. CURTIUS: If there is a tie, it does not go forward.

CHADWICK: Ah.

Ms. CURTIUS: They have to have a majority vote. They could go ahead with a majority vote on the kind of measure that Mr. Voinovich is recommending. They simply send the nomination to the floor without a recommendation. As I said, that would be highly unusual particularly--it's terribly embarrassing for the Republicans because this is, of course, a Senate controlled by the Republicans, and this is a committee controlled by the Republicans. And to have to send the president's pick for the United Nations to the Senate floor with no recommendation is terribly embarrassing and it means that there may be a very messy fight on the floor of the Senate.

CHADWICK: Mary Curtius, congressional reporter for the Los Angeles Times, covering the vote today in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on John Bolton to be the next UN ambassador for the United States.

Mary, thank you.

Ms. CURTIUS: Thank you.

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