Senate Delays Vote on Bolton U.N. Nomination

Democrats force the Senate to delay a vote on John Bolton's nomination to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. A Senate motion to end debate on Bolton failed by a vote of 56-42. Republicans needed 60 votes to move Bolton's nomination to a vote of the full Senate.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

This week's bipartisan deal to end the Senate standoff over judicial nominees clearly had no bearing on the sharp partisan fight over John Bolton. Bolton is President Bush's nominee for UN ambassador. Republicans had hoped and expected that a vote this evening to end debate on Bolton's nomination would succeed, but that didn't happen. Democrats, with only three defections, voted against shutting off debate. And though Democrats said a filibuster wasn't their intent, Republican Leader Bill Frist said it sure looked like a filibuster to him.

Senator BILL FRIST (Republican, Tennessee; Majority Leader): It quacks like a filibuster. And I'm afraid that, you know, shortly after we thought we'd had things working together in this body again, we got another filibuster, this time on another nomination--not a judicial nomination, but another nomination, the nomination of John Bolton.

BLOCK: NPR's David Welna joins us from the Capitol.

And, David, this looked like a scene of some excitement on the floor of the Senate as this cloture vote was being taken. Tell us what happened.

DAVID WELNA reporting:

Well, Melissa, it was a real cliffhanger. You know, the outcome of this vote on cutting off the debate on Bolton, which started yesterday, was really, really up in the air, although there was a sense that maybe Republicans were going to prevail, cut off debate. And there was already an agreement from Democrats who opposed Bolton that they would put up no further obstacles to going to a straight up-or-down vote on confirming his nomination. However, that didn't happen.

And I think what really seemed to galvanize Democrats in hanging together to keep the Republicans from getting the 60 votes they needed to cut off debate was the rally cry that the administration was not supplying the Senate with the information that they had requested to finish their background investigation of Bolton. And there were a couple of sets of documents that they had requested. Actually, Majority Leader Frist got very much involved in the past couple of days trying to get those documents on behalf of Senator Joe Biden, who is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Apparently, Frist was able to get some of those documents, but he didn't get everything. And the Democrats said that this is really, more than anything, a vote to try to force the administration to supply those documents. They say it's not a filibuster, but Majority Leader Frist said he was very disappointed.

BLOCK: Well, that means, David, they don't actually have to officially come out and say, `We're filibustering this nominee.'

WELNA: No, they don't have to say it, but that's what a filibuster is. When you have no time limit for debating something, it goes on indefinitely. And where it's going right now is into the next time the Senate is going to meet, which is going to be on June 7th. They're going for a weeklong recess. And Frist says that at that point, he's going to take this issue up again.

BLOCK: You know, this comes so soon after the coalition in the Senate had hammered out this bipartisan deal on judicial nominees. It's confusing right now, I think, for a lot of us trying to figure out if all of that's off the table now. If this is, in fact, a filibuster, is the nuclear option possibly still a scenario we could be looking at?

WELNA: Well, it's interesting. Looking at the three defections from the Democratic Party to the Republican side this evening, all three of them were among the seven Democrats who signed this memorandum of understanding that averted the nuclear showdown earlier this week: Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. And I think that there's a certain reluctance to break the kind of spell that they seemed to cast over the Senate earlier in the week of, `OK, now we're going to work together and get things done.' They didn't want to go against that. But it became clear, as the voting went on, that the Republicans weren't going to get this, and in the end, Majority Leader Frist himself voted against cutting off debate just simply so that he can bring the issue up again. It was a procedural vote.

BLOCK: And then again, that deal was about judicial nominees; this is something else. This is an appointment, a presidential appointment.

WELNA: It is. And at the same time I think we're going to hear a lot during this recess about how Democrats are once again obstructing. But Minority Leader Harry Reid pointed out that, in fact, this is the very first filibuster this year in the Senate.

BLOCK: NPR's David Welna at the Capitol. David, thanks so much.

WELNA: You're welcome, Melissa.

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