Political Roundup with Juan Williams: Bolton Battle

Alex Chadwick talks with NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams about the political events of the week, including the Senate debate over John Bolton's nomination to be ambassador to the United Nations.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

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

Coming up, we'll have more on the Bush administration's view on torture.

But first, politics. Earlier this week, bipartisanship made a comeback, but now that may be changing. Joining us is NPR's Juan Williams.

Juan, the big news of the week was earlier this agreement to sort of preserve the filibuster in the Senate and this kind of coming together of the moderates, Republicans and Democrats. I'm not sure the agreement's lasted very long. Do we already have a filibuster on the nomination of John Bolton, the president's choice to be UN ambassador? Is this under way? The Democrats are delaying.

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:

Well, the Democrats are definitely delaying. They don't want to describe it as a filibuster, but I think that's just what it is. Now on the other hand, Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, says--and I think he's exactly right--72 hours after the--he said good will and bipartisanship of the compromise on the judges, here you have the Democrats standing up and saying, `Wait a second. We're not going to go for any kind of deal that will forestall us from blocking a vote.' And they think that the John Bolton nomination to be UN ambassador is of sufficient merit. And so they're using this as a lever to press the administration to release documents that they think could, in fact, generate more Republican opposition to Bolton.

CHADWICK: I'm a little unclear on the filibuster agreement. Would it be fair for the Democrats to say, oh, well, that only applies to judges, and other kinds of filibusters are still perfectly OK.

WILLIAMS: Well, that's true. Actually, Bill Frist, the Republican majority leader in the Senate, made it very clear early on in the talks that what he was talking about was simply a ban on filibusters with regard to judicial nominations, not with regard to legislation and not with regard to executive appointments, such as Bolton, an executive White House appointment. But the spirit of the deal is what the White House is now saying has been broken.

CHADWICK: There was this extraordinary appearance on the Senate floor this week on this subject, Ohio Senator George Voinovich--he's a Republican speaking about Mr. Bolton and whether or not his colleagues should vote for the Bolton nomination. Mr. Voinovich, a Republican who's against it. Here he is.

Senator GEORGE VOINOVICH (Republican, Ohio): I'm afraid that when we go to the well that too many of my colleagues are not going to understand that this appointment is very, very important to our country. At a strategic time when we need friends all over the world, we need somebody up there that's going to be able to get the job done. And I know some of my friends say, `Don't--let it go, George, it's going to work out.' I don't want to take the risk.

CHADWICK: Pretty extraordinary emotion on the floor of the Senate about this nominee.

WILLIAMS: Extraordinary is right. And you had a sense that this was heartfelt. And I know lots of Republicans were truly moved by it, and, you know, some tried to make light of it and said, you know, `George Voinovich is becoming unhinged.' But for the most part, people saw this as an extraordinary moment, and especially coming from a Republican. As you know, Alex, Voinovich had decided that he could not vote for Bolton in committee but allowed it to come out of committee to the floor as an act of grace to the White House, and now here he is standing up and putting himself on the line. It really caught the attention of a lot of folks.

CHADWICK: As you look back over this week, then, Juan, we have this kind of agreement of the moderates in the Senate, which--I don't know if it's still going to survive even through the weekend. You also have a vote in the House of Representatives on stem cells that the president doesn't like. And I just wonder how it looks overall to you--how Republicans are getting along with each other.

WILLIAMS: You know what? To my mind, it looks--and I think you can't argue it--it's really Republicans siding with Republicans. For example, on Tuesday in the stem-cell vote that you just spoke about, Alex, you had 50 House Republicans who were bucking the White House and the party line to say they want a bill that expands funding for stem-cell research. And of course, when you go back to the deal on the judges, it's seven moderate Republicans led by John McCain, no friend of George Bush, who got the deal done. Senator Frist, who is totally in line with the White House, was pushed out of the deal. And if you look down the road in terms of Supreme Court appointments, I think that the Republicans' reaction to this was one of alarm because they realize now that without those seven Republican votes, they cannot get anyone but a moderate approved by the Senate and confirmed for a seat on the court.

CHADWICK: We'll see as that story develops. NPR political correspondent Juan Williams. Thanks again, Juan.

WILLIAMS: My pleasure, Alex.

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