Bolton Nomination Still a Priority for Bush

The White House stands by the nomination of John Bolton and continues to push it. Why does this matter so much to the President and his supporters?

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

When President Bush nominated John Bolton to be ambassador to the UN, he knew the choice would be controversial. Forty-three Democrats had voted against Bolton's confirmation for his last job at the State Department. But this time around, it's become more than a debate over one man's credentials and personality. The Bolton battle is now both a symbol and a symptom of division over foreign relations, a division between the parties and even within the governing party itself. Here's NPR's David Greene.

DAVID GREENE reporting:

To hear George W. Bush tell it, this is all quite simple. As he said at a fund-raiser last night in St. Louis, the Senate should just vote so John Bolton can just get to work.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: It's time for the United States Senate to stop playing pure politics, stall politics and give John Bolton an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor.

GREENE: But the Bolton nomination has become a flash point for much of what rankles official Washington. Democrats said someone who's ridiculed the UN shouldn't be representing the United States there. Bolton seemed to personify a nationalist viewpoint at odds with the multinational ideal of the institution. Democrats also argued Bolton had tried to manipulate intelligence to fit his own policy views and to bully subordinates. When they asked for more documents on Bolton, the administration said no, renewing another feud on secrecy and information sharing between the branches. And that started a floor debate the Republicans have not been able to stop, and that has the president frustrated.

Pres. BUSH: I'm not sure they actually labeled it filibuster. I'd call it--thus far, it's a stall, a stall headed towards filibuster I guess. All I know is the man's not getting a vote.

GREENE: But the president's frustration has not been limited to Democrats. The Bolton fight has become an occasion for some Republicans to show independence from the White House. Despite a personal appeal from the president to get on board, Senator George Voinovich of Ohio has become one of Bolton's most outspoken critics. Meanwhile, another Republican, Senator John Thune of South Dakota, says he won't vote for Bolton, either.

Bolton has also become entangled in the larger struggle over filibusters and the rights of the minority party in the Senate. That struggle has seen seven Republicans split off from their majority leader to seek a deal with Democrats. And members of Congress from both parties have chafed at what they regard as administration intransigence symbolized by personalities such as Bolton and his mentor, Vice President Dick Cheney. In this view, the White House is unwilling to negotiate on issues from judgeships to Social Security to stem-cell research. Stephen Hess was an aide in the Eisenhower and Nixon White Houses and now serves as professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University.

Professor STEPHEN HESS (George Washington University): Their strategy was really to go for broke, if you will, for those issues they cared most about. Now actually, mea culpa, I thought they had chosen initially the right strategy. That overlooks that the world goes on, and other things are going on at the same time, and other political figures have other agendas.

GREENE: The White House has shown that in a test of will, it can ultimately win by hanging tough but striking a deal at the last minute. Charlie Black, a veteran Republican strategist who frequently advises the White House, says that is what he expects on Social Security and other challenges.

Mr. CHARLIE BLACK (Republican Strategist): The president will continue to argue his position and go as far as he can with persuasion to bring people along, and then if necessary, he'll compromise on some of the issues at the end.

GREENE: In 2001, the president initially pushed hard for school vouchers as part of an education bill. But in the end, he settled for an education bill without them. Some believe the same will happen with the private investment accounts Mr. Bush now wants within Social Security. But it's harder to strike a compromise on an individual nominee like John Bolton. So the Bolton debate goes on, providing the perfect battleground for a larger war. David Greene, NPR News, Washington.

BLOCK: To read more about John Bolton, including statements for and against his nomination, go to our Web site, npr.org.

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