U.N. Politics: Senate Takes Up Bolton Nomination

Lawmakers in the House have voted to cut U.S. funding to the United Nations, unless the body agrees to a list of reforms. NPR's Juan Williams analyzes the vote and the chances of John Bolton becoming U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We're joined now by NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams.

Good morning, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:

Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So we just heard in David's report that the vote on Bolton could come today as UN ambassador. Is he likely to get the job?

WILLIAMS: No, I don't think so at this point. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist wants to get a vote on Bolton, but he still lacks the power to end the debate. One possibility coming into view now is a recess appointment. The Senate will take a recess for the July Fourth holiday. During that time, the president can make Bolton a recess appointee. That would give Bolton the job until the end of this session of Congress, January of 2007. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said over the weekend the administration is still focused on getting a straight vote in the Senate for Bolton, and she refused to address the chance of a recess appointment.

But the Democrats in the Senate remain unified in demanding secret transcripts that might show if Bolton was trying to pressure government officials who didn't share his views about the weapons capabilities of Syria and other Middle Eastern nations. The White House continues to refuse to open those files. Senator Joseph Biden, the Delaware Democrat, said yesterday that means the White House is responsible for Bolton's nomination not getting a vote.

INSKEEP: Juan, Democrats had been frustrated for years by what seemed like their inability to stop anything that they didn't like that the Bush administration was doing.

WILLIAMS: Right.

INSKEEP: Now they're in a weaker position than ever, and yet they are stopping some things the Bush administration wants.

WILLIAMS: How true. It's strange, but true. The president, in a combative speech last week, said the Democrats have no power but the power to obstruct his agenda. It was kind of a backhanded compliment. He mentioned their success in blocking a vote on Bolton, as well as retaining the right to filibuster judicial nominees. President Bush also said they're blocking his plans for Social Security and energy legislation. But, you know, Steve, the president's also having trouble with Republicans. On Friday, the House of Representatives voted to cut US funding to the United Nations if the UN doesn't agree to a list of reforms. That bill sponsored by Henry Hyde, a key Republican. The White House opposed the bill because it denies the president the ability to give or take away funding as reforms are put in place.

Last week, the administration also lost a House vote on renewing all provisions of the Patriot Act, because Republicans joined with Democrats to oppose extending the government's right to conduct searches without subpoenas at bookstores and libraries. In addition, public support remains low for the president's effort to put private investment accounts into the Social Security system.

The White House is now telling congressional Republicans to look for alternatives, a signal the president is looking for an exit strategy because he realizes he's not going to win. And he's now spending more time talking about Medicare reform.

The Democrats, Steve, for their part have stayed together in opposition to the president's plans for Social Security. They've won some allies in the Republican Party on opposing Bolton. And with public support for the war falling, the Democrats are finding their voice as critics of administration policy. White House communications director Dan Bartlett says the president now plans to sharpen his message on the war as the June 28th anniversary of Iraq regaining sovereignty takes place.

INSKEEP: But when you say Democrats are finding their voice about the war in Iraq, what are they saying?

WILLIAMS: Well, Senator Biden, the Delaware Democrat, yesterday flatly contradicted Vice President Cheney, who said last week that the insurgency is now in its last throes. Biden said the situation's getting worse and the insurgency is growing. A resolution was sponsored by Democrats and joined by two Republicans in the House last week that calls for the president to start withdrawing troops from Iraq by October of next year.

Republicans in the Senate have their concerns, too. Senator McCain said yesterday that patriotic Americans want to know what's going on in Iraq. He said if the administration does not level with the public, then people will conclude the war is not winnable, and it's not worth the lives of their sons and daughters.

In addition, with attention to the Downing Street memos alleging the administration hid its intent to invade Iraq and was not prepared to deal with postwar Iraq, there's a sense of the Democrats finding their political footing in the way that they critique the president.

INSKEEP: Finding their political footing, because they had so much difficulty during the campaign in 2004.

WILLIAMS: Yeah. Even now, you know, until recently, they've been reluctant to step out, fearing that they would be seen as non-patriotic or overly critical of a president in terms of his foreign policy. One quick note here, Steve. CIA Director Porter Goss in an interview with Time said he has an excellent idea where Osama bin Laden is hiding. Obviously bin Laden's capture would be a huge boost for the president.

INSKEEP: Well, we'll see what happens with that. Juan, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams on this Monday morning.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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