Will John Bolton Get a Recess Appointment?

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President Bush continues to support John Bolton for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton has come under new scrutiny and critics say that he may have lied to the confirmation committee. Expectations are growing that the president will give Bolton a recess appointment.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

One item of business the Senate is leaving unfinished for now is the stalled nomination of John Bolton to be United Nations ambassador. Yesterday, the State Department said John Bolton failed to tell Congress he had been interviewed in a government investigation into faulty pre-war intelligence. Still, expectations are growing that President Bush will end the standoff by giving Bolton a recess appointment. NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA reporting:

Last month on the day after Senate Democrats and one Republican blocked an up-or-down vote on Bolton's nomination for the second time, Republican majority leader Bill Frist met with President Bush at the White House. He came out afterwards sounding as if he'd been taken to the woodshed.

Senator BILL FRIST (Republican Majority Leader): The president made it very clear that he expects an up-or-down vote, and I hope that we can deliver that up-or-down vote. So we'll continue working in that regard.

WELNA: But Frist has held no more votes on the Bolton nomination, and yesterday he made it clear none will happen before the August recess.

Sen. FRIST: We will not be addressing Bolton on the floor in the next 24 hours and, therefore, we will address it after the recess.

WELNA: That suits Ohio Republican George Voinovich just fine. Voinovich has sharply criticized Bolton's brusque management style and his attacks on the UN. He says Anne Patterson, the country's acting envoy there, has been doing a fine job.

Senator GEORGE VOINOVICH (Republican, Ohio): You know, my feeling is we can work on an up-or-down vote for the next year and leave Anne over there and let her do her work. We'd be very much better off.

WELNA: And Republican Trent Lott of Mississippi says if President Bush does end up giving Bolton a recess appointment next month, it would only be a temporary posting at the UN.

Senator TRENT LOTT (Republican, Mississippi): He won't be able to be there but--What?--16 months. And everybody up there will know, in a tough job, that he was not confirmed and he has certain limitations, you know, timewise. So I think it's a bad choice and I would recommend against it. But I think they're going to do it, and then they'll have to live with the consequences.

WELNA: But Minnesota Republican Norm Coleman wants a recess appointment for Bolton. He scoffs at critics who say going to the UN without the Senate's endorsement would look bad for Bolton.

Senator NORM COLEMAN (Republican, Minnesota): And once you get appointments--the president makes the appointment, that's all that matters. The bottom line is having the confidence of the president. He has that confidence. He will speak for the president of the United States. He will speak for America.

WELNA: The administration's not tipping its hand. Here's what White House spokesman Scott McClellan had to say when a reporter pressed him yesterday on whether Bolton would get a recess appointment.

Mr. SCOTT McCLELLAN (White House Spokesman): We've always felt that he deserves an up-or-down vote.

Unidentified Man: Right, and you're not getting one.

Mr. McCLELLAN: And I'm just telling you there's nothing that's changed, nothing else to...

Unidentified Man: So you won't rule out a recess appointment.

Mr. McCLELLAN: ...nothing else to discuss at this point.

WELNA: Senate Democrats have blocked Bolton, saying the White House has not provided secret materials on the nominee they've requested. Yesterday, California's Barbara Boxer raised additional concerns.

Senator BARBARA BOXER (Democrat, California): I think we have some new questions surrounding Mr. Bolton as to whether he told the truth to the committee on various questions he may well have been asked on ongoing investigations, inquiries, reviews.

WELNA: The Foreign Relations Committee's ranking Democrat, Delaware's Joseph Biden, wrote Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Wednesday. He cited a recent MSNBC report that Bolton had been questioned in the federal probe into the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Yesterday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack noted that Bolton had been asked by the committee whether he'd been questioned in any investigation during the past five years.

Mr. SEAN McCORMACK (State Department Spokesman): Mr. Bolton, in his response on the written paperwork, was to say no. And that answer is truthful then and it remains the case now.

WELNA: Last night, Biden sent Secretary of State Rice a second letter. Bolton, he wrote, had been questioned two years ago in a separate joint State Department-CIA inspector general probe into whether Iraq bought uranium from Niger. Biden says this appears at odds with what Bolton stated in a sworn affidavit to the Foreign Relations Committee. One expert on executive branch appointments, University of North Carolina law Professor Michael Gerhardt, says these latest questions about Bolton are serious.

Professor MICHAEL GERHARDT (University of North Carolina): If he's lying to the committee or has told the committee anything different than what happened, then he's in trouble and President Bush would likely suffer some political damage from making a recess appointment of John Bolton.

WELNA: Some Republicans are now suggesting President Bush withdraw Bolton's nomination. Here's South Dakota's John Thune.

Senator JOHN THUNE (Republican, South Dakota): I assume they've got some very capable, qualified, competent people that would be very good up there that they could submit if they decided to do that.

WELNA: But such a move would likely be seen by President Bush as admitting defeat in the battle to seat Bolton at the UN, a battle he still appears determined to win.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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