White House Works to Save Bolton Nomination The Senate Foreign Relations Committee votes next week on John Bolton's nomination to be U.N. ambassador, even as staffers continue to explore charges of Bolton's abusive behavior and misuse of intelligence. Bolton's supporters in the White House and elsewhere are working to win over key senators and the public.
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White House Works to Save Bolton Nomination

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White House Works to Save Bolton Nomination

White House Works to Save Bolton Nomination

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Tony Blair was accused of misusing intelligence information. That is also one of the concerns raised in this country by the opponents of John Bolton. He's President Bush's choice as ambassador to the UN. Today Senate staff members conclude private interviews with Bolton's associates and co-workers, as NPR's David Greene reports.

DAVID GREENE reporting:

The White House yesterday renewed its call for confirmation of John Bolton. White House officials have described the battle over Bolton as a referendum not on the man but on the reforms President Bush wants at the United Nations. They also know rejection of Bolton by the Republican-led Senate would be a blow to the president's second-term momentum. And Bolton has close ties to the vice president, Dick Cheney, who defended him at the National Press Club last month.

Vice President DICK CHENEY: I'm an enthusiastic backer of John. I've known him for many years both personally and in a professional capacity. I think he's done a superb job throughout a distinguished career in public service, and I think he'd make a great ambassador to the UN.

GREENE: So far, though, Bolton has met a solid wall of resistance from the eight Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee. They object to his past anti-UN statements and his alleged intimidation of subordinates at the State Department where he's the top arms control official. They've also raised questions about his attempts to ignore or suppress intelligence information with which he disagreed. At the committee's last meeting, those objections were enough to convince one Republican senator, George Voinovich of Ohio, that he wasn't ready to back the nominee.

Senator GEORGE VOINOVICH (Republican, Ohio): I've heard enough today that I don't feel comfortable about voting for Mr. Bolton.

GREENE: The White House was caught off guard that afternoon, but it has since bounced back, working to win over Voinovich and two other Republicans who once were on the fence--Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. Chafee has said he thinks the president should have his choice, unless Bolton did something egregious or lied before the committee. Hagel has said he'll make up his mind next week.

Senator CHUCK HAGEL (Republican, Nebraska): The committee will meet. I think we have five hours set to meet before the vote to listen to both sides, to probe, ask questions, and then we will vote. My vote will be based on what I hear in that committee.

GREENE: But in the meantime, Cheney himself has spoken to various senators in person and on the phone. White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card has also been part of the lobbying, and lower-level staff in the White House Office of Congressional Liaisons have been in close contact with the senator's staff.

Meanwhile, there's an intense lobbying campaign going on out in the country. The conservative interest group Move America Forward ran this radio ad for several weeks in Ohio, Voinovich's home state.

(Soundbite from a Move America Forward ad)

Unidentified Woman #1: Did you hear how disloyal Senator Voinovich was to Republicans and President Bush? Voinovich stood with the Democrats and refused to vote for John Bolton. He's the guy President Bush has chosen to fight for the United States at the UN.

GREENE: This week, the same group began buying time on local and cable stations for another new ad, accusing Bolton critics of a smear campaign. One state where they bought the time was Wisconsin, home of Russ Feingold, a Democratic member of the Foreign Relations Committee. Another conservative group, Citizens United, has also gotten in the mix, buying time for this ad on Fox News.

(Soundbite from a Fox News ad)

Unidentified Woman #2: Fraudulent deals with Saddam Hussein and repeated anti-American attacks, that's the UN President Bush is trying to reform.

GREENE: Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College in California, called the nomination fight a test case of White House strength.

Professor JACK PITNEY (Claremont McKenna College): It's a combination of policy and personal loyalty. John Bolton is somebody who's advocated conservative views on foreign policy, very much in line with the administration. And also the vice president and many other people in the administration have personal loyalty involved here, and they're sticking by their man. From a political standpoint, there's a certain logic to that. You don't want to abandon your allies at the first sign of trouble.

GREENE: The Foreign Relations Committee now plans to vote on Bolton next Thursday, but Senate sources expect the nomination to go to the full Senate, whatever happens in committee. That will make the Bolton nomination a test of loyalty for all 55 Republicans in the chamber. David Greene, NPR News, the White House.

MONTAGNE: To read transcripts of the Senate interviews on John Bolton, you can go to npr.org.

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