WASHINGTON—President Bush is expected to sidestep Congress and appoint John Bolton, his controversial choice for United Nations ambassador, to the job temporarily because opponents have blocked his confirmation by the Senate, several lawmakers and influential conservatives said Thursday.
Bush is poised to make the hawkish, tough-talking Bolton a recess appointment under a constitutional provision that allows the president to fill a vacancy during a Senate recess. Congress is expected to adjourn for August vacation Saturday or Sunday.
Administration officials wouldn't discuss Bush's intentions Thursday, but several senators and conservatives close to the White House think the president will tap Bolton shortly after Congress goes home.
Once Bush acts, Bolton can serve as ambassador until January 2007, when a new Congress is sworn in.
"I would anticipate an interim appointment," said Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., one of Bolton's main supporters on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "We have a conference on U.N. reform in September. The president is going to be speaking at that conference. We're going to need an ambassador. We're going to need John Bolton there."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice seemed to be saying much the same thing in an interview Thursday on PBS' "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer."
While she avoided a direct answer when asked whether Bush would make Bolton a recess appointment, she emphasized that "what we can't be is without leadership at the United Nations. I can tell you, Jim, that I'm spending an awful lot of time these days preparing for the high-level meetings that are going to take place in September ... about refreshing the United Nations after 60 years. The United States needs to be active in that and ... we need our permanent representative to the United Nations."
Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., also thinks Bush will make Bolton his interim appointment, but he doesn't think it's a good idea.
"I suspect he will, but I do think it's a little bit of a thumbing of the nose at the Senate, which will cause you more problems down the road," Lott said. "We are a co-equal branch; he doesn't get to make his choices in a vacuum."
Bolton's nomination has been stalled for months by Senate Democrats—and a few Republicans—who consider him unsuitable for the United Nations because of his stinging criticism of it in the past. For example, he told a conference in 1994 that if you lopped off 10 stories from the 38-story U.N. Secretariat Building "it wouldn't make a bit of difference."
Democrats also have charged that Bolton, as undersecretary of state for arms control, mistreated subordinates and tried to manipulate intelligence.
In May, a divided Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10-8 to forward Bolton's nomination without recommendation, an unusual move, but one that got the nomination to the Senate floor.
Senate Republican leaders failed twice—May 26 and June 20—to muster the 60 votes needed to end debate under the 100-member chamber's rules and move to an up-or-down vote on his nomination.
Sens. Joseph Biden, D-Del., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., added another wrinkle this week, sending a letter to Rice seeking to verify whether Bolton had testified before a grand jury or had been interviewed by a special prosecutor who's investigating who leaked the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame.
In written Senate testimony, Bolton indicated that he hadn't testified or provided information to any grand juries.
"We need to know if Bolton was truthful to the committee in this area," Boxer said Wednesday. "We are looking at his questionnaire again. ... If you're not honest here, you've got a problem."
A spokesman for Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said the senator didn't receive a response from Rice on Thursday.
"I think he needs to" make the recess appointment, said David Keene, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, the nation's oldest conservative lobbying organization. "It's very difficult to get the Senate to move and their plate is full with the Supreme Court (nomination) coming up, which crowds everything else."
If Bush doesn't make the appointment, it will embolden Democrats and weaken the president with his conservative base, which views Bolton as the kind of tough-love remedy that U.S. foreign policy needs, Keene said.
"We would raise hell. It wouldn't be the first time," he said. "You do it privately and publicly. Bolton has become a negative symbol for the John Kerrys and Barbara Boxers and a positive to conservatives."
But Democrats and a few Republicans think Bolton would be damaged goods if he arrived at the United Nations via the recess route.
"I think we're dealing with trouble having a recess-appointment U.N. ambassador," said Leon Panetta, the White House chief of staff under President Clinton, who made more than 56 recess appointments during his two terms. "To have someone who doesn't even enjoy the confidence of the U.S. Senate is not going to instill confidence or lend credibility."
Lott said Bolton would be "weakened and temporary."
"He could serve what, 17 months, unless he was subsequently confirmed, which I don't see any chance of," Lott said.
Keene disagrees, saying what Bolton does is more important than how he gets there.
"He's still the same person, representing the same president, doing the same job," Keene said.
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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