WASHINGTON—A growing number of Senate Republicans say John Bolton won't be confirmed as United Nations ambassador unless the White House turns over documents that Democrats say they need to assess Bolton's fitness for the post.
Though the White House continued Wednesday to demand an up-or-down vote on Bolton, these Republican senators say the Senate is in a standoff that only President Bush can resolve.
"I hope the president will take a very hard look at the documents," Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in an interview with Knight Ridder. "Unless we resolve this dilemma quickly, Mr. Bolton is not going to be the U.N. ambassador. ... The president should understand that we're at an impasse. It may be more important to preserve the doctrine of separation of powers than to have John Bolton in the U.N."
Alexander's comments came after Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., the former Senate majority leader, urged the White House to turn over documents to Bolton's two leading Democratic foes, Sens. Joseph Biden of Delaware and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut. Another Republican, Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, also called for the White House to relent.
The shifting Republican views came after Democrats blocked Bolton's confirmation Monday for a second time. The Senate voted 54-38 to end debate on his nomination and move to a conclusive vote, but under Senate rules 60 of 100 votes are needed to end debate.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., indicated Tuesday that after two failed efforts, it's up to Bush to break the stalemate: "He has to make a decision on that, and whether or not we bring it back to the floor depends on, really, what the president's conversations with the Democrats are."
The Republican senators' comments reflect increasing frustration with the White House's handling of the nomination. Their stance also illustrates how some senators place Congress' role as an equal branch of government above their allegiance to a president of their own party—perhaps especially one whose poll numbers are dropping in his second term.
Democrats want the White House to hand over an early draft of a speech that Bolton was preparing on the state of Syria's weapons programs. They also want a list of 19 names of U.S. officials and companies that Bolton requested regarding secret intercepts of their communications by the National Security Agency.
Biden and Dodd say the information would show whether Bolton tried to exaggerate Syria's access to weapons of mass destruction and whether he tried to keep tabs on officials who had policy differences with him—such as his then-boss, Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Bolton has faced an uphill confirmation struggle from the moment Bush nominated him March 7. He's been sharply critical of the United Nations and has had run-ins with officials in the State Department and intelligence services.
Administration officials have said the information Democrats want isn't relevant to Bolton's confirmation, but this week White House officials offered to turn over data on the Syria speech. Democrats rejected that as insufficient without the intercept names.
"This is not about executive privilege; this is not about classified information that would endanger people's lives," Lott said in an interview. "It may be about a thin reed of a principle about redacting names. I'm sort of blase about it. If they don't want to give the information, if they're scared it might set a precedent, fine: Withdraw Bolton and come up with somebody else. That's the only option they now have."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Wednesday that the administration wasn't willing to accommodate the Democrats: "We believe he deserves an up-or-down vote. There has been a good-faith effort made to reach out to Democrats. But clearly, they're not interested in working in good faith."
Earlier, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, attempted to broker a deal on the intercepted names by getting Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte to confirm that six midlevel intelligence or State Department analysts weren't among the names Bolton sought. But Negroponte refused to examine a longer list of names that Dodd had compiled to see if they matched Bolton's requested names.
Dodd's list contains the names of about three dozen people who may have clashed with Bolton. He and Biden want the administration to guarantee that Bolton didn't abuse his high-level security clearance to monitor those people's activities.
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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