WASHINGTON - The Senate failed again yesterday to break a deadlock over the nomination of John R. Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations - leaving open the possibility that President Bush might circumvent the stalemate by making the appointment while Congress is in recess early next month.
The Senate vote was 54-38, not enough to end the long debate over Bolton's nomination. While a simple majority vote could confirm him, Republicans needed 60 votes to break the filibuster Democrats began late last month. Republicans hold a 55-44 edge in the Senate; one independent typically votes with the Democrats.
At a news conference yesterday with leaders from the European Union, Bush again called on the Senate to approve Bolton but avoided commenting on whether he would use the July Fourth recess to temporarily send the controversial nominee to New York.
"Put him in," Bush said. "If they're interested in reforming the United Nations, they ought to approve John Bolton."
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan also did not directly address the question of a recess appointment, which would allow Bolton to serve as U.N. ambassador until January 2007 without a Senate vote. He did indicate that the administration was frustrated by the impasse.
"We continue to work in good faith to address any concerns, but it's clear that the Democratic leadership isn't interested in more information; they're only interested in blocking his nomination," he said.
It was unclear last night whether Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, would make another attempt to confirm Bolton before Congress takes a weeklong break around Independence Day.
Senators on both sides, however, said they thought a recess appointment would be less than ideal at a time when the administration is urging the United Nations to undertake major reforms.
"I think that's a mistake, and I'd urge them not to do that," said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat. "I think it's a bad message. I think the administration hurts itself by doing that."
The administration, Dodd said, should "move on" and send another nominee to Capitol Hill.
Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, encouraged the White House to keep fighting. He said a recess appointment might cause some people to see Bolton as weakened and would therefore undermine the U.S. position within the international body - something senators should keep in mind if there is another vote.
"I hope that people will take a little longer look at our national interests and say ... 'Let's not go down the road to a recess appointment,'" he said. "That's not in our national interest."
Bolton, a 56-year-old Baltimore native, has been undersecretary of state for arms control and international security since May 2001. When Bush tapped him for the U.N. post in March, the move was immediately criticized, largely because of Bolton's frequent, virulent criticism of the organization.
But there was no real reason to believe the confirmation would fail.
Since then, however, the nomination has become mired in a battle between Senate Democrats and the White House over information from Bolton's tenure as undersecretary of state. Top Democrats, especially Dodd and Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, have said they would not support a final vote on Bolton until they received information they have requested from the administration.
Democrats got help from Sen. George V. Voinovich, an Ohio Republican who forced a delay while Bolton's nomination was in committee and who has become one of the most passionate opponents of the appointment. Voinovich is the only Republican who has said he would vote against Bolton.
He also was the only member of his party to vote with the Democrats yesterday. Three Democrats - Sens. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas - voted to end debate. Three Republicans and five Democrats did not vote.
Both of Maryland's senators, Democrats Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski, voted against the motion.
Democrats want to check a list of 36 officials against names found in secret intercepts Bolton asked for in his old job, to find out whether he used that information to intimidate people who disagreed with him. Over the past few weeks, they have rejected compromise offers as incomplete.
They also requested information about Bolton's disagreements with intelligence analysts over Syria's weapons programs.
Roberts, who has seen some of the intercept information because of his role as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called what he saw "pure vanilla" and said Democrats keep asking for more after they get what they want.
"The goalposts keep getting further down to the end zone. As a matter of fact, I think they're beyond the playing field," he said.
Dodd said he takes no joy in blocking Bolton's nomination, but that he and other Democrats will not relent until the White House hands over the information.
"The administration has filibustered their own nominee" by not handing over the information, he said.
Although the Constitution says that the Senate shall give advice and consent on presidential nominations, it also gives the president the power to temporarily fill vacancies that would normally require confirmation.
During a recess, such as the coming July Fourth break, the president can make temporary appointments to positions such as Cabinet secretary, ambassador and federal judge for terms lasting through the next one-year session of the Senate.
SOURCE: C-Span.com and Associated Press