WASHINGTON -- The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John R. Bolton, launched a second campaign to win congressional approval yesterday, insisting that he had done his best "to work with others to advance our national interests."
"Important advances have been made," said Bolton during a 3 1/2 -hour hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Bolton failed to win Senate confirmation to the U.N. post last year. During the divisive debate, critics cast Bolton as a smart but ill-tempered and inflexible ideologue who screamed at subordinates and was incapable of compomise. Supporters said he was the man America needed to shake up the United Nations.
President Bush waited for Congress to adjourn for the summer, then gave Bolton a "recess appointment" - circumventing Congress with a temporary assignment that expires next January.
Yesterday's hearing was the first step in a White House push to make Bolton's job permanent. The Foreign Relations Committee could vote on the nomination as early as next week, but Democrats are expected to ask for a delay and a floor vote by the full Senate is not expected before September.
While Republicans and Democrats still appear deeply divided over Bolton, yesterday's hearing lacked the tension and animosity of last year's sessions. Most Republicans either praised the envoy or asked questions that enabled him to talk of his achievements.
Bolton noted diplomatic successes during his tenure, including a unanimous U.N. Security Council resolution condemning North Korea and demanding that it suspend its missile program.
Sen. John W. Warner, a Virginia Republican, predicted that Bolton would be confirmed because he is a key member of Bush's foreign policy team.
George V. Voinovich, an Ohio Republican who defied intense pressure from within his party to vote against Bolton last year, said he planned to support the appointment this time. Voinovich referred colleagues to a commentary he wrote for The Washington Post last week explaining his reversal.
That article cited Bolton's ability to work with others and what he called a demonstrated ability to "follow the president's lead by working multilaterally."
Among the Republicans, only Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee pressed Bolton. He read a comment the envoy had made that blamed terrorism as the sole cause of today's Middle East turmoil, then eyed Bolton, saying: "Now, you're a brilliant man. That statement doesn't make any sense. Terrorism is a device. Can't you get any deeper?"
Chafee, who voted for Bolton's appointment last year, suggested that there was a gap between Bolton's rhetoric about the need to forge an independent Palestinian state and the effort the administration had devoted to the task.
Bolton needs the votes of all Republican members of the committee to avoid the risk of a repeat of last year, where a split vote sent his nomination to the floor without an endorsement.
The Democrats made clear that their position on Bolton has not changed.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., a Delaware Democrat, accused Bolton of alienating U.S. allies with his heavy-handed style.
"Instead of isolating the bad guys, Mr. Bolton's approach is to allow the bad guys to isolate the United States," Biden said.
Connecticut Democrat Christopher J. Dodd called Bolton a bully, then added: "My objection isn't that he is a bully, but that he is a very ineffective bully - he can't win the day when it really counts."
In exchanges with Dodd, Bolton appeared to defuse two accusations leveled against him last year - that he sent letters to press intelligence analysts to alter their findings to conform with Bush administration policy, and that his request for the identity of Americans mentioned anonymously in National Security Agency intercepts was made to exact revenge.
Bolton said that after reviewing the letters, he found them inappropriate and did not send them, and that the requests for identities of individuals were made to better interpret the reports.
Tyler Marshall writes for the Los Angeles Times.