WASHINGTON -- The unique combination of Rhode Island Republican politics and a threatened filibuster by Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, who rarely uses such tactics, combined yesterday to stall Senate confirmation of John Bolton as United Nations ambassador.
Bolton has been in the job for 13 months, but serves without the formal nod of the U.S. Senate. The Bush administration thought it finally had the votes yesterday after a switch by Sen. George V. Voinovich, an Ohio Republican, who opposed Bolton last year. But the Senate Foreign Relations Committee didn't vote yesterday, and it wasn't clear when - or if - it would consider Bolton again.
Republicans, who have a 10-8 majority on the committee, figured that Sen. Lincoln Chafee, a Rhode Island Republican who faces a tough primary next week against a conservative opponent, could use the Bolton vote to boost his credentials with administration loyalists. But Chafee signaled that he was not ready to vote for Bolton. He said he had questions about "what's happening in the Middle East with the expansion of settlements in the West Bank."
Chafee sent Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a letter expressing his concerns yesterday. "I have been a long-time critic of the disparity between the rhetoric and the actions of the Administration on the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process," he wrote. "However, now I fear that even the rhetoric is going to stop. Is this expansion of settlement activity a signal that holding both sides to their commitments under the Road Map is no longer official U.S. policy?"
Asked yesterday if he intended to vote for Bolton, he said, "It depends on the answers to the questions I still have."
Chafee's uncertainty was probably a smart decision, said Darrell West, professor of public policy and political science at Brown University. "I wouldn't want to take a vote on John Bolton five days before the primary. It's a no-win situation," West said.
The nomination was also stymied by the campaign led by Dodd. Since Tuesday, Dodd has been gauging opinion among Democrats, and was ready yesterday to use a filibuster - a tool he rarely uses - to stop the confirmation.
He said he was still disturbed by reports that Bolton tried to get intelligence analysts to change their views to match his, and then tried to get those analysts fired. "He stepped over the line," Dodd said. Bolton has said he never intended to have anyone dismissed.
David Lightman writes for The Hartford Courant.