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New Bolton Confirmation Battle Looms


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.



And I'm Renee Montagne.

President Bush is trying to get a few urgent items through Congress before the Democrats take over. The White House wish list for the lame duck session includes the passing of a trade agreement with Vietnam and a civilian nuclear deal with India.

The White House also re-nominated its ambassador to the United Nations. Approval now seems unlikely since now a Republican is joining Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in opposing John Bolton.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Ambassador John Bolton has been a polarizing figure. His initial confirmation process was so heated that the White House decided to give him a recess appointment. That runs out at the end of the year, so the White House has re-nominated him. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been calling senators, urging them to keep Bolton in the job. That's according to her spokesman Sean McCormack.


Mr. SEAN MCCORMACK (State Department Spokesman): She's ready to do whatever she needs to do in order to help John get confirmed.

KELEMEN: McCormack is making a case for continuity, arguing Bolton has been an effective ambassador at the U.N.

Mr. MCCORMACK: Now is not the time to have a gap in your U.N. ambassador. Just look at all the items that are on the agenda at the Security Council that are fundamental to peace and security around the world. Iran, Iraq will be coming up, North Korea, Sudan.

KELEMEN: But Bolton's critics say now is not the time to have an ambassador so closely associated with some of the most controversial foreign policy decisions by the Bush administration. A key Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Christopher Dodd, issued a statement saying Americans sent a message on Election Day that they want a new tone and direction in Washington. He said Bolton doesn't represent change but, as he put it, a failed status quo.

Those thoughts were echoed yesterday but a Republican on the committee, Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee, who lost his reelection bid this week. He told the Associated Press that at this late stage in his term, he's not going to endorse something the American people have spoken out against. Asked at a news conference in Rhode Island how actively he'll oppose Bolton's nomination, he had this to say.

Senator LINCOLN CHAFEE (Republican, Rhode Island): They're going to ask me if I'm going to support him. I assume if I'm not, his name will not be called forward to the committee, our Foreign Relations Committee, where my vote is key.

KELEMEN: With Chafee now firmly opposing Bolton and all the Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee also against him, the nomination looks stuck and unlikely to come up for a vote in the lame duck session. The Democrat who is expected to chair the committee next year, Joseph Biden, has made clear the Bolton nomination is going nowhere.

The White House could give John Bolton another recess appointment but that would mean Bolton would have to serve without the backing of the Senate and without pay.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.