Minority Democrats on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee were successful on 19 April in persuading a Republican senator that the new information needed to be assessed before a vote could be taken.
Democrats say there is mounting evidence that Bolton, the top U.S. official for arms control, has repeatedly sought to pressure intelligence analysts. They say he has also shown abusive behavior toward subordinates.
Republican Senator George Voinovich of Ohio said he now has major concerns about Bolton.
“I’ve heard enough today that I don’t feel comfortable about voting for Mr. Bolton," Voinovich said. "I think one’s interpersonal skills and their relationship with their fellow man is a very important ingredient.”
Voinovich’s decision meant that the Senate panel would have been deadlocked on Bolton’s nomination. The chairman of the committee, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, agreed to delay the vote until early May.
Last week, a former top intelligence official said Bolton had shaken up State Department analysts three years ago after berating a junior official who had challenged a speech he was preparing on Cuba’s weapons.
Bolton testified that he did not attempt to pressure the official but had lost trust in him and sought to reassign him.
Democrats have cited other incidents of inappropriate treatment of analysts who disagreed with Bolton. The most recent charges come from a former contractor with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Kyrgyzstan, who says Bolton verbally harassed her while he was in private practice representing a company there 10 years ago.
Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, the top Democrat on the panel, said that by nominating Bolton, the Senate could ultimately be posing a risk for U.S. interests at the UN.
“We’re setting ourselves up for failure here," Biden said. "This is not a good choice.”
But a number of Republicans on the committee believe the charges are not substantial enough to block the president’s choice. Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota, a leading critic of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, says it is vital for Washington to send a strong agent for reform like Bolton to the UN post.
“In the end, I think the issue is about why does the president want to appoint him," Coleman said. "It is about reform of the UN. It is about someone who has the experience, and has the passion, and has the intellect to do some very heavy lifting. Very heavy lifting. The UN is in trouble. Whether it’s oil-for-food. Whether it’s sexual abuse in Africa. Whether it’s [sexual] harassment. The UN is in trouble.”
Senator Lugar also stressed the need for the committee to respect President George W. Bush’s choice to lead the UN reform effort. Bolton has been a strident critic of the UN but told the panel he was committed to making it more effective.
Prior to his decision to postpone the vote, Lugar acknowledged the seriousness of the charges against Bolton. But he expressed concern the Democrats were seeking endless delays in the nomination process.
“Many people have testified about confrontations with John Bolton, his management style, his demeanor, and these -- as I have admitted -- are not inconsequential," Lugar said. "I think they must all be taken into consideration. But having said that, the committee must vote and then the Senate in due course must vote.”
Democrats countered that two recent UN ambassadors -- Richard Holbrooke and John Negroponte -- faced long scrutiny by the foreign relations committee before they were accepted.
Republicans have 55 votes in the 100-member Senate, where further debate about Bolton would take place if the committee approved his nomination.