The U.S. Senate's Foreign Relations Committee voted yesterday to send Bolton's nomination to the full Senate with a 10-8 vote along party lines. But in a rare move, the vote came without a recommendation of approval or rejection.
There is likely to be more heated debate in the Senate, but Republicans hold a 55-44 edge there (there is one independent) and Bolton is expected to win nomination. That would end the most disputed nomination process in the second term of President George W. Bush.
Both supporters and opponents of Bolton say the future U.S. ambassador is crucial to bringing needed reforms to the UN. The top UN envoy is also key to gaining support for policies such as nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
The chairman of the Senate committee, Republican Richard Lugar (Indiana), said it was one of the most intensive examinations of a candidate in his long tenure. Lugar noted concerns about Bolton's management style but said the most serious charges against him were unsubstantiated.
"The picture is one of an aggressive policy maker who pressed his missions at every opportunity and argued vociferously for his point of view. In the process his blunt style alienated some colleagues but there is no evidence that he has broken laws or engaged in serious ethical misconduct."
But another Republican, Senator George Voinovich (Ohio), appeared to side with Democrats. He said it was wrong to send an official with a reputation for arrogance and bullying to the UN at a time of eroding trust in Washington.
"It is my concern that the confirmation of John Bolton would send contradictory and negative message to the world community about U.S. intentions," he said. "I'm afraid that his confirmation will tell the world that we are not dedicated to repairing our relationships while working as a team and that we believe that only someone with sharp elbows can deal properly with the international community."
Voinovich could have threatened the nomination but said he would not block it from proceeding to the Senate. He told reporters he would vote against Bolton in the final vote.
The top Democrat on the Senate panel, Joseph Biden (Delaware), said Bolton was a discredited candidate and President Bush should withdraw his nomination: "I would suggest that it doesn't appear that Mr. Bolton has the confidence of the majority of this committee and I would suggest it may be worth the president's interest to take note of that."
Other Republicans on the committee besides Voinovich had expressed doubts about Bolton. But they said they expected him to fulfill his pledge to carry out the administration's stated policy to strengthen the United Nations.
The world body is facing at least four separate investigations into abuses of its oil-for-food program in Iraq. Some legislators have threatened to withhold funding to the UN to protest what they see as sluggish reform efforts.
Committee Chairman Lugar said Bolton, a prominent UN critic for years, could end up raising the stature of the United Nations.
"Secretary Bolton (Eds. Bolton is currently undersecretary of state for arms control) has become closely associated with the United States' efforts to reform the UN," Lugar said. "If he goes to the UN and helps achieve reform, the UN will gain in credibility, especially with the American people. If reform moves forward, Secretary Bolton will be in an excellent position to help convince skeptics that reform has occurred and that the United Nations can be an effective partner in achieving global security."
Throughout his confirmation hearing, Bolton has faced charges that he berated subordinates during his time as undersecretary of state for arms control in the Bush administration. He is also accused of seeking to manipulate intelligence to match his suspicions about the weapons programs of rogue states.
But his supporters cite his role in developing the proliferation security initiative, a multilateral program to curb the spread of dangerous weapons technology.
A Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Barack Obama (Illinois), expressed doubts about Bolton's achievements in his arms-control post. He said Bolton has appeared to falter on engaging North Korea to end its nuclear program. He also cited reports alleging Washington was poorly prepared for the current review at the UN of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Obama said Bolton gives the U.S. a credibility problem: "Given the issues that have surfaced surrounding Mr. Bolton's nomination, I simply ask my colleagues this: If a crisis were to occur with North Korea or Iran right now, are we sure that the integrity and credibility of Mr. Bolton would command the respect of the rest of the world?"
In his arms-control position Bolton has sought to isolate Iran and North Korea and opposed efforts by some in the administration who favored intensified dialogue. He has pressed for bringing issues involving both countries to the UN Security Council, which has the power to enact sanctions or more forceful actions.