WASHINGTON – The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday unexpectedly postponed a vote on the nomination of John Bolton (search) to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations after White House pressure and a bitterly contentious meeting in which Democrats and a few Republicans expressed reservations about the nominee.
The White House had frantically urged Republicans not to press ahead with a stymied vote, perceiving a deadlocked 9-9 vote on Bolton's fate as a clear defeat, sources told FOX News. The preferred backup plan: accepting Democratic requests to further scrutinize Bolton's dealings with subordinates.
The committee will not have another meeting on Bolton's nomination until early May.
The meeting came to a surprising halt when Sen. George Voinovich (search), R-Ohio, suggested he wasn't "comfortable" voting on Bolton's nomination in light of new allegations leveled against Bolton that some members claim they have not had time to investigate.
"I've heard enough today that I don't feel comfortable voting for Mr. Bolton. I think one's interpersonal skills and their relationships with their fellow man is a very important ingredient [in] anyone that works for me," Voinovich said.
Bolton is a harsh critic of the United Nations (search) bureaucracy and has been accused of mistreating underlings with whom he disagrees and preventing the flow of intelligence that contradicts his point of view. Democrats have also called for a private meeting to review allegations that 11 years ago while he was an attorney in the private sector, Bolton bitterly and publicly harangued a subcontractor who was working for the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., who along with Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said he was inclined to support Bolton unless any significant "disqualifying" evidence surfaced, asked Chairman Richard Lugar if he might reconsider holding the committee vote in light of Voinovich's comments.
After the committee meeting ended, Chafee told Fox that Republican support for Bolton "is eroding."
Lugar, of Indiana, suggested he wanted to move ahead with the vote anyway, but Hagel later added his voice to the pitch, saying he suspected if the committee moved ahead to a vote, "the Bolton nomination will not come out of this committee."
Hagel added that even if he does support Bolton in the committee, "that doesn't mean I will support his nomination on the floor. I think these charges are serious enough they demand — they cry out — for further examination," Hagel said.
Lugar ultimately asked for unanimous consent that the chair set a date after the upcoming April recess for members to return and vote on the nomination of Bolton, who has been plagued by charges of a bad temper and attempts to thwart prevailing intelligence that contradicted his views.
"We'll all have to trust each other," Lugar said in sealing the unanimous agreement. Republicans hold a 10-8 majority on the panel, and Lugar had sounded confident early in the session that he had the votes to prevail. If Voinovich opposed Bolton, the committee would have deadlocked 9-9 and the nomination would have failed. While Bolton's nomination is not dead, the deadlock leaves his fate very much in doubt.
Earlier in the day, Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada tried to stop the committee from meeting, using a procedural move on the Senate floor to delay the proceedings. Republicans, however, recessed the body in the afternoon to prevent objections to committee meetings. Panels are allowed to meet during recesses.
Michael Meehan, former senior adviser to Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign, told FOX News that hesitation among Republicans to support Bolton proves that he is not qualified to be the chief diplomat at the United Nations because "it's a diplomatic post and if you can't exhibit diplomacy, no, you shouldn't get the job."
But Republican strategist Genevieve Wood said the job does not go to the winner of a popularity contest.
"This is not a personality test, this is whether or not somebody is qualified. It is quite clear by John Bolton's background that he is quite qualified for this position," she said, adding that if he gets a vote on the Senate floor, Bolton would win confirmation.
Click on the video box above to watch a report by FOX News' John Gibson.
FOX News' Major Garrett contributed to this report.