WASHINGTON – Problems in confirming John R. Bolton (search) as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations pushed President Bush to defend his nominee on Thursday, as a Senate panel continued to weigh accusations that the State Department undersecretary was an ill-mannered hothead who bullied subordinates and kept information from superiors.
Delivering a speech on Social Security in Washington, D.C., Bush urged the Senate to confirm Bolton.
"John's distinguished career and service to our nation demonstrates that he is the right man at the right time for this important assignment," Bush said. "I urge the Senate to put aside politics and confirm John Bolton to the United Nations."
He is "a good man," Bush added in impromptu remarks that indicated the president was willing to fight for Bolton.
Still, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (search) plans to take more time to review more allegations that Bolton harassed staffers and is not diplomatic enough to take the State Department's top U.N. post.
On Tuesday, the committee put off a recommendation vote on Bolton after Sen. George Voinovich (search), R-Ohio, expressed concern about the nominee.
Chairman Richard Lugar (search), R-Ind., reluctantly agreed to postpone the vote until after the Congressional spring recess, meaning that the panel might not get to it for another three weeks.
The additional time might help build momentum against Bolton, who is being heavily debated in the press, even if no new substantiated allegations come up.
Already, one GOP senator, Lincoln Chafee (search) of Rhode Island, said he was troubled by Bolton's behavior and wanted to confer with fellow Republicans before voting.
"We need to talk about it. I want to hear what [my colleagues] have to say," Chafee said of the recent allegations against Bolton. He added that the White House "has been in touch" to try to get his vote.
Chafee had been seen as the Republican committee member most likely to vote against recommending Bolton, although until Tuesday he had insisted he was prepared to vote for the nominee.
Lack of a recommendation from the Foreign Relations Committee would damage Bolton's nomination, though technically the full Senate could vote on him anyway. Republicans hold a 10-8 majority on the committee, and a 9-9 tie would be seen as a negative recommendation.
Democrats on the panel are unified against Bolton, and have plenty to say about him, arguing especially that he has a history of conflict with co-workers.
The panel asked Wednesday to interview former deputy CIA director John McLaughlin (search), a second, unidentified CIA official and an official from the National Intelligence Council (search), a Democratic committee staff member told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
The three intelligence officials had been scheduled to meet with Bolton in July 2002, at a time when Bolton was in the midst of a bureaucratic disagreement with a CIA (search) analyst.
Bolton told the Senate committee last week that he had never tried to get the analyst fired, and implied that he had dropped the matter quickly. The analyst kept his job.
Sen. Christopher Dodd (search), D-Conn., asked McLaughlin and the two officials whether they met with Bolton and whether he discussed removing the analyst from his job, a Dodd aide said.
Government records dispute Bolton's account of his visit to the CIA, according to Sen. Joe Biden (search), D-Del., and the new inquires are partly an attempt to find out whether Bolton lobbied top officials to get rid of the analyst.
Separately, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (search) of West Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, was to ask the National Security Agency (search) for details of intelligence requests made by Bolton, Rockefeller spokeswoman Wendy Morigi said.
Reporter Michael Isikoff of Newsweek magazine told FOX News that Thomas Hubbard (search), a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, had described to him two tiffs he had with Bolton — one over a meeting schedule and another over a provocative speech Bolton gave about North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il (search).
Bolton told the Senate panel last week that he had fully reviewed the North Korea speech with U.S. officials. According to Isikoff, Hubbard said he had asked Bolton to change some of the remarks, but that Bolton refused.
"What Hubbard said was that he certainly didn't intend to tell Bolton that he approved of the whole speech, because he didn't. In fact, he asked Bolton to exchange some of the more provocative comments in there, and Bolton wouldn't do so," Isikoff said. "So it's not a black-and-white contradiction, but in terms of nuance, it's a very different interpretation of what took place that Bolton provided the committee and what Hubbard is saying."
At the same time, there have been efforts to counter the stream of allegations. The Associated Press obtained a letter from a Virginia businessman disputing a former colleague's graphic story about an irate Bolton throwing things at her and pounding on her hotel room door during an international conference in Moscow in 1994.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan on Thursday accused Senate Democrats of playing politics and trying to trump up allegations. He defended Bolton as an effective manager with a proven record of getting things done.
McClellan added that the White House was directly addressing the claims against Bolton by offering to arrange private meetings between Bolton and wavering Republicans.
McClellan also said that he would not dignify what he called unsubstantiated allegations by discussing them on the White House podium.
He said the president had not personally lobbied any lawmakers, but the White House had been in close contact with Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Isikoff said Bush's willingness to fight showed a commitment wider than to Bolton alone.
"Both sides see a loss as greater than just a fight over this particular nomination, but [as] part of the larger power struggle in Washington, [one] that is going to implicate all sorts of other fights going on," he said.
FOX News' Mike Emanuel, Trish Turner and Sharon Kehnemui Liss and The Associated Press contributed to this report.