WASHINGTON – Majority Leader Bill Frist (search) reversed course on John Bolton's nomination to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (search) on Tuesday, after earlier declaring the prospect of a floor vote dead in the water.
Frist's about-face came after a White House luncheon in which President Bush persuaded Senate Republicans to schedule another vote and break a deadlock set by Democrats.
"That's been exhausted," Frist said earlier Tuesday regarding his attempts to break a stalemate that has held up the nominee for months.
But after meeting with Bush, Frist came out to the cameras stationed at the White House and said he would schedule a third vote to end debate and vote for confirmation.
"The president made it very clear that he expects an up or down vote," he said, adding that Democratic resistance has nothing to do with Bolton, but everything to do with resentment toward the president.
Deputy State Department spokesman Adam Ereli expressed surprise at Frist's initial announcement, claiming Democrats had left Bolton "hanging in the wind." Before Frist's reversal, Bush's spokesman repeated the president's insistence on the Senate holding an up or down vote. At the White House, Scott McClellan did not disguise administration anger at Senate Democrats who have held up the candidate's nomination for months.
"It's clear that the Democratic leadership is not interested in finding a middle ground," McClellan told reporters in his daily briefing. "They're simply interested in blocking this nomination and preventing John Bolton from getting to the U.N., where he can begin advancing the comprehensive reforms we have outlined."
McClellan said the White House would "continue to urge an up or down vote" on the candidate, who on Monday failed for the second time in a month to win the votes necessary to end debate on Bolton's nomination and move to a final confirmation vote.
This time, the final tally was 54-38 with eight senators not voting. The vote was six shy of the threshold needed to go to a final vote in which majority would rule.
The deadlock has centered on Democratic demands to see draft testimony that Bolton's office prepared on Syria for a House committee hearing two years ago and insistence on seeing 36 names Bolton requested and was allowed to see from blacked-out National Security Agency reports. On Monday, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card offered to allow the release of the Syria testimony notes if Democrats drop their demands to see the names. Democrats refused.
After the Monday evening vote, Frist accused Democrats of being unwilling to compromise.
"Some on the other side of the aisle are obstructing a highly qualified nominee and I believe by not allowing him to assume this position yet are doing harm to our country," Frist said.
Democrats, however, have suggested that President Bush could more easily get confirmed any number of "good, strong, tough conservatives" besides Bolton.
"I would strongly encourage the administration tonight to move on, to give us another nominee, someone who the administration can support, that we can support here," Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, one of the leading opponents to Bolton, said.
Bush has said Bolton, who has a history of criticizing the United Nations, is the best chance to lead an effort to overhaul the world body's bureaucracy and make it more accountable. However, critics contend Bolton, who has been accused of mistreating subordinates, would hurt U.S. efforts to work with the U.N. and other countries.
Aside from Senate action, Bush has two options — withdraw Bolton from consideration and nominate someone else or bypass lawmakers and appoint the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security to the post while Congress is on its July 4 break. The Senate's top Democrat warned Bush not to give Bolton a recess appointment.
"The president will have to make a decision whether he wants to send this flawed candidate to the United Nations under an also questionable constitutional measure, which is being tested in the courts as we speak," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (search), D-Nev., warned.
"The danger is that John Bolton goes up there, goes to the U.N. as damaged goods and the U.S., I think, looks bad having put this guy in who is, you know, known to be somewhat bellicose and bullying, according to some of the anecdotes we've heard anyway," said Viveca Novak, Washington correspondent for Time magazine. Novak also added that without the "imprimatur of the Senate," Bolton is unlikely to be able to institute changes at the damaged world body.
While a recess appointment would last through to the start of the next session of Congress after the yearlong appointment — in this case January 2007 — administration officials have so far said talks of a recess appointment are premature since the current session of Congress still has two weeks before the Independence Day recess.
The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., agreed that it may be better if Bush left the fight up to the Senate for fear of compromising Bolton's influence at the world body.
But Bush watchers say a recess appointment seems likely.
"It would be extremely out of character for President Bush, who is known for his loyalty, who is known for sticking to his convictions, good or bad, to abandon John Bolton at this stage of the game. I would not be at all surprised to see President Bush make a recess appointment the long Fourth of July weekend, maybe, about, oh, 6:45, 7 o'clock on a Friday night when most of us are done for the weekend," said Washington Times White House correspondent and FOX News contributor Bill Sammon.
No president has used a recess appointment for a U.N. ambassador since 1970, when the Senate Historian's office began keeping records, according to one of the historians, Betty Koed. Presidents have occasionally made recess appointments of ambassadors to countries, including President Clinton's 1996 appointment of former Sen. Wyche Fowler, D-Ga., to be ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
FOX News' James Rosen and Sharon Kehnemui Liss and The Associated Press contributed to this report.