WASHINGTON – Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is the first post-election casualty in the Bush administration, but with Democrats asserting new powers in Congress come January, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton is also on the endangered list.
With control of the Senate next year passing to Democrats, Bolton, whose recess appointment is set to expire before the 110th Congress convenes in January, could become the next sacrificial lamb.
Members of the current Senate are expected to come together in a lame duck session to vote on remaining spending bills left unfinished before the October campaign season, but they are not going to vote on Bolton, staff members for Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist told FOX News on Thursday.
The White House can try to ram through a hearing, but they are only able to do so much given the outcome of the election and the inability to get 60 votes to stop a filibuster if a Bolton consideration were to sent to the Senate.
"We'll find out if we can get him confirmed. We know what the vote tallies are," White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said Thursday morning, calling Bolton "a very accomplished and capable U.N. ambassador."
"We think it's important that he stay there," Snow said of Bolton's place at the U.N.
Bolton was given a recess appointment to be the chief diplomatic negotiator to the international body in August 2005 after Congress refused to confirm him. The position lasts until the new congressional term.
Opponents called him too brash. For four months prior to the appointment, Senate Democrats questioned Bolton's temper and treatment of staff aides. They also said they need more documents relating to Bolton's term as undersecretary for arms control and international security.
Republican Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio blasted Bolton's described him as "the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be."
But several lawmakers said Bolton served with distinction during the recess appointment period, getting agreement on condemnation of North Korea for test-firing a nuclear weapon and generally winning over many of his colleagues on issues of lesser importance.
In July, Voinovich said that his observations are that "while Bolton is not perfect, he has demonstrated his ability, especially in recent months, to work with others and follow the president's lead by working multilaterally."
Democratic critics have not changed their tunes, however, and Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, said in July he expected "this is going to be a bruising fight. I regret this. I'm sorry the administration wants to go forward with this. The problems still persist."
On Thursday, a spokesman for Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee, who lost his re-election and is considering whether to leave the GOP altogether, said his boss has not changed his position in opposition to Bolton's nomination.
If he chooses, President Bush can re-appoint Bolton during the congressional recess, a senior Republican aide who is an expert on parliamentary procedure told FOX News. But the ambassador won't get paid until he is confirmed by the Senate, likely an uphill battle with the new balance of power, the aide said.
Bolton could be named to another U.N. post in order to ensure that he gets a salary, the aide said.
Other Democratic Preferences
A Bolton fight would come on the heels of a Republican Party trounced in congressional midterm elections on Tuesday. Voters decided to shift the balance of power on Capitol Hill in an election widely seen as a referendum on the Bush administration's Iraq policy.
In response, the White House announced Wednesday that Rumsfeld will step down as defense secretary. President Bush said in a press conference that former CIA chief Robert Gates will be nominated to replace Rumsfeld. He must get Senate confirmation.
Replacing Bolton is one of many changes Democrats have in mind during the last two years of the Bush administration. A new plan for the war in Iraq is also at the top of the list.
"We cannot continue on this catastrophic path," said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the likely next House speaker. "So we say to the president, Mr. President, we need a new direction in Iraq."
"Yesterday, the American people rejected the Bush administration's failed policy in Iraq," Biden, D-Del., said in a statement released Wednesday. "Regardless of Vice President Cheney's 'full steam ahead' bravado, it is time for a radical change in course in Iraq."
Though Democrats have been critical of the handling of Iraq, they are divided over what to do about it and plan to hold numerous hearings on the war.
Some leaders of the party say the consensus position is a small withdrawal of troops by the end of this year, though most Democrats agree that a complete and rapid withdrawal would be devastating to the Iraqis. Talk has been made over dividing Iraq into three affiliated parts to reflect the three major factions of the population — Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, but Iraqis seem less interested in doing that.
Biden said just reducing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq isn't the answer.
"We need a political solution in Iraq that will allow our forces to leave responsibly, with our interests intact and without trading a dictator for chaos," Biden said. "I urge my colleagues in the Senate and the House to join me in … working towards a bipartisan consensus on a way forward in Iraq."
On Thursday, Frist, who is retiring at the end of this congressional session, said Democrats may want to be careful with their newly-won authority.
"The Army has never won a battle by deploying a hearing; no Air Force jet has ever successfully bombed an enemy position using a subpoena; and the Marines have never taken a hill by attacking the enemy with a report. What is a now necessary is building a critical bipartisan consensus about the best way ahead overseas," Frist, R-Tenn., said.
Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., the expected new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he is waiting to see what recommendations come from the Iraq Study Group, which is releasing a report on the war later this month.
In the meantime, Skelton said he wants more attention paid on Afghanistan, where the Taliban is increasing its attacks and the opium trade is growing exponentially.
Skelton said aside from keeping national defense strong and troop readiness at the right levels, his chief concern is oversight of the administration.
"Congress needs to return to a strong oversight of the executive branch, particularly on defense and national security. I would do that by re-establishing the subcommittee on oversight and investigation," he said.
Democrats also have several domestic goals on their agenda, including increasing the minimum wage.
Many states have begun the process. Six states voted in Tuesday's election to raise the state minimum wage above the federal level. Each minimum wage ballot initiative won by a wide margin after the current Congress failed to take action this year. Twenty-three other states have already raised their state rates.
Pelosi said one of her big interests is to make the Legislature more transparent to reduce the number of ethics scandals and improve Congress' reputation.
"I think that we identified with the concerns of the American people, whether it was jobs, health care, education, energy independence, dignified retirement and making our country safer," Pelosi said. "And we certainly have a mandate for making this place more honest, making it operate in a more civil and bipartisan way, and doing so in a way that does not heap mountains of debt onto future generations."
Republicans had been warning that Democrats in power would mean tax increases. But voters seemed largely unalarmed, and GOP representatives said the polls demonstrated Americans were more concerned with other issues.
Republican Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, who won re-election, said Wednesday that the GOP needs to pay close attention to what happened at the polls this year and learn from defeat.
"It is imperative that we listen to the American people and learn the right lessons," Pence said in a statement. "Some will argue that we lost our majority because of scandals at home and challenges abroad. I say, we did not just lose our majority, we lost our way.
"While the scandals of the 109th Congress harmed our cause, the greatest scandal in Washington, D.C., is runaway federal spending."
Pence said the Republican Party began its control of Congress in 1994 vowing small government and balanced federal budgets. But that promise has since been broken, he said.
"In recent years, our majority voted to expand the federal government's role … and pursued spending policies that created record deficits and national debt," said Pence. "In so doing, we severed the bonds of trust between our party and millions of our most ardent supporters."
FOX News' Jim Angle and Trish Turner contributed to this report.