WASHINGTON – President Bush will not relent in his defense of John Bolton, his nominee for U.N. ambassador, despite unwavering opposition from Democrats who view Bolton as too combative for international diplomacy, aides said Sunday.
Two of Bush's top advisers said the White House is not backing down from a fight to win Senate approval for Bolton to continue in the job. Bush gave Bolton the job temporarily in August 2005, while Congress was in recess. That appointment will expire when Congress adjourns, no later than January.
The Senate's top Democrat said lawmakers have more pressing matters to deal with during the postelection session this week. "I think we should go to things that we can work together on," said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada.
White House counselor Dan Bartlett said Bolton has done a remarkable job. "He's proven the critics wrong on all the charges they've leveled against him," Bartlett said. "So let's have a conversation about it. We'll see."
The White House resubmitted Bolton's nomination on Thursday, though it has languished in the Senate for more than a year. Finding a replacement for Bolton would come at a sensitive time for the Bush administration. It is counting heavily on U.N. diplomacy to help confront North Korea and Iran over their nuclear programs and to end fighting in Sudan's Darfur region.
With Democrats capturing control of the next Congress, Bolton's chances of winning confirmation appear slim at best. In fact, last week the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democratic Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, said he saw "no point in considering Mr. Bolton's nomination again."
"We're putting him up for confirmation," White House chief of staff Josh Bolten said Sunday. "I think if he actually was able to get a vote in the full Senate, he would succeed."
Yet Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., who lost on Election Day, said he would not end his opposition to Bolton. That probably would deny Republicans the votes needed to move the nomination from the committee to the full Senate. Republicans now lack the 60 votes needed to force a vote.
Democrats say Bush should alter course now and nominate someone less hard-charging, with greater finesse in handling sensitive diplomatic matters.
"There's a lot of competent people. Send someone new up, Mr. President," Biden said Sunday.
"He doesn't even have the votes in the committee. He doesn't even have the votes of a Republican-controlled committee today," Biden said. "We're going to have a hearing on him. There is going to be a vote on him. He's going to lose."
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who is in line to head the Armed Services Committee, agreed. "We would rely very heavily upon the Foreign Relations Committee, and they have not decided that he is the appropriate person for that job," Levin said.
In the president's view, however, Bolton "has turned out to be a very effective representative at the U.N. and, in fact, has turned out to be something his critics expected him not to be," Bolten said. "He's turned out to be a good consensus builder, and it's been reflected on resolutions on North Korea, in Lebanon, in other ways."
Bush's chief of staff played down speculation the administration might go around the Senate and allow Bolton to somehow continue to represent the U.S. at the United Nations by finding an alternative means of paying his salary or appointing him to serve as an acting or deputy U.N. representative.
"I don't know about that," Bolten said. "Our effort is going to be to try to get him confirmed in the ordinary course."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., urged the White House not to find a backdoor way to keep Bolton at the United Nations. "I don't think I would do that because I think that many in the Senate" would view that as flouting a process that is reserved for the Senate, he said.
Bolten, Biden and Levin appeared on ABC's "This Week." Bartlett was on "FOX News Sunday" and Reid on "Face the Nation" on CBS.