WASHINGTON – A House Republican and Democrat, in the new spirit of bipartisanship, are urging President Bush to name defeated Republican Rep. Jim Leach to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
"He is the most diplomatic politician I have ever met," Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., said of Leach, a moderate from Iowa known for his professorial sweaters, his low-key, nonpolitical approach to issues and his opposition to the war in Iraq.
"I can't think of any American better qualified to represent our interests before the United Nations," said Rep. Jim Walsh, R-N.Y., who on Tuesday joined Blumenauer in circulating a letter in the House seeking support for Leach if the acting U.N. ambassador, John Bolton, is forced to resign.
Bolton has been temporary ambassador since August 2005, but has never been able to win confirmation because of opposition from Democrats, and some Republicans, to his confrontational style.
The White House recently renominated Bolton to the post, but Senate supporters lack the votes and it appears Bolton will have to resign when Democrats take over the Senate in January.
Leach, 64, who refuses to take political action committee money or run negative ads, narrowly lost to college professor Dave Loebsack in last week's election, ending a 30-year career as a House legislator.
Leach, who has announced no plans for the future, does have the resume for the job. He was a foreign service officer at the State Department in the 1960s and served at the U.N. under then Ambassador George H.W. Bush in the 1970s.
He is currently chairman of the House International Relations subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific affairs.
"He clearly is flattered to be considered" as U.N. ambassador, said his chief of staff, Gregory Wierzynski. "As a former foreign service officer, it would be something of intense interest to him."
But Leach may not be helped by his record of being near the top of those Republicans who vote most often with Democrats. In 2002 he was one of six House Republicans to vote against the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq, and he was among the first Republicans to call for a military withdrawal from Iraq.
But Blumenauer said, "This is a time of reassessment, re-evaluation" on Iraq, and "I would think Jim's qualifications would actually help."