Bolton's woes? The Democrats' fault

Taking a page from the Tom DeLay Book of Crisis Management, the White House blames the other party for stalling Bolton's nomination -- even though the blow came from one of its own.

Published April 21, 2005 12:56PM (EDT)

The White House is taking a page from the Tom DeLay Book of Crisis Management: When all else fails, blame the Democrats.

John Bolton's nomination as U.N. ambassador would have cruised through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week if all of the Republicans on the committee were willing to vote for him. They weren't. Ohio Republican George Voinovich said he'd vote no if he were forced to take a stand; Rhode Island Republican Lincoln Chafee said he was on the fence and that Republican support for Bolton was eroding; and Republican Chuck Hagel seemed to be saying that he'd vote for Bolton in committee but maybe not on the Senate floor. In the end, the committee voted unanimously -- which is to say, with the support all 10 Republicans -- to table Bolton's nomination for three weeks.

So who's to blame for the delay? The Democrats, of course.

At his daily press briefing Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan was asked if the Bolton nomination is dead. "No, absolutely not," he said. "I think what you're seeing is some Democrats on the committee trumping up allegations and making unsubstantiated accusations against someone the President believes will do an outstanding job at the United Nations. "

A reporter reminded McClellan that the man who stalled Bolton's nomination Wednesday ran for the U.S. Senate with an "R" next to his name, but the president's spokesman would not be thrown off message. " Let's talk about what occurred here," he said. "Senate Democrats on the committee continue to bring up these allegations that are unsubstantiated, that are unfounded, that John Bolton has addressed in his testimony, in more than eight hours of testimony before the committee, that he's addressed in written responses to follow-up questions, as well. And I think what you're seeing is the ugly side of Washington, D.C., that people are playing politics with his nomination."

Would "those people" include Voinovich? McClellan said that he understood that the Ohio Republican -- did we mention that he's a Republican? -- wasn't at the committee hearing at which Bolton testified. "We are more than happy to answer any questions that he has," McClellan said, "and we are in touch with him about those matters."

We're sure they are. But just because the White House is putting the hard sell on Voinovich and other Republicans, that doesn't mean that it's too soon to talk about Plan B if Bolton ultimately goes down. The Wall Street Journal's James Taranto -- although he's behind Bolton 1000 percent, of course -- has floated his idea for a fall-back nominee: former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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