When the Senate blocked the confirmation of John Bolton as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations last year, George W. Bush put him in the job anyway with a recess appointment. Those appointments last for only a year, however. Bolton's time is now up, and the Senate seems ready to block his confirmation again.
What will Bush do?
Now, you might think that a man who can't get confirmed for a job that requires Senate confirmation would -- well, he wouldn't get the job, right? But for the Bush White House, it seems that the lack of the constitutionally required Senate confirmation may be seen as just a temporary roadblock to the "my way or the highway" plan.
As the Washington Post reports this morning, Bolton won't make it out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unless he can pick up a yes vote from Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee, who has said he'll vote no unless he gets answers to questions about the Middle East that he has put to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The Republican leadership went all-out in helping Chafee fight off a challenge from the right in this week's Rhode Island Republican primary, and the Post says it will be looking for "payback" from the senator now. But Chafee is looking for votes from Democrats and independents in the November election, and he knows that standing up to Bush on Bolton may be his last chance to make himself palatable to voters in a state where the president's approval rating is just 22 percent.
So what happens if Chafee doesn't budge and the Foreign Relations Committee remains stuck at 9-9? Bush could give Bolton another recess appointment, but the Post says that under the "common interpretation of federal law," Bolton couldn't be paid for his second round of service. And even if Bolton is willing to work as a volunteer ambassador, federal law would probably prohibit him from doing so. Bush could follow a precedent set by Bill Clinton, appointing Bolton to a lower post and then naming him "acting" ambassador. But under current law, the Post says, the "acting" gig can't last more than 210 days.
Just in case you're counting, Bush has 858 days left in office.
Brookings' Paul Light says that Bolton ultimately may have no choice but to "go home." We say: Don't count on it. George W. Bush isn't big on going quietly into the night, and Bill Frist is still pushing hard for a Senate breakthrough -- blaming Democrats, not Chafee -- with his very own "Blogging for Bolton" Web site.