John Bolton, or Bush's bad bet

By using a recess appointment to name his U.N. ambassador, the president created the problem he faces today.


Tim Grieve
December 5, 2006 12:00AM (UTC)

George W. Bush is complaining that when it comes to the resignation of John Bolton as the U.S. ambassador the United Nations, "stubborn obstructionism" from "a handful of senators" will "disrupt our diplomatic work at a sensitive and important time."

Let's unpack this one before it becomes conventional wisdom.

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On Nov. 22, 2004, John Danforth sent Bush a letter in which he announced that he'd be resigning as U.N. ambassador in January 2005. The president could have avoided the "disruption" he laments today if he had moved quickly then to nominate a replacement who would have had bipartisan support in the Senate. Instead, Bush did nothing for nearly four months and then nominated Bolton, a man virtually guaranteed to draw opposition from Senate Democrats.

Bush had a second chance to avoid the "disruption" in May 2005, when he could have responded to the Democrats' successful effort to block a vote on Bolton's nomination by nominating someone else. He didn't. Bush had a third chance to avoid the "disruption" in June 2005, when he could have thrown in the towel on Bolton after Democrats, this time joined by Republican Sen. George Voinovich, blocked a vote on Bolton's confirmation again. Instead, Bush waited until the Senate left for its summer recess, then named Bolton to the U.N. post by way of a recess appointment in August 2005.

By law, that recess appointment must end when this Congress adjourns. Thus, when Bush handed Bolton a recess appointment in August 2005, he knew full well that, come the end of 2006, the country would be facing uncertainty, again, over who would represent it at the United Nations. Maybe Bush thought -- all evidence to the contrary -- that enough senators would change their minds about Bolton that he could be confirmed to a "permanent" job at the United Nations after his recess appointment expired. But that's a risk Bush took when he made use of his recess-appointment power in August 2005. Having gambled and lost, he doesn't have a lot of right to argue now that someone else is to blame for his bad bet.

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Tim Grieve

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

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