Could it be that John Bolton is about to go down?
Something amazing happened at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this afternoon. In nearly 30 years of watching Congress, off and on, I can't remember anything quite like it.
Bolton, the most dreadfully ill-qualified candidate ever to be nominated as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has nonetheless been an odds-on favorite to be confirmed because the committee enjoys a Republican majority and because George W. Bush's White House has a knack for iron party discipline.
But that majority is only 10-8, and it's been the Democrats' hope to turn just one of those Republicans. That would turn the vote to a 9-9 tie, which would prevent the nomination from going to the floor (where, given the Republicans' vaster majority, he would win easily).
The Democrats and assorted lobbyists have been working on two of the panel's fairly moderate Republicans, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. But in recent days, both have said they were leaning toward voting in Bolton's favor. It seemed all over.
A vote was scheduled for this afternoon. The panel's Democrats advanced some delaying maneuvers. The Republican chairman, Richard Lugar of Indiana, swiftly put them down. The vote looked imminent.
Then, at about 4:30 p.m., out of nowhere, George Voinovich, a Republican from Ohio, said that he hasn't attended any of the hearings on Bolton (he claimed to be busy with something or other) but, based on charges that he had just heard today, he would not "feel comfortable" voting Bolton out of committee.
The audio on C-SPAN 2 isn't so great, but the room seemed to go quiet for a few seconds, then to erupt with buzz. Chafee nervously asked if Lugar still intended to stage a vote, given what Voinovich had just said. Sure, Lugar replied, let's vote. The Republican half of the room started shaking its collective head. Hagel had intoned, a few minutes earlier, that he'd vote for Bolton in committee but might not on the floor (as if that matters, given the Republicans' healthy margin there). Now he shifted. At the start of the session, Sen. Christopher Dodd, D–Conn., had suggested postponing the vote in order to investigate a recent spate of allegations about Bolton. That was when Dodd's side looked like it was about to lose; Lugar shut the motion down. But now Hagel and a few other Republicans said, ahem, maybe we need to take some time and look into these matters after all.
Lugar and Joseph Biden of Delaware, the committee's ranking Democrat, reached an accord. The Democratic and Republican staff members, working together, will investigate the new charges, calling more witnesses for interviews. The senators will go on recess. When they come back, they'll look at the probe's results. Maybe they'll call Bolton back for another hearing, perhaps to defend himself. Then they'll vote. In short, the vote is delayed by at least a couple of weeks. Meeting adjourned.
The White House now faces a question: Is it time to pull the rug out from under this nuisance named John Bolton? Bush is usually, by nature, opposed to giving in under this sort of pressure. Here, though, he may have no choice.