President Bush’s nomination of John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations appears increasingly endangered in the Senate, prompting the administration to explore other ways to keep him in the job after his temporary appointment expires in January, officials said yesterday.
“It’s dead as far as the Senate is concerned,” said one Republican official at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where Chafee holds the decisive vote. “Chafee made it a 9 to 9 vote, and that’s not going to change.” A Senate Republican leadership aide added: “Chafee holds Bolton’s future in his hands, and people are very worried he’s going to squeeze and never let go.”
Another failed nomination would be a stinging defeat for Bush, who defied Senate opposition last year and installed Bolton at the United Nations on an interim basis with a recess appointment. That appointment will end in January unless the Senate votes to confirm him before adjourning for the year.
Bush has the power to give Bolton a second recess appointment, but under the common interpretation of federal law, Bolton could not be paid. Even if Bolton were willing to serve as a volunteer ambassador, officials said, the move could run afoul of another federal law that bans full-time employees from working without compensation.
Another possible option might be an appointment as “acting” ambassador. When the confirmation of President Bill Clinton’s nominee for civil rights chief at the Justice Department, Bill Lann Lee, was blocked, Clinton appointed him deputy assistant attorney general, a posting that does not require Senate approval, and then had Lee fill in as “acting assistant attorney general.” Lee spent 2 1/2 years in the post that way, although current law limits acting tenures to 210 days.
Such a move could anger a Senate that zealously guards its prerogatives.
“I don’t think John Bolton has too many options but to go home,” said Paul C. Light, a governance scholar at the Brookings Institution. “At some point, he has to decide whether he has to go.”