The Bush administration yesterday gave a strong endorsement of John R. Bolton, trying to boost the president’s embattled pick to be ambassador to the United Nations in the face of wavering Republican support.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, traveling in Russia, called for his confirmation and said he is the right man, and White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said Democrats were showing “the ugly side of Washington, D.C.” in playing politics with the nomination.
“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,” Mr. McClellan said.
Republicans had expected Tuesday to approve Mr. Bolton on a party-line vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, setting up a vote in the full Senate. Instead, Sen. George V. Voinovich, Ohio Republican and a member of the committee, announced he no longer could support Mr. Bolton, so committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, delayed the vote for three weeks.
Republican Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island also said at the meeting they wanted questions answered. Democrats say the nomination now is in peril.
“He’s damaged goods,” said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat.
He said he expected yesterday’s embrace of Mr. Bolton by administration officials, but that when the president has a few more days to look at the situation he might change his mind.
“My preference would be they withdraw the nomination and give us a different candidate,” Mr. Dodd said.
Democrats have accused Mr. Bolton, currently the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, of showing a pattern of bullying colleagues and lower-level staffers to try to influence them on issues related to intelligence. Those are the questions that are troubling the Republican senators.
State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said the administration was “disappointed” by the delay and rejected complaints by Senate Democrats that the department had not cooperated fully in the confirmation process.
“The fact is that every witness that they’ve asked for we’ve provided,” he said, adding that the department also had turned over all documents Senate investigators sought relating to Mr. Bolton, although some items were held up because they were classified.
He specifically denied press reports that Mr. Bolton as the State Department’s arms control chief had kept information and viewpoints he disagreed with from his superiors. He also denied that Miss Rice had ordered department officials to avoid saying anything damaging to Mr. Bolton’s nomination.
Miss Rice told CNN yesterday she doesn’t think the recent questions about Mr. Bolton should derail his nomination.
“The president deserves to have the person at the United Nations that he thinks best to carry out this job,” she said. “I think we make a mistake if suddenly comments about management style become part of the confirmation process.”
Democrats said Miss Rice is distorting their issue with Mr. Bolton.
“I don’t care how blunt he is, whether he yells and screams at other people. That’s not my issue. My issue is whether or not he tried to have analysts who are collecting intelligence for our country fired because he didn’t like what they were saying,” Mr. Dodd said. “I think he almost ought to be indicted for that, rather than promoted.”
Mr. Voinovich isn’t the Republicans’ only problem.
Mr. Hagel said while he was going to vote to send Mr. Bolton’s nomination to the floor, he reserved the right to vote against confirmation. And Mr. Chafee, who is considered a key vote, walked into Tuesday’s hearing ready to vote for Mr. Bolton. He consistently has said he is “inclined” to do so, but yesterday said he is less certain about it.
“I’d say it still applies,” he said. “I think that the new information and the reservations of my colleague — Senator Voinovich — increasingly wants me to digest information.”
Mr. Voinovich waved off questions from a reporter yesterday afternoon, but other Republicans on the committee said they think he eventually will support the nomination.
“My sense was that if Senator Voinovich, when he gets a chance to review the record, I would hope would be fine,” said Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican.
Mr. McClellan said the White House is in “staff-level discussions” with the Ohio senator.
“We are more than happy to answer any questions that he has, and we are in touch with him about those matters,” the spokesman said.
A Republican with close ties to the White House said President Bush has no intention of letting Mr. Bolton twist in the wind, but at this point does not think that the nomination is in peril.
Joseph Curl contributed to this article.