President Bush yesterday persuaded Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to reverse course and push for another floor vote on John R. Bolton, the president’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
“The president made it very clear that he expects an up-or-down vote,” Mr. Frist told reporters in the White House driveway after he and other Republican senators met with Mr. Bush over lunch. “He asked that we continue to work. And we’ll continue to work.”
It was an abrupt reversal for the Tennessee Republican, who said an hour earlier that he would not schedule a third floor vote on Mr. Bolton. Democrats had blocked a vote with filibusters Monday and on May 26.
“That’s been exhausted,” Mr. Frist assured reporters before lunch. “Bringing up another vote’s not going to change anything.”
But Mr. Frist changed his mind after meeting with the president, who made clear he wants Republican leaders to continue negotiating with Democrats.
“It’s not dead,” Mr. Frist said after lunch. “It is going to require some continued talking and discussion.”
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said there was no talk of withdrawing Mr. Bolton’s nomination. He left open the prospect that the president could make a recess appointment, but not before the Senate tries again for an up-or-down vote on Mr. Bolton.
“There are some Democrats that have turned away from the Democratic leadership and said he deserves an up-or-down vote,” Mr. McClellan said. “And it’s not that many more that is required to move forward on this nomination.”
Republicans would have to gain the support of three Democrats in addition to the three who voted Monday with all but one of the Senate’s 55 Republicans. That would give Mr. Bolton the 60 votes necessary to stop debate on the nomination, clearing the way for an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor.
Although Mr. Bolton would clearly garner the simple majority of 51 votes needed for confirmation, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid vowed to keep the threshold at 60 votes through additional filibusters. He predicted that a sufficient number of Democrats will continue to stand firm in opposition to Mr. Bolton.
“Senator Frist shouldn’t have had the first vote on Bolton,” the Nevada Democrat told reporters. “He shouldn’t have had the second vote on Bolton. So there’s certainly no reason for him to have a third vote, because it’d turn out the same. He keeps losing ground.”
Phil Singer, communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, mocked Mr. Frist’s “proclivity for flip-flopping” and questioned whether he was truly in “charge of the Senate.” He added that Mr. Frist “presumably got taken to the woodshed when he went to the White House for lunch.”
Democrats say they merely want the administration to turn over names from foreign communications intercepts to see whether Mr. Bolton tried to bully intelligence analysts.
State Department spokesman J. Adam Ereli said Democrats are using “ever-changing requests for information” as an excuse to prevent an up-or-down vote.
“We think, frankly, that there’s enough information out there to make a decision,” he said. “All the additional requests for information are ways to avoid a vote.”