The Senate yesterday failed to break a Democrat-led filibuster against President Bush’s nominee for ambassador to the United Nations, leaving John R. Bolton at an impasse and setting up the possibility of a recess appointment.
The vote was 54-38, six votes shy of the total needed to end a filibuster and force an up-or-down vote on Mr. Bolton, and both sides said they do not see an end to the impasse.
“The administration has filibustered their own nominee,” said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat.
Democrats said the issue is no longer Mr. Bolton, but an institutional fight with the administration over access to names from foreign communications intercepts, which Democrats want to see to determine whether Mr. Bolton was trying to bully analysts. Democrats said that as long as the information and materials on a speech on Syria’s weapons program are not provided, they will block Mr. Bolton.
But Republicans said the continuing Democratic demands for more documents prove that they are not interested in the information but in finding an excuse to block Mr. Bolton.
“As far as I’m concerned, there is no intercept problem,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican and chairman of the Senate intelligence committee. “You could have 36 names or 136, and they’re not going to appear on those intercepts.”
Democrats first voted to block Mr. Bolton’s nomination May 26, and Mr. Bolton has lost support since then. Republican George V. Voinovich, who in May voted against the filibuster, yesterday voted along with most Democrats in support of the filibuster.
“Since the last cloture vote, I have gotten a great deal of additional information on John Bolton’s qualifications,” the senator from Ohio said.
He was the only Republican in favor of the filibuster, while three Democrats opposed it both yesterday and on May 26 — Sens. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.
With the July Fourth recess approaching, Mr. Bush might make a recess appointment, which would avoid the need for Senate confirmation but would limit Mr. Bolton to serving only through the end of 2006, when the recess appointment would expire.
Asked about that possibility, Mr. Bush did not answer directly, instead telling reporters before the vote, “I think Mr. Bolton ought to get an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. That’s my call to the Senate.”
Some Republican senators said they want Mr. Bush to make a recess appointment.
“I hope he will,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican.
Sen. Tom Coburn said Mr. Bolton is an appointment worth taking that stand.
“He’s exactly what we need, so do whatever we’ve got to do to get him there,” the Oklahoma Republican said.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said that decision is up to the White House.
But he said he won’t bring Mr. Bolton up for another vote “unless the goal posts stop shifting.”
Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, said a chance remains that some Democrats such as Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who supported Mr. Bolton for undersecretary of state in 2001, will turn against the filibuster.
“Why should we have to fall back when you have a majority of senators for him?” Mr. Allen said.
Mr. Roberts said Mr. Bolton could be damaged in the eyes of the United Nations if Mr. Bush is forced to make a recess appointment.
Mr. Dodd agreed, but said that’s a reason for Mr. Bush to withdraw the nominee.
“We need someone at the U.N., but we need a good strong person who can be credible with our allies and with those who don’t share our views around the world. That individual is not John Bolton,” he said.
Mr. Bush has used his recess powers in a similar situation, naming two judges in 2004 to federal appeals courts after they had been blocked by Democrats in filibusters — Charles W. Pickering on Jan. 16 and William H. Pryor on Feb. 20.
Mr. Pickering was not renominated to his position, but Mr. Pryor was recently confirmed by the Senate as part of the bipartisan group’s deal to avoid a showdown over filibuster rules.