- The Washington Times - Friday, September 8, 2006

Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee dodged a tough vote yesterday when the Foreign Relations Committee postponed consideration of the confirmation of U.N. Ambassador John R. Bolton.

Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar said there was a “Republican request” to remove the nomination from the day’s agenda.

Mr. Lugar, Indiana Republican, wouldn’t identify the person, but several senators assume the request came from Mr. Chafee, a moderate who will battle a conservative in Rhode Island’s Republican primary election Tuesday. If he clears that hurdle, he will face a Democrat in one of the hottest races in the nation.

“I’m told that Senator Chafee was undecided,” said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat and panel member. “He has got a primary on Tuesday, and I’m sure the chairman will want to reschedule after that.”

A “no” vote from Mr. Chafee would help him appear moderate in a November race but would hurt his credentials with conservative Republicans on Tuesday. Political observers say switching votes between the two elections would make him seem like a flip-flopper.

President Bush’s recess appointment of Mr. Bolton last year came after Democrats blocked his confirmation. Unless the Senate confirms him, his tenure will expire in January.

Mr. Chafee, who voted in favor of Mr. Bolton last year after initially holding out, avoided reporters yesterday but has said he remains undecided this time. His Republican opponent, Stephen Laffey, criticized the senator’s indecision and offered his support for Mr. Bolton.

“All the other senators have made up their minds on how to vote except Lincoln Chafee, who, like always, can’t figure out where he stands,” said Mr. Laffey, who called Mr. Bolton “capable and effective.”

Mr. Chafee is the only Republican on the panel who has yet to say whether he will support Mr. Bolton.

He sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday, questioning her on the administration’s Middle East policy.

“As we tackle enormous problems in the region, most notably with Iran and Iraq, I believe we need to be successful in forging alliances,” he wrote. “A critical part of that work is accomplished by our ambassador to the U.N.”

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said he was surprised when Mr. Lugar told him a Republican needed more time.

“Everybody’s assuming who it is, but I don’t know,” Mr. Biden said.

A Lugar spokesman later told the Associated Press that Mr. Chafee asked for the postponement. Mr. Lugar said he felt no time constraints to muscle the nomination through the panel.

All the 10 Republicans on the panel must vote for Mr. Bolton for him to get floor consideration. Democrats are mostly opposed to the nomination and are considering another filibuster.

A spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee accused Mr. Chafee of “riding the fence.”

“He’s a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and has had months to figure out where he stands,” said spokesman Phil Singer.

A Rhode Island poll conducted by Zogby before the confirmation vote last year showed that 80 percent of voters opposed Mr. Bolton’s nomination.

Polls on the Senate race have been inconsistent, with some showing the senator with a large primary lead and others showing Mr. Laffey with the advantage.

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