Thursday, April 21, 2005

President Bush yesterday accused the Senate of playing “politics” by delaying the confirmation of John R. Bolton, an unapologetic conservative, to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

“Sometimes, politics gets in the way of doing the people’s business,” Mr. Bush told an audience at the Grand Hyatt Washington hotel. “Take John Bolton — he’s a good man I nominated to represent our country at the United Nations.

“John’s distinguished career and service to our nation demonstrates that he is the right man at the right time for this important assignment,” he added, drawing applause from a gathering of insurance executives. “I urge the Senate to put aside politics and confirm John Bolton to the United Nations.”

The broadside marked an escalation in the White House defense of Mr. Bolton, who has come under withering attack by liberal Democrats and has given pause to a small number of moderate Republicans. One of them, Sen. George V. Voinovich of Ohio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, put Mr. Bolton in political limbo on Tuesday by refusing to send his nomination to the full Senate for a vote.

Yesterday, a conservative advocacy group known as Move America Forward began airing an ad on Ohio radio stations that criticizes Mr. Voinovich for putting the nomination on hold.

“We’re going to hold Senator Voinovich’s feet to the fire,” vowed Move America Forward co-chairman Melanie Morgan. “If he thought he needed to be sensitive to the pressure from liberal Senators Barbara Boxer and John Kerry, then we think he should also be responsive to those Ohioans who want to see a strong advocate for U.S. interests at the U.N.”

Mr. Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who lost last year’s presidential election to Mr. Bush, yesterday called for more time to investigate accusations that Mr. Bolton has been abusive to subordinates.

“That is a serious problem — it’s not politics,” Mr. Kerry said on the Senate floor in response to the president’s defense of Mr. Bolton.

Mr. Kerry also said it would be “a serious problem” to confirm Mr. Bolton, despite “proof that there is in fact a retribution system for not providing the intelligence according to what that person wanted.”

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan bristled at such remarks.

“These are unsubstantiated accusations that Senate Democrats continue to bring up,” he said. “This is the ugly side of Washington, D.C., that we see from time to time.”

In an effort to salvage the Bolton nomination, White House officials are lobbying Mr. Voinovich and other moderate Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island.

“We’re continuing to have discussions with members of the committee who have questions,” Mr. McClellan said. “And we will make sure that their questions are addressed.”

He added: “We’re confident that he’s going to be confirmed. We want to see him confirmed as quickly as possible.”

As for the accusations that Mr. Bolton was abusive to subordinates, the White House made clear Mr. Bush does not believe them.

“John Bolton is someone who has a long record of getting things done, and sometimes that’s going to make people mad when you are someone who gets things done,” Mr. McClellan explained. “But the president believes he’s exactly the person we need at the United Nations.”

Mr. Bush’s unprompted defense of Mr. Bolton stood in contrast to his more measured defense of embattled House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, who is accused of ethical lapses. For the most part, the president has delegated the White House defense of Mr. DeLay to subordinates such as Mr. McClellan and political strategist Karl Rove.

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