Friday, June 17, 2005

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist set a vote for Monday to try to break a filibuster on President Bush’s nominee to be ambassador to the United Nations, announcing yesterday that Republicans and Democrats have had “constructive” talks to end the impasse.

But Democrats said they are as united against approving the nomination of John R. Bolton as ever, making a second failed vote likely.

“I haven’t seen a drop of weakening in our caucus. In fact, if anything, feelings have gotten stronger,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.

Democrats voted to filibuster Mr. Bolton three weeks ago, citing the administration’s failure to turn over two pieces of information: drafts of Mr. Bolton’s congressional testimony on Syria’s weapons program and a list of names mentioned in foreign communications intercepts that Democrats fear Mr. Bolton requested in order to try to intimidate intelligence analysts.

At the time, Mr. Frist, Tennessee Republican, made a parliamentary move to allow for a revote. Yesterday he said that will go forward on Monday.

Since the initial vote, both parties have made offers for how to try to provide some information about the names, but they have been unable to agree.

Yesterday key Democrats met with Mr. Bolton and said the burden still rests with him and the administration.

“Senator Dodd’s message to Mr. Bolton was plain and simple: Mr. Bolton needs to convince Vice President Cheney to provide the information that he and Senator Biden have requested on numerous occasions related to the NSA intercepts and Bolton’s testimony and related materials dealing with Syria-WMD,” said Stacie Paxton, a spokeswoman for Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat.

Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican and chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, submitted a list of seven names he gleaned from Foreign Relations Committee documents and testimony to the director of national intelligence, who reported that none of those names was in the intercepts. But Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee said Mr. Roberts’ list does not satisfy them.

Mr. Dodd did say, though, that it sets a precedent that it is OK to talk about names, which means the administration should answer for all 36 names.

Mr. Frist had said earlier this week he would call a vote by today. Yesterday he said that wouldn’t happen because of the constructive talks that have occurred.

Afterward, Mr. Frist would not elaborate on what he meant by “constructive” or what had changed since the issue appeared at an impasse, saying he didn’t “want to give away my secrets.”

He did not answer when asked if he could break the filibuster.

Democrats say the issue now has gone beyond Mr. Bolton to become an issue of separation of powers and the institutional responsibilities of the Senate.

Mr. Schumer put Mr. Bolton into the context of judicial filibusters, saying the blockade of Mr. Bolton is over similar grounds to that against Miguel Estrada, the president’s judicial nominee that Democrats first filibustered.

“You may remember, the whole filibuster on Senate judges started when Mr. Estrada wouldn’t give information, and the caucus was very united,” Mr. Schumer said.

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