Friday, May 6, 2005

Sen. George V. Voinovich, who two weeks ago shocked the Bush administration by suddenly delaying a vote on the nomination of John R. Bolton to United Nations ambassador, has not heeded White House calls to privately question the nominee about his concerns.

“We have offered to have John Bolton sit down with Senator Voinovich,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. “[Mr. Bolton] would look forward to having the opportunity to sit down with the senator.”

The Ohio Republican is currently visiting Slovenia until tomorrow, and with the Senate in recess until next week, that limits the senator’s availability to meet with Mr. Bolton before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s May 12 vote on the nominee.

Voinovich spokeswoman Marcie Ridgway said the senator took a notebook with information on Mr. Bolton with him to Slovenia, but in conversations with Mr. Voinovich, “the Bolton nomination has not come up while he’s been there.”

Mr. Voinovich single-handedly stopped what was expected to be a tight but decisive vote in favor of Mr. Bolton on April 20 when Democratic criticisms about the nominee’s alleged abusive management style surfaced.

At the time he delayed the vote, Mr. Voinovich said he didn’t “feel comfortable” supporting Mr. Bolton, apologized for missing parts of the hearing where complaints about the nominee were aired and requested more information.

Mr. Voinovich is “very thankful” that the White House offered to set up a face-to-face meeting, but the senator “had a full schedule” last week, Miss Ridgway said. The spokeswoman would neither confirm nor deny that the two men have met.

“If the senator had sat down with him, he wouldn’t tell you anyway,” she said.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Tuesday, however, that he was “not aware of such a meeting” between the two men. “I think a week or so ago there were rumors that [Mr. Bolton] had been on the Hill seeing Senator Voinovich, but it turned out he was seeing somebody else,” Mr. Boucher said.

Since Mr. Voinovich’s surprise move, White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. has met with the senator, who has given no indication of how he might vote when the committee reconvenes on May 12.

“We will remain in contact with the senators as needed to address any outstanding issues that may be on their minds,” Mr. McClellan said. “But the bottom line is that John Bolton has addressed these issues through his testimony and through his written responses.”

The White House has stepped up its effort to get Mr. Bolton through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee since Mr. Voinovich stopped the vote — an action that stunned the Bush administration and led many Republican staffers on Capitol Hill to grumble that the White House has bungled the nomination.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican who sits on the committee and is often out-of-step with Bush administration priorities, said Sunday he is also not sure if he will vote for Mr. Bolton. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, told the Fairbanks News-Miner that she has heard nothing to affect her support for Mr. Bolton, and Sen. George Allen, a Virginia Republican who sits on the committee, predicted Mr. Bolton would eventually be confirmed.

One senior Republican Senate aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said many on Capitol Hill think the White House erred in not doing enough legwork with senators to determine any problems with Mr. Bolton.

“I don’t know who’s saying that,” White House spokesman Trent Duffy said. “I don’t think that’s right. I know for a fact that the White House legislative affairs team arranged for John Bolton to meet with senators. That’s standard operating procedure.”

Sources close to the White House, however, say privately that if Mr. Voinovich had any problems with Mr. Bolton, he didn’t bring it up when they met face-to-face before the hearings and are miffed that he has been so susceptible to Democratic pressure.

Democrats on the committee have presented testimony from former underlings of Mr. Bolton at the State Department who charge that he was verbally abusive toward subordinates.

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