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May 27, 2005

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As I understand it, the reason to block it at this stage isn't about Bolton per so; it's about the fact that the White House has failed to provide information the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has been requesting for months, thereby preventing the Senate from exercising its right to advise and consent. See here. From Biden and Dodd's letter (at previous link):

"For more than a month, we have been requesting two types of information from the Executive Branch. First, materials related to the preparation of congressional testimony on Syria and weapons of mass destruction that Mr. Bolton planned to give in July 2003 and ultimately gave that September. We think this will show Mr. Bolton's continued effort to exaggerate intelligence information. It may also show that he misled the Foreign Relations Committee when he told us that he was not personally involved in the preparation of the testimony. Second, information related to National Security Agency intercepts and the identity of U.S. persons on those intercepts. (...)

In refusing to provide the information about the Syria testimony, the State Department has asserted that it does not believe that the request is "specifically tied to the issues being deliberated by the Committee." In other words, the Executive Branch is deciding what it thinks is relevant to the Senate's review. That's unacceptable. In the case of the NSA intercepts, no one in the Executive Branch has even tried to explain why the chairman and ranking member of the Intelligence and Foreign Relations committees are not allowed to see information that was made available to Mr. Bolton and even to his staff. That, too, is unacceptable.

The refusal of the Executive Branch to provide information relevant to the nomination is a threat to the Senate's constitutional power to advise and consent. The only way to protect that power is to continue to demand that the information be provided to the Senate. The only means of forcing the Administration to cooperate is to prevent a final vote on the nomination today. We urge to you vote no on cloture."

"The reason he is going to be at Turtle Bay rather than the 7th Floor is because of his alleged insubordination, his aggressive reading of intelligence, his occasional undiplomatic behavior. He's being punished, in other words, to a fashion."

He's not being punished enough if the reaction to his politicizing intellingence (_not_ merely aggressive reading) is that he has any job anywhere in the Government. My reaction to him is similar to my reaction to Elliott Abrams and John Poindexter: their actions show that they do not understand the concept of separation of powers and checks and balances to such a degree that they should never be trusted with any position in government again. The fact that the Bush Administration disagrees is telling about its views on the relationship between the various branches of government.

From Biden and Dodd's letter (at previous link):

I understand, Hilzoy, but I just don't see what could possibly come out of it that would derail Bolton's nomination at this point. There have been too many misfires from the "get Bolton" camp; I just don't expect that this is likely to be the smoking gun. And I'm starting to fear that defeating Bolton (and therefore continuing to be without a UN rep) is worse than the alternative.

"...but I just don't see what could possibly come out of it that would derail Bolton's nomination at this point."

But that's missing the point they're now arguing, von; you can say it's not a point worth making, that the Senate should just defer to the White House on what it has a right to know, but that's not a point you've yet argued. It's not about Bolton at this stage, it's about the Executive withholding information it shouldn't. Which is a separable kettle of worms.

"Do I still think he'll be ineffective? Yeah, I do"

Then, I don't get it. I would be ineffective, too, but you haven't called for my nomination and the last time I checked my phone messages the White House has not fallen back on me.

George Steinbrenner apparently feels I would be ineffective playing center field for the Yankees, too, but I think I should anyway. Do you have any sway there?

Von, you should be the nominee. I think you might be effective.

What is it about this White House? Is their effort to place their thumb in everyone's eye so delicate and so precious to them that they can't at least switch thumbs without feeling like it's a compromise.

This is a personality problem with the head guy, GWB. Somewhere along the line, he took it all personally.
I suspect he thought the teacher in his 7th grade French class was an elitist because she made the class speak French.

These people are children. Nominate someone else.

I finally realized who it is that John Bolton reminds me of. It's not just the moustache -- it's the attitude.

Nor will I join Djerejian in endorsing Bolton. [...] Bolton should receive an up or down vote at the Senate's next earliest convenience -- and he should be confirmed.

Your protests nonwithstanding, von, the bolded part sure sounds like an endorsement to me. A baffling one, given all the problems you highlight.

I can understand calling for the Senate to get on with voting on him already. I disagree, because as noted upthread, right now it's a separation-of-powers issue where the WH is deliberately refusing to release information that was requested a long time ago--the only reason this is now being dragged out is because the WH has been obstructing the Senate.

But regardless, a call to vote does not equal a requirement to confirm. If Bolton is truly as unqualified and flawed as you acknowledge, then Senators should vote their conscience and refuse to confirm him on his merits.

He'd probably be more effective as a UN opponent outside than inside. Making his appointment lose-lose.

In any event, I think it's a real mistake to say that a guy who gets 56 votes for cloture is going to get 56 for confirmation. Second, I think that the constitutional point is worth arguing. The SFRC has asked for specific germane information, and the Admin won't give it. I can't tell whether they're trying to hide something, or are making their own constitutional point, but I think if the latter, the Senate minority has the better of it. (And if the former, they ought to pony up).

It's not about Bolton at this stage, it's about the Executive withholding information it shouldn't. Which is a separable kettle of worms.

Not entirely, Gary. The question of whether it's important to force the Executive to disgorge allegedly "irrelevant" information is directly tied up with the issue to which that information is related.

Then, I don't get it. I would be ineffective, too, but you haven't called for my nomination and the last time I checked my phone messages the White House has not fallen back on me.

Point take; it's a wishy-washy post. A non-non-endorsement of not nominating Bolton. But it's my view, at the moment. There are more important issues to debate; time to let Bolton go and try to beat the odds.

Maybe the requested information is irrelevant, maybe not. But in view of this president's largely successful drive to consolidate power in the White House, at the expense of all other branches of government, isn't the real question just this: who gets to make the call about relevancy? Shouldn't it be the "Senate" (or at least the membership of the relevant committees)?

Your protests nonwithstanding, von, the bolded part sure sounds like an endorsement to me.

I'm sticking with the descriptor "non-non-endorsement of not nominating Bolton."

In any event, I think it's a real mistake to say that a guy who gets 56 votes for cloture is going to get 56 for confirmation.

I agree, CharlieCarp. (Hope you're taking the weekend off.)

Second, I think that the constitutional point is worth arguing. The SFRC has asked for specific germane information, and the Admin won't give it.

The Constitutional point is only worth arguing if the information is likely to be important. To turn to something I know more about: Lawyers take aggressive positions in discovery all the time. Sometimes, the position is demonstrably wrong. But that doesn't necessarily mean that a motion to compel would be a worthwhile use of money or time; it depends on importance of the information sought.

The Constitutional point is only worth arguing if the information is likely to be important.

Gotta disagree here. The point is worth arguing because of its precedential potential: is the Senate entitled to the information at issue, or is it not?

To turn to something I know more about: Lawyers take aggressive positions in discovery all the time. Sometimes, the position is demonstrably wrong. But that doesn't necessarily mean that a motion to compel would be a worthwhile use of money or time; it depends on importance of the information sought.

Yes, but they're not creating precedents for future cases. "You didn't file a motion to compel in that other case, counsel, so why do you think you can file one now?"

I suspect that politically, the Dems have the losing hand here. Especially after the compromise, this filibuster makes them seem obstructionist. Anyway, I've seen plenty of decent reasons why Bolton should be voted down, but no compelling reason why he should be filibustered -- if the majority of the Senate doesn't care about the WH's withholding information in this case, then so be it.

The information sought is clearly not irrelevant, or Sen. Lugar would not have made it a joint request (from him and Biden, the ranking minority member). If the Senators cave on administration stonewalling of necessary, relevant information in this case, good luck getting zip out of BushCo for the next three years.

That's not just some small principle, but a fundamental question of the balance of powers -- whether Republicans want to fight for it or not. I am daily losing respect for the so-called moderates among the GOP.

KenB, Bolton is not being filibustered. It is completely reasonable to decline to vote on his nomination until the administration releases information requested by the chairman of the committee. No one knows whether the information in those NSA intercepts will torpedo Bolton's confirmation or not, and at this point that's not the issue.

Accepting the monarchical approach to this nomination guarantees that the administration will run roughshod over the Senate from here on out. Accepting the stonewall would be a terrible precedent. Dems are happy to allow a vote once the information is provided.

Von, Senator Lugar is the Republican chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. He is not a trial lawyer aggressively fishing during discovery. He would not have made the request to the NSA and State Department if the information sought were not relevant to the confirmation decision.

That he chooses not to fight the administration at this point has a lot to do with internal intimidation and reluctance to rile the WH further.

All: Don't take the anology to litigation too seriously. All I'm pointing out is that not every battle is worth fight, and failing to fight a particular (discretionary) battle only becomes a precedent if it's repeated. (FWIW, failing to file motion to compel in litigation X has absolutely no effect in litigation Y.)

KenB, Bolton is not being filibustered

I understand what you mean by this, but yes, he is. "Filibuster" is defined as a delaying tactic -- it doesn't necessarily have to have the withdrawal of the nominee or legislation as its ultimate object. And even Reid is referring to this as a filibuster.

Anyway, I'll repeat my point: IMO it's not up to the minority to defend a Senate right that the majority is happy to waive; and the potential negative consequences of allowing the nomination to move forward don't seem to be worth the negative political consequences of continuing to block it.

"IMO it's not up to the minority to defend a Senate right that the majority is happy to waive;"

But that's not the case here. Lugar is the majority chair, not the minority senior member. He speaks for the majority, and he's demanding the documents.

He speaks for the majority, and he's demanding the documents.

Sure, but he also voted for cloture. It's the Democrats alone who are preventing the nomination from moving forward.

I agree that Bolton would be a total disaster in NY, but it seems that the Bush Administration has made it so anyone there would be utterly irrelevent and distrusted. The good thing about Bolton is that he is so obviously unqualified for this role and so undiplomatic that no one will think that others are being petty when they ignore what America wants from the UN for the rest of Bush's term. If Bush wants to foolishly flip the bird at the UN, that is his prerogative, but I don't understand it, nor do I support it.

Bush has made a number of questionable appointments, as if he can no longer get A-team Republicans to join his administration. I doubt it will get better.

Sure, but he also voted for cloture. It's the Democrats alone who are preventing the nomination from moving forward.

ISTR Frist voted against cloture; does this make him a Democrat?

But that doesn't necessarily mean that a motion to compel would be a worthwhile use of money or time; it depends on importance of the information sought.

It also depends on whether a precedent is being set.

I'll be working all weekend, von, I'm sorry to say. Discovery issues in the Pribilof Islands and Rubber Antidegradent 337 cases, hearing next week on cross-motions for SJ in the Jacksonville Apartment Building case. Deps and preps in the Oral Subcontract case. And some fun: briefing a First Amendment retaliation claim from a laid off employee of a unit of the Virgin Islands government.

Well, von, it's hard to read such an unambiguous statement as this:

"Bolton should receive an up or down vote at the Senate's next earliest convenience -- and he should be confirmed."

and not interpret it as an "endorsement" of John Bolton's appointment as out next UN Ambassador - and really, re-framing it as a "non-non-endorsement" doesn't help much. Since you have, as your previous posts indicate, expressed an opinion that Mr. Bolton should not occupy that position, I am wondering how you reconcile the inconsistencies [and, fwiw, I agree with your position that the Senate vote should come a.s.a.p - although (given my own antipathy towards the idea of nominating this unsuitable character as UN Ambassador) - I disagree with your conclusions].


ISTR Frist voted against cloture; does this make him a Democrat?

No, he's way too unprincipled to be a Democrat. :P

Actually I almost mentioned that exception, but I decided it was unnecessary detail. From CNN:

Frist actually voted with Democrats against cutting off debate in a parliamentary move that allowed him to call for the vote to be reconsidered. A senator can ask for cloture to be reconsidered, but only if they are on the winning side of the vote.

My view of it was more that the Senate needs to re-assert their position in regard the Executive branch. If the White House can ignore requests that are under the purview of Senate's authority and the Senate accepts that behaviour then really why have the Senate's input at all into confirmation. Just let the king...I mean president choose his team and annoint them himself.
National Security will obviously not be breached to expose information to Lugar and Biden that has already been exposed to a foriegn agent, Freedman.

"BIDEN: With the doctrine of separation of powers, it's within our power, and ours alone, to decide what we think is relevant to our deliberations in the exercise of our responsibility. With due respect, Mr. Chairman, I think we're making a big mistake by not insisting this information come forward. And I might state for the record, I don't think the information requested is going to shed much light on anything. My guess is -- I've gone out and asked former Republican, present Republican, former Democrat, administration officials, Is this unusual to ask for this information? And the answer I got was, No. It's not that unusual. I think this is a matter of principle. Mr. President, I realize you're in a difficult position. I've been there. For 17 years I was the chairman and ranking member of the Judiciary Committee. I remember a president named Clinton contacting me through his staff and directly. He wanted to have a woman named Zoe Baird to be attorney general. It was his first appointment. He needed it badly. Politically it was devastating to lose. I knew what my party would think about me. But I insisted that all relevant information be made available, even though they argued that it is not relevant to the inquiry. And I made it clear to the president: We will not go forward. And we defeated -- not an act I loved doing -- the first major appointee after secretary of state. We defeated in the Committee Judiciary, the attorney general of the United States of America, headed by a Democrat and a majority Democrats. Then along came a woman named Zoe Baird, and I asked for other -- excuse me, Kimba Wood. And we jointly, Republicans and Democrats, said we insist on information relating to not only her but her husband, as it related to an accusation. The administration pled, Do not do this. And, adding insult to injury, a senior Democrat was the guy who defeated the second nominee of a first-term president. That's our constitutional responsibility. Whether or not it causes a defeat or not is not relevant. The relevant point is, no administration, Democrat or Republican, has the right to tell me or this committee or any other committee what is relevant."

Look, I don't much care about Bolton or care much about the UN...I can remember Shirley Temple doing a pretty good job.

But whether I am crazy or just wrong, I firmly believe Bush is going to initiate a major new military action this summer. Probably against Iran. This will result in a very difficult diplomatic crisis, or worse.

Now my first preference would be to impeach the dude, even at the start of WWIII. But I am not going to get that. So then I ask if I want Bush, during this high-stakes cofrontation, to have someone at the UN he is confidence in. There may be 3-4 such people available, and the rest might be worse than Bolton.

Confirm him immediately.

The delay is about the Bush administration's well documented obsession with secret government. There is no filibuster per se against Bolton, but a refusal to proceed while being stonewalled.

The Republican meme about "obstructionist" Dems is right up there with the lie that Dems invented the phrase "nuclear option."

But whether I am crazy or just wrong, I firmly believe Bush is going to initiate a major new military action this summer. Probably against Iran.

A new military action? I'm skeptical*.

1) Like we used to say back in the day, "with Bush and what army?"

2) Summer is almost here, and as we learned in 2002-2003, the marketing push for these things requires lots of leadtime. They haven't even put up a face of tyranny for us to hate yet.

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*Then again, who knows? I was skeptical about attacking Iraq, too, right up until Shock and Awe.

"I can remember Shirley Temple doing a pretty good job."

I bet she was a better dancer than John Bolton is.

2) Summer is almost here, and as we learned in 2002-2003, the marketing push for these things requires lots of leadtime. They haven't even put up a face of tyranny for us to hate yet.

Tsk. You never "roll out a new product in August" and, by extension, the summer. Wait until September!

It appears Mr. Bolton will get his vote this week, after all.

Or not; took me a moment to see that story was from Tuesday; sorry.

I don't want Bolton in the UN, because I don't want him representing my country.

I also wonder what's in those NSA intercepts, and what use Bolton made of them. Something really inflammatory, which is why the WH has denied requests from the SFRC and Intelligence Committee to see them? Or is the denial just more of the Bush Admin's stonewalling SOP?

That being said, there would be dark entertainment value if he's confirmed. I, too, suspect Bush is going to push for military action against Iran. It will be very amusing to watch Bolton try to make a case for that. He'll botch it, of course, and in fact I think he's supposed to botch it, so that Bush can announce, "more in sorrow than in anger," that the UN has again failed to recognize a growing/grave/gathering/whatever threat and therefore the US must deal with Iran all alone.

"I, too, suspect Bush is going to push for military action against Iran."

Without denying the possibility, wouldn't allowing them to move ahead towards WTO membership (or perhaps it's clearer to refer to allowing the WTO to move ahead towards Iranian membership) this week be an odd move in that context? Also note significant success in Lebanon without military moves. Lastly, while I'm not clear if you're suggesting Bush is planning something on the nature of threats and raids, or full-scale invastion, but t'were it anything more towards the latter, we'd have to see some considerable differences in strategic and logistical movement, would we not?

Gary, those are good points, and if it were anyone but the Bush Admin I'd take them at face value.

But the Bush Admin has said that military action against Iran is not "off the table." And there was a similar period of maneuvering before the war in Iraq, notably when the WH used the threat of invasion as a goad to get the weapons inspectors back into Iraq. But we know all of that was a pretext: war with Iraq was already decided on, it was going to happen no matter what. The weapons inspectors had to scramble to get *out* of Iraq again, when word came down that the bombing was about to start. The UN speech, the UN votes, the negotiations with Saddam, the weapons inspectors ... were all window dressing.

Also, the Bush Admin has a proven record in failing to follow through on, or outright violating, its own foreign policy promises and initiatives. Bolton was instrumental in a lot of those; notably, in torpedoing the N Korea talks, in neglecting the NPT talks, and in having to be excluded from the Libyan negotiations.

Put together what we know about how the Bush Admin handled the run-up to the Iraq war, with what we know about how it apparently ran a bizarre "real foreign policy" under Bolton in opposition to "official foreign policy" under Powell and Rice. That Rice and Armitage have succeeded in isolating Bolton from the normal policy apparatus only means that he needs another forum in which to make his mischief. It seems Cheney intends for the UN to be that forum.

All of which doesn't give me much faith that the Bush Admin's lifting its objections to Iran entering into the WTO membership process is what it seems. If Bush wants a war with Iran (for whatever reason) then he's going to have a war with Iran.

Anent "Strategic and logistical" concerns: They don't seem to be a priority in war planning these days. Rumsfeld planned for, and got, a catastrophic success in Iraq. ("Catastrophic success" = neologism for "Pyrrhic victory.")

I do think pulling all the active duty troops in Europe to send them to the MidEast would be a red flag no one could ignore. If the Bush Admin is playing another charade, it's going to want to avoid red flags. Some of the likelier scenarios I've seen floating around involve bombing raids - by US or Israeli jets - which would be a fait accompli that necessitates use of ground forces. At that point, maybe all those other soldiers would be pulled from their assigned posts and sent to the ME.

I don't see any of this happening the minute Bolton is seated in the UN. The Iraq war "product rollout" started long before the war. A war with Iran will be a harder sell, because the US lacks a certain crediblity now. But a year's worth of agitprop could do the trick - domestically, at any rate; I don't know if the Bush Admin knows or cares about the international consequences.

Those are all good points Von, but I still think that the biggest knock against him is that he is a clown.

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