Thursday, May 12, 2005

Profile in Courage: A Senator votes his conscience on the Bolton nomination.

With the White House all but declaring victory yesterday, and the always wrong Washington punditocracy asserting that the outcome was decided long before the vote, the unthinkable occurred: A United States Senator, at some personal and political price to himself, voted his conscience.

Senator George V. Voinovich, Republican of Ohio, voiced opposition this morning to the nomination of John R. Bolton to be Ambassador to the United Nations. In fairness to the White House, Voinovich declined to prevent the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from forwarding the Bolton nomination to the Senate floor for a vote by the full Senate.

As a result of Voinovich's action, the Senate Foreign Relations committee took the extraordinary step of forwarding Bolton's nomination to the full Senate without a favorable recommendation. Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, the Republican chairman of the SFRC, brokered a deal with Voinovich by which Voinovich wouldn't prevent a vote by the full Senate in exchange for the committee voting Bolton's nomination out of committee without an endorsement.

Besides displaying political courage, Voinovich engaged in some extraordinary gamesmanship as well-- at least that is the spin by Lugar's staff. According to congressional sources, Voinovich never intended in the first place to prevent a vote by the full Senate; the agreement by Lugar to not favorably recommend Bolton in exchange for Voinovich allowing the vote out of committee was something that Voinovich did not even originally intend to ask for from Lugar. Only when Lugar displayed a weak hand did Voinovich ask that the committee not endorse Bolton's nomination.

Other senior congressional sources, who have first-hand knowledge of the private discussions between Lugar and Voinovich, speculate that Lugar himself has privately been lukewarm to Bolton's nomination all along, despite the public displays of affection, and that Lugar was more than willing not only to grant this "concession" in the first place, but may have even suggested it to Voinovich.

(I have attempted to reach spokesmen for both Senators for comment. I will update this post if I obtain comment from either.)

In his remarks during the committee's debate this morning, Voinovich made it clear that he did not want to "impose my judgment" on the full Senate by preventing a vote. He also stated "we owe it to the president to give Bolton an up-or-down vote."

Among other things, Voinovich said that Bolton's conduct as a senior State Department official would have lead him to be "fired if he worked for a private corporation." He also said that Bolton was the "poster child for what someone in the diplomatic corps shouldn't be."

Beyond those sound bites, here is some more of the substance of what Voinovich had to say this morning:

"It was not long ago when American's love of freedom was a force of inspiration to the world and America was admired for its democracy, generosity, and its willingness to help others in need of protection. Today the United States is criticized for what the world calls arrogance, unilateralism and for failing to listen and to seek the support of its friends and allies. There has been a drastic change in the attitude of our friends and allies in such organizations as the United Nations and NATO and in the countries of leaders that we need to rely upon for help...

"If we cannot win over the hearts and minds of the world community and work together... our goals will be more difficult to achieve. Additionally, we will be unable to reduce the burden on our own resources. The most important of those resources are the human resources, the lives of the men and women of our armed forces, who are leaving their families every day to serve their country overseas."

These I believe were the most important words spoken by Voinovich today:

"What message are we sending to the world community when in the same breath we have sought to appoint an ambassador to the United Nations who himself has been accused of being arrogant, or not listening to his friends, of acting unilaterally, of bullying those who do not have the ability to properly defend themselves? These are the very characteristics that we're trying to dispel in the world community."

Even Lugar, the Republican chairman of the SFRC, was not entirely glowing this morning in his remarks in recommending Bolton's confirmation: "Secretary Bolton's actions were not always exemplary," Lugar said, "On several occasions, he made incorrect assumptions about the behavior and motivations of subordinates. At other times, he failed to use proper managerial channels or unnecessarily personalized internal disputes.... But there is no evidence that he has broken laws or engaged in serious ethical misconduct."

So that's all that it now takes to be confirmed as U.N. ambassador? That you have not broken any laws or engaged in serious ethical misconduct? By that standard, I am just as much qualified for the post.. or my cab driver for that matter... or most anyone.

(Update: My father has pointed that it is long overdue that I get regular work-- instead of writing and blogging-- and by Sen. Lugar's standards I do qualify for the U.N. position. Memo to the White House: If things with Bolton don't work out...)

(So that I do not take Sen. Lugar's words out of context, he also said: "I have no doubts that Secretary Bolton is extremely well qualified.")

Even staunch Republicans should applaud Senator Voinovich for acting on the courage of his convictions-- even if they think they are wrongheaded. The White House would be well served to do the same. There does not seem to have been any political upside or personal gain by Voinovich in taking the stand that he did today. This was about one Senator's personal convictions.

Both Republican Senators Lincoln Chaffee, of Rhode Island, and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, had much less to lose than Voinovich by breaking with their party. (see my post from yesterday below.) By remaining silent, they made what Voinovich did this morning all the more difficult.

Lugar, it appeared, ever so subtly came more to Voinovich's aid this morning than either Chaffee or Hagel. For his part, Chaffee had attempted to have it both ways by expressing qualms about Bolton, but voting in favor of his nomination by saying a President has the right to have his nominee considered. Voinovich adroitly lead the way for Chaffee to oppose Bolton but still uphold the constitutional perogatives of the President. But Chaffee did not follow, leaving Sen. Voinovich to so unfortunately-- but bravely-- hang out there all by himself.

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