Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- "We are not on some fishing expedition here at all to derail the Bolton nomination," Sen. Christopher Dodd, with his customary half-smile in place, told the Senate Thursday afternoon. But that is exactly what the crafty Democrat is doing --with success so far. He has maneuvered John R. Bolton's confirmation to be U.S. ambassador into desperate straits.

 Dodd's unreported speech to an empty Senate before it adjourned for another long weekend was classic senatorial misdirection. He held out the prospect of ending the filibuster against Bolton and quickly confirming him, if only more information were given Democratic senators. Yet, in the same speech, he reiterated his unequivocal opposition to the conservative Bolton, not discussing competence or ideology but personality.

 All this is a charade. Opposition to Bolton has become a party matter, where his possible Democratic supporters have been brought to heel. The cloture vote to end the filibuster scheduled for 6 p.m. today [Monday] is unlikely to collect the necessary 60 votes. That effectively would end the confirmation struggle. President Bush then would face the dilemma of either sending Bolton to the United Nations on a recess appointment that will be reviled by Democrats as extra-constitutional, or accepting defeat.

 This outcome hardly seemed possible two months ago when Dodd, long seeking improved relations with Fidel Castro's Cuban dictatorship, renewed an old complaint about Bolton's disclosure as under secretary of state of Castro's bioweapons development. Sen. Joseph Biden, ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee who seldom shuns a confirmation fight, eagerly joined Dodd.

 Not much has been said lately about Cuba or Bolton's conservative outlook, neither of which is good grounds for denying confirmation. Dodd still complains Bolton is hard on subordinates ("Mr. Bolton was a very driven individual when he sought to get his way with underlings," the senator said Thursday).

 Seeking a way to justify preconceived opposition, Dodd and Biden seized on the Executive branch's refusal to give the Senate what it wanted. The issue, so obscure it is difficult for the non-senatorial mind to grasp, goes to Bolton having requested intelligence intercepts. Dodd demands the names of U.S. officials listed there whom Bolton might have intimidated.

 Sen. Pat Roberts, the Intelligence Committee chairman, reviewed the intercepts and reported to Dodd that they were "vanilla" and did not affect the confirmation fight. Roberts originally thought his Democratic vice chairman, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, agreed. But that was before Democratic leaders got hold of Rockefeller and turned him around.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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