Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- Senate confirmation of President Bush's choice to be U.S. ambassador to the European Union has been delayed for several weeks, and the nominee may not take his post until well into November. Bush's choice as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is serving under a recess appointment and may never be confirmed. The reason: the individual whims of two Republican senators.

 Freshman Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida last week temporarily blocked the confirmation of longtime Republican stalwart C. Boyden Gray to the EU for petty political reasons. Much more serious because its effect looks permanent, Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio at the same time stiffened his opposition to John Bolton at the United Nations. He apparently swallowed whole the Democratic campaign of personal destruction.

 The 17th-century Polish institution of the liberum veto, where objection by one deputy in Poland's Diet could defeat any proposal, lives in spirit in today's U.S. Senate. Under arcane Senate rules, Martinez was able single-handedly to block Gray's confirmation. Because of the polarized party split, Voinovich alone is able to limit Bolton's term to the end of the current Congress. The pity is that both Gray and Bolton are well qualified with long records of government service in Republican administrations.

 Gray, a prominent Washington lawyer who has been an aide to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, was expected to sail through an Oct. 5 "business session" of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as one of 20 routine diplomatic nominees. But Martinez objected to Gray, sidetracking his confirmation. Martinez did not have to give a reason, and he did not.

  "It was personal," a Martinez aide told me. The senator, normally accessible, declined to talk to me about his reasons. He obviously was reticent because the "personal" reason was political revenge. Gray last year publicly withdrew his support in the Republican primary from Martinez, a former trial lawyer who had resigned as secretary of Housing and Urban Development to run for the Senate. "We simply do not need any more Republicans who oppose tort reform in the Senate," Gray said then.

 Martinez won the primary despite Gray, but he obviously has not forgiven or forgotten. According to Martinez's office, he met with Gray after the committee session, and they settled their differences. It was too late for Gray to join the other 19 diplomatic nominees to be confirmed by the full Senate without debate Oct. 6. No new committee "business session" is likely until early in November.


Robert Novak

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

 
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