"I just hope these people of Washington, D.C. are prepared to handle this. It's going to be a train wreck."
WASHINGTON, D.C.: Those words, by that renowned political sage, Mike Tyson, are an apt description of what's been happening to Bush administration appointees in the U.S. Senate. Though the former heavyweight champion's comment is actually a forecast of his upcoming fight against Kevin McBride on June 11th at the MCI Center in Washington, it also applies to the current state of affairs between the White House and Capitol Hill. As a result, the very ambitious agenda President Bush has set for his second term is now on the ropes.
This was supposed to be the week that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted on the nomination of Under Secretary of State John Bolton to become our Ambassador to the United Nations. It didn't happen. Instead, Senator George "I'm a maverick, too" Voinovich decided he needed to learn more about Mr. Bolton, whose long and distinguished career of public service is being savaged by the so-called mainstream media, petty bureaucrats, and liberal Bush-bashers.
On the same day that Senator Voinovich announced, "I've heard enough today that I don't feel comfortable about voting for Mr. Bolton," Senator Elizabeth Dole, Chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, announced a new web site. She pledges that those who visit www.GOPSenators.com will be able to "track Democrat obstruction of the President's judicial nominees." The site also features a "recently released web video highlighting the Democrat partisan obstruction." Of course Senator Voinovich won't appear in the video -- he's a Republican. But with Republicans like this, who needs Democrats?
And therein lies the problem for Mr. Bolton, and anyone else willing to accept an appointment from this administration. Vicious assaults and legislative obstruction have long been key parts of the liberal Democrat agenda. But lack of support from the Republican majority has turned the confirmation process into an ordeal by fire. For all the Republican talk about a "nuclear option" to stop filibusters on stalled judicial nominees, the GOP has been firing blanks from water pistols while liberal Democrats beat White House nominees like rented mules.
It's easy to blame liberal Democrats for derailing judicial nominees because it's true. But the GOP locomotive doesn't seem to have anyone at the controls as it heads down the track toward a train wreck. Some Republicans who have noticed the disarray blame Karl Rove or Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. But President Bush is supposed to be the engineer. An old axiom from his flying days is appropriate: The passengers and crew may be in the same predicament, but the pilot always arrives first at the crash site.
From all accounts, the White House, which has been nearly mute throughout the Democrat smear-campaign against Mr. Bolton, was completely blind-sided by the Voinovich pronouncement. Until then, everyone's attention had been focused on Lincoln Chaffee, Rhode Island's liberal Republican Senator. Mr. Chafee, apparently grateful for being let off the hook, gleefully proclaimed, "The dynamic has changed. A lot of reservations surfaced today. It's a new day."
Is it? The new "reservations" cited by Messrs. Voinovich and Chafee are unfounded charges by a Ms. Melody Townsel. She claims, in a letter to the committee, that 10 years ago, Mr. Bolton chased her through a hotel hallway, throwing things at her, and "genuinely behaving like a madman." There are no witnesses, no hotel record of disruption or a clean-up crew needed. No one heard him yelling or pounding on her door. She has none of the "intimidating letters" she claims he slipped under her door. She didn't call security or lodge a complaint with the State Department at the time, and she didn't bring any of this up when he was being confirmed for under secretary of state.
And this bars Mr. Bolton from serving as our ambassador at the UN? Most Americans hope that the hard-nosed, pro-American Mr. Bolton really is as tough as he's been depicted. This week, it was revealed that two investigators probing the Oil for Food corruption scandal resigned because the Volker Commission is going soft on Kofi Annan. The UN has done nothing to lock up the child rapists among their so-called African "peacekeepers." Shouldn't someone be chasing the likes of Benon Sevan and Kojo Annan down the hallways of the big blue building at Turtle Bay?
Apparently, none of the malfeasance and misfeasance at the United Nations is urgent enough to expedite confirming Mr. Bolton. He's just too mean. If that's a disqualifier, then General Pete Pace had better re-think accepting his nomination to become the first Marine Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Without a doubt the Senate will be able to produce someone whom -- horror of horrors -- he yelled at during his thirty-seven years of service.
The president's very ambitious plans for his second term cannot be accomplished if his appointees aren't confirmed. That means that pushing Capitol Hill Republicans back on track has to become an urgent presidential priority. I'm well aware, from personal experience, t hat getting Republicans to head in the same direction is a lot like herding cats, but Mr. Bush has to try, even if he has to bring a cattle prod back from his Crawford ranch. After he was reelected, President Bush declared, "I earned capital in the campaign, and now I intend to spend it." He needs to spend some now to get his party in line.
For the obstructionist solons on Capitol Hill, Mike Tyson is an unlikely source of political advice. But they might want to heed another comment about his upcoming bout: "I don't get into the stare-downs and the talking trash. I don't want to punch a guy in the face before the fight starts."