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Something Amazing

Snippets from an excellent article by Fred Kaplan on the Bolton push back today:

"Could it be that John Bolton is about to go down?

Something amazing happened at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this afternoon. In nearly 30 years of watching Congress, off and on, I can't remember anything quite like it.

Bolton, the most dreadfully ill-qualified candidate ever to be nominated as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has nonetheless been an odds-on favorite to be confirmed because the committee enjoys a Republican majority and because George W. Bush's White House has a knack for iron party discipline.

The Democrats and assorted lobbyists have been working on two of the panel's fairly moderate Republicans, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. But in recent days, both have said they were leaning toward voting in Bolton's favor. It seemed all over.

A vote was scheduled for this afternoon. The panel's Democrats advanced some delaying maneuvers. The Republican chairman, Richard Lugar of Indiana, swiftly put them down. The vote looked imminent.

Then, at about 4:30 p.m., out of nowhere, George Voinovich, a Republican from Ohio, said that he hasn't attended any of the hearings on Bolton (he claimed to be busy with something or other) but, based on charges that he had just heard today, he would not "feel comfortable" voting Bolton out of committee.

The audio on C-SPAN 2 isn't so great, but the room seemed to go quiet for a few seconds, then to erupt with buzz. Chafee nervously asked if Lugar still intended to stage a vote, given what Voinovich had just said. Sure, Lugar replied, let's vote.

The Republican half of the room started shaking its collective head. Hagel had intoned, a few minutes earlier, that he'd vote for Bolton in committee but might not on the floor (as if that matters, given the Republicans' healthy margin there). Now he shifted.

At the start of the session, Sen. Christopher Dodd, D–Conn., had suggested postponing the vote in order to investigate a recent spate of allegations about Bolton. That was when Dodd's side looked like it was about to lose; Lugar shut the motion down. But now Hagel and a few other Republicans said, ahem, maybe we need to take some time and look into these matters after all.

Lugar and Joseph Biden of Delaware, the committee's ranking Democrat, reached an accord. The Democratic and Republican staff members, working together, will investigate the new charges, calling more witnesses for interviews.

The White House now faces a question: Is it time to pull the rug out from under this nuisance named John Bolton? Bush is usually, by nature, opposed to giving in under this sort of pressure. Here, though, he may have no choice.

The new allegations (click here for some details) are terrible in two senses. First, they make Bolton look like a thin-skinned creep who tolerates no disagreement from anyone around him. This is not an ideal quality for a diplomat, but by itself it probably wouldn't be enough to put off Bush. Everyone who knows Bolton has known this about him from the beginning.

The second factor is the key. An extended investigation can only make things worse. Every time there's been a delay, more and more bad stuff has come out about this guy; more and more officials, present and former, have mustered the courage to come forth and tell more.

So, President Bush must choose between his two most trusted advisers, Cheney and Rice. Cheney is a fairly cold-blooded politico. Maybe even he will realize that the cause is no longer worth saving. Bolton has caused a mess, and it can only get messier.

It's a good guess that one of two things is going to happen in the coming days and weeks: Either Bolton goes down—or we start learning a lot of unpleasant things about Sen. George Voinovich."
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