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Senate to Resume Debate on Bolton Nomination

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

Heated debate is expected again today as the Senate considers the nomination of John Bolton as US ambassador to the United Nations. Democrats yesterday launched a new effort to delay a vote, alleging Bolton might have mishandled classified information. Key Republicans say the Democrats' case is weak and they argue that John Bolton is the man to reform the UN. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:

In the latest twist in the John Bolton drama, the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee weighed in on one aspect of Bolton's record that's been under investigation. That is why the undersecretary for arms control sought the identification of 19 Americans mentioned in communications intercepted by the National Security Agency. Republican Pat Roberts of Kansas said he and his staff interviewed intelligence officials and the former head of the NSA.

Senator PAT ROBERTS (Republican, Kansas): None of the individuals interviewed indicated there was anything improper or inappropriate about Mr. Bolton's request, none. We were also briefed by General Michael Hayden. He also stated that Undersecretary Bolton's request, I'm talking about General Hayden now, were not only appropriate but routine.

KELEMEN: The top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee has lingering questions, though. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia said he believes Bolton violated procedures by sharing information he received with a colleague.

Senator JOHN "JAY" ROCKEFELLER (Democrat, West Virginia): I believe this is part of a pattern which shows a blatant disregard for the importance of the intelligence process which is the spear tip of this nation's internal security and security around the world and the sensitivity of the information contained in intelligence products.

KELEMEN: As debate on Bolton got under way yesterday afternoon, Democrat Joseph Biden spelled out the minority's case against Bolton, accusing the State Department official of intimidating intelligence analysts and trying to stretch intelligence on Syria and Cuba. Democrats expect to continue making their case today, though the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Richard Lugar says for many senators the vote will come down to this.

Senator RICHARD LUGAR (Republican, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman): The ambassador is seen as the president's voice at the UN. Consequently, there are few positions in government where the president should have more latitude in choosing his nominee.

KELEMEN: In public and private testimony, Bolton's former colleagues have described him as, quote, "a lousy leader, a kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy and a serial abuser of his subordinates," but Lugar said lengthy investigations turned up no evidence the nominee broke laws or engaged in any serious ethical misconduct. Still, one committee Republican, George Voinovich, argued on the Senate floor that Bolton's reputation could hurt America's already damaged credibility abroad as well as US efforts to reform the United Nations.

Senator GEORGE VOINOVICH (Republican, Ohio): Because our enemies will do everything they can to use Mr. Bolton's baggage to drown his words. The issue will be the messenger and not the message.

KELEMEN: The Ohio Republican was emotional as he appealed to his colleagues to read the record before sending Bolton to the UN.

Sen. VOINOVICH: It's very, very important to our country at a strategic time when we need friends all over the world, we need somebody up there that's going to be able to get the job done. And I know some of my friends say, `Oh, let it go, George, it's going to work out.' I don't want to take the risk. I came back here and ran for a second term because I'm worried about my kids and my grandchildren. And I just hope my colleagues will take the time, and before they get to this well, do some serious thinking about whether or not we should send John Bolton to the United Nations.

KELEMEN: A vote is expected this evening after many more hours of debate.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

MONTAGNE: John Bolton's statements about the UN and testimony for and against his nomination are at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.