October 12, 2005
One Senator's Power
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
of Martinez's mischief at least is only temporary, in contrast
with Voinovich fully joining the Democratic vendetta against Bolton.
Voinovich, a two-term senator after serving as mayor of Cleveland
and governor of Ohio, let it be known last week that he was changing
his vote from "present" to "no" on Bolton.
That means the nomination will not even get out of committee to
face a filibuster on the Senate floor. That rules out even bringing
up Bolton's renomination in committee.
problems with Bolton began last May when he wandered into a Foreign
Relations Committee hearing and swallowed whole Democratic deconstruction
of Bolton orchestrated by Sen. Christopher Dodd. The White House
had expected any Bush U.N. nominee to face confirmation trouble
prior to the 2004 election. But the president named John Danforth,
a prestigious former U.S. senator, for a five-month U.N. stint
to avoid a campaign deluge. Bolton's long record of criticizing
Fidel Castro made him a special target of Dodd, a champion of
"normalizing" U.S.-Cuban relations.
did Voinovich heighten his opposition? Serving under a recess
appointment, Bolton has gotten high marks at the United Nations,
as he has in previous government positions. One old hand in the
U.S. Mission at Turtle Bay told me that while Bolton can be "blunt,"
he is smart, very well informed and faithfully follows instructions
declined to talk to me about why, in the face of that record,
he has lowered his opinion of Bolton. Fellow Republican senators
who have asked him have received no explanation. Being a U.S.
senator means never having to explain yourself. No wonder respectable
citizens flinch at accepting a job that subjects them to senatorial
2005 Creators Syndicate