It was inevitable that John Bolton's nomination would get caught up in the Democrats' desperate attempts not to become superfluous to the legislative and advise-and-consent process.
According to several Democratic staffers on the Foreign Relations Committee, talk inside their offices had Sen. Joe Biden discussing with Republican colleagues on both that committee and Judiciary the notion of "trading" Bolton's confirmation for a vote on all if not the majority of President Bush's judicial nominees who are being blocked by Biden and other Dems. Depending on how negotiations played out, Bolton's nomination would either have died, or moved ahead after the dumping of at least three Bush judicial nominations.
"It sounds like it was the Senator's attempt to break the deadlock," says one of the Democratic staffers. "But nothing came of it, and that's a good thing. There are quite a few people here who want to see Bolton squirm, as well as some of the Republicans who have to vote for him."
Biden's bid at brinksmanship would have required the lifting of a "hold" by Sen. Barbara Boxer, as well as at least two other Democratic Senators who, according to Senate Democratic leadership sources, also placed holds on the nomination in the hours after it was released by the Foreign Relations Committee.
In the end the hold(s) are comparatively minor parliamentary tricks that the Republican leadership can overcome through procedural votes, though they present an initial headache that cannot be easily resolved, as the White House would apparently like.
On Thursday, rumors were swirling in the Capitol, and in the press, that the White House was trying to strong-arm Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist into placing the Bolton nomination ahead of the judicial confirmation vote.
But from a practical perspective, such a move would bog down the Senate further for possibly another week of debate and delay, drawing the judicial fight into early June, a situation many Republicans would find unacceptable, given the level of debate and negotiations undertaken in the past few weeks on the judicial front.
"The White House understands that there are some things that just can't be turned back and the judicial fight is one of them," says a Republican staffer for a member of the Judiciary Committee. "The White House was one of the entities pushing us on this. They can't expect us to change horses midstream when we have gotten this far."
On its face, the Biden gambit makes little sense, but it highlights a certain desperate air among Democrats feeling marginalization blues.
Biden, along with Sen. Ben Nelson and several other Democrats, has been attempting to play some role in the process and to avoid the appearance of being steamrolled by Republicans.
That was why Nelson was pressing his leader, Sen. Harry Reid, to accept what appeared to be the best deal on the table with Republicans on the judicial nominees: confirmation of Judges Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown, and Bill Pryor at the least, and the loss of Judge Henry Saad and William Myers to Democratic obstruction.
According to Senate Republican sources, Reid's attempt to smear Saad by unethically discussing raw interview data from the judge's FBI background check, has hurt Saad's standing. "No one deserves to go through what Saad has been put through," says a Republican Judiciary source. "Our concern is that if we keep fighting, the Democrats will look to further smear him. On the other hand, to toss him over the side may embolden the Democrats to use similar tactics with other nominations."
But Reid is trying to get a better deal for his party, one that would give them a real win in the fight. According to Democrat leadership sources, Pryor is the name Reid mentions most often as the nominee he would like to take down.
Democratic political strategist par excellence James Carville is often credited with saying: "When your opponent is drowning, throw the son of a bitch an anvil!"
Now it appears that Carville and other Democrats may be preparing to use his "Anvil Rule of Politics" against one of their own.
With the DNC being out-fundraised almost 3 to 1 in the most recent reporting cycle, there are already rumblings the DNC chairman Howard Dean may not last a year in his position.
Much of the concern was laid out in a Bob Novak column earlier this week: poor fundraising and crazy talk from Dean, not the least of which was Dean's recent endorsement of Socialist Rep. Bernie Sanders in his bid to replace Vermont independent Sen. Jim Jeffords, and policy talk on Social Security that wasn't in the Democratic playbook.
"We're not far from the talk of dumping Dean becoming action," says a knowledgeable Democratic operative, who has worked on both Capitol Hill and at the DNC. According to this source, none other than Democratic loyalist Carville, as well as other senior Democrats, have been talking about how to blunt Dean and get a more positive message and messenger out into the public eye.
"The problem is Dean hasn't really been in the public eye," says the Democratic operative. "At least not nationally. The appearance on Meet the Press [this coming Sunday] will really help clarify for people just how desperate we need to be."
Critics of Dean inside the DNC say the former Vermont governor rarely sticks to the party talking points that are presented him, and he chafes at being overly prepped by staff before party events.
"He is popular with some of the younger party types, but established Democrats here in headquarters can't stand him. From their perspective, he's a disaster," says the operative. "When it comes time to raise the money, that won't be a be a problem. We'll just trot out Bill [Clinton] and scary pictures of Bush and Frist and DeLay. But in terms of building state and national party organizations, that is something we're committed to financing, and that is where the real problems are."
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