ALLEN TO THE RESCUE
Much is being made of the "hold" placed by Sen. Barbara Boxer on the nomination of John Bolton to the U.N. ambassadorship, but Senate Republicans expect to move Bolton through before Memorial Day.
Over the weekend, there was some discussion of moving Bolton ahead of the judicial fight that is set to detonate perhaps as early as this week. Sen. George Allen, in particular, has been pressing to move Bolton's nomination ahead of the judicial fight.
Regardless of where the Bolton nomination is placed in the schedule, it's interesting to note that Boxer's demands for releasing the hold were essentially drawn from the blogosphere, where former Clintonites, current State Department nonpoliticals, and congressional aides have been sharing rumors on the Bolton case, everything from spousal abuse to bestiality.
Boxer is demanding the release of eight, perhaps ten, classified NSA intercepts that contain U.S. names that Bolton reviewed as undersecretary of state for nuclear proliferation, the release of memos and drafts of a Bolton speech on Syria's weapons programs, and, finally, a review of the employment of a Bolton staffer who also does outside consulting in foreign policy areas.
The employment of Matthew Freedman by Bolton has been especially popular online grist for the rumor mill. A blog associated with the New America Foundation has been pushing the Freedman story for weeks as the bombshell that could sink Bolton, though there is very little real evidence to bear that out.
A staffer for Boxer says that the Senator has been in talks with Sens. Joe Biden and Chris Dodd, both of whom had been pressing for the NSA intercepts, but that staffers had been working with a number of outside groups on the Bolton nomination. "We're getting better at doing what the Republicans have been doing with their outside groups going back to the Clinton years," says the staffer. "If you want to call it coordination, do that, but this about winning, and we're tired of losing at every turn. The Bolton case has energized us a bit."
As for timing of the vote, last Friday some Republicans were surprised when Sen. Allen publicly called for Bolton's nomination to be taken up before the judges. "He's only pushing because he senses that he might get a bit more attention than [Majority Leader Bill] Frist on the Bolton thing for a couple of days," says a Republican Senate staffer for a western Senator. "Allen is running for President, and Frist is going to be the star of the show for the next few weeks with the judges coming to a head. Allen is just going to disappear."
Allen, though, has earned props from conservatives and fellow Republican Senators for his aggressive pushback on the Foreign Relations Committee, something his chairman, Sen. Dick Lugar, seemed incapable of during the last month.
After a number of briefings by Senate leadership staff over the past few weeks, it was believed that the first judge to be put forward on the Senate floor in order for Republicans to break the so-called Democratic filibuster would be former Interior Department lawyer William Myers, nominated to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
But on Friday, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist announced that Judges Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown would be linked this week to breaking the Democratic deadlock. Why? Because of Sen. John McCain.
For all the talk of Sen. Trent Lott trying to mediate a deal with Democrats to break the filibuster and stamp out the fuse on the so-called "nuclear option" by allowing Democrats to nix at least two nominees in return for a vote on the rest and promise not to filibuster potential Supreme Court nominees, it was McCain late last week attempting to broker a similar deal with fellow Republicans and some Democrats.
"He was offering to throw Owen and Brown over the side, and we weren't going to let that happen," says a Senate leadership aide. "If he wants to continue to pursue a deal, we were going to limit his options on who to nix. We think taking Owens and Brown off the board limits the Senator's negotiating options."
Brown and Owen have been the top Democratic targets in the filibuster debate. According to other Senate sources, McCain has been talking to the usual suspects: Sens. Olympia Snowe, Lincoln Chafee, Susan Collins, Chuck Hagel, John Warner, and Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter. In each of the discussions, McCain pointed to Owen and Brown as the two who, if abandoned by the party, could break the deadlock.
"Senator McCain was willing to let Owen and Brown go, if it would get the others confirmed and get the Senate back on track," says a Judiciary Committee staffer with knowledge of the conversation with Specter. "The chairman was not willing at that time to look at the loss of Owen and Brown as an option."
Specter apparently felt that being party to any plan that dumped two of President Bush's top nominations would place him in too much peril with fellow Republicans both on the Judiciary Committee and in his caucus.
Of the six, Hagel, Chafee, and Snowe have been the most receptive to McCain's entreaties. Chafee, according to sources, apparently feels his passive behavior in allowing John Bolton's nomination out of the Foreign Relations Committee last week is enough of a sop to the Bush team to allow him to show his true stripes on the judges front.
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