A longtime critic of the U.N. and its bureaucracy, Bolton was opposed by Democrats, and even a few Republicans, who regarded him as too confrontational for the job, and he was unable to win support in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Bush first nominated him last year. Rather than accept that rejection, however, the President gave Bolton a "recess" appointment in August 2005, allowing him to take up the high-profile U.N. post without Senate approval.
But with that appointment set to expire at the end of the current Congress and a new Democratic majority about to take control, Bolton announced his resignation Monday. President Bush, in a statement, continued to express support. "I am deeply disappointed that a handful of United States Senators prevented Ambassador Bolton from receiving the up or down vote he deserved in the Senate," Bush said. "They chose to obstruct his confirmation, even though he enjoys majority support in the Senate, and even though their tactics will disrupt our diplomatic work at a sensitive and important time. This stubborn obstructionism ill serves our country, and discourages men and women of talent from serving their nation."
But the White House had essentially acknowledged the futility of keeping Bolton in the post by resubmitting his nomination at the worst possible moment on the morning of Nov. 9, just as the Democrats were celebrating their election victory. Sen. Richard Lugar, the Indiana Republican who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations committee, said he would not even put the matter to a committee vote during the last days of G.O.P. control, since all of the Democrats on the committee, plus Sen. Lincoln Chaffee, the Rhode Island Republican who also opposed him, would still vote no.
Chafee, who was defeated for reelection, issued a statement reiterating his opposition. "Mr. Bolton did not demonstrate the kind of collaborative approach that I believe will be called for if we are to restore the United States' position as the strongest country in a peaceful world," he said. "This would be an appropriate time to choose a nominee who has a proven ability to work with both sides of the political aisle, a history of building strong international relationships and a reputation of respect for the institution of the United Nations. The names Brent Scowcroft and George Mitchell come to mind immediately as outstanding candidates." There's no word from White House yet on whom it might nominate as Bolton's replacement.
Even without Senate confirmation, Bush could have put Bolton's name up for a new recess appointment when his current one expires in early January, but Bolton would have been prohibited by law from drawing a salary. More important, such an attempt by the White House to again override the Senate by sending Bolton back to the U.N. risked infuriating Democrats and undermining Bush's professed intention to seek consensus and political compromise.
Bolton was known as a vitriolic critic of the U.N., who once famously announced that no one would notice if the world body lost the top 10 floors of its Secretariat building in New York. After he became ambassador, however, colleagues accorded him grudging respect for his professionalism in helping to win unanimous Security Council resolutions on North Korea, and in fostering consensus on tough issues like Iran's nuclear program and the conflict in Sudan.
One former critic, Sen. George V. Voinovich, the Ohio Republican whose initial opposition to Bolton doomed his Senate approval last year, revealed a change of heart on Bolton a few months ago. "I am very disappointed that John Bolton will not continue in his role as ambassador to the United Nations," Voinivich said in a statement after the resignation. "Given the fragile nature of the world situation, and the critical task of reforming the U.N., he should have been given an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor."
Another Senator offering support was John McCain, a frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. "His resignation today is less a commentary on Mr. Bolton than on the state of affairs in the U.S. Senate," said McCain. "For over a year, Democrats blocked his nomination in the Foreign Relations Committee, preventing an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. In so doing, they have deprived America of the right man at the right time at the U.N."