Bolton Confirmation Dead

Steve Clemons reports that the White House’s bid to have John Bolton confirmed as our UN Ambassador before his recess appointment expires is dead, with the cancellation of a last-chance meeting previously scheduled this afternoon.

This is one of the more bizarre excercises in which we engage. The chief reasons to oppose Bolton for the post have little to do with Bolton but rather the fact that he an aggressive spokesman for the administration’s foreign policy. Given that this is essentially the post’s job description, not confirming him on those grounds is silly. Not at least going on record with an up-or-down vote is cowardly.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anderson says:

    The chief reasons to oppose Bolton for the post have little to do with Bolton but rather the fact that he an aggressive spokesman for the administration’s foreign policy.

    JJ, is that really a fair characterization of what Clemons, for instance, has written?

    The reasons have *everything* to do with Bolton, personally.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Anderson: I haven’t read everything Clemons has written on the subject. In this particular post, he says, “I strongly disagree with his international views and his brand of diplomacy.” That’s essentially what the critics say. As it happens, however, Bolton’s international views and brand of diplomacy are GWB’s.

  3. Tano says:

    Well James, I think this is a rather simplified and naivified (hey, new word!) view of policy making. Yes, it is true that the president is responsible for making foreign policy, and his appointees have the job of carrying it out. So, in this simple telling of the story, the only reason not to confirm an appointee would be if they seem incapable of carrying out that policy, or have some character flaws.

    But in reality, policy making is always a struggle between those who have various slices of power. The Congress must approve any and all expenditures by the executive branch, for example, and thus they have influence on what the president does, even with powers that are supposedly purely executive in nature. It works the other way too – no legislation can lay out in exquisite detail how any law should be carried out, so the executive can shape and define the actual implementation, often in ways that are not the same as the legislature really intended.

    Conformations work the same way. Different ambassadors will carry out their work in different ways, with different emphases or approaches, even if they are all committed to the presidents policy – simply because they are different human beings with different personalities or perspectives. So the Congress can exert some sway by confirming or not confirming particular apointees. It often matters a great deal who the specific person in the job is.

    It has always been so.

  4. Note that all that has really been done is reduce Bolton’s effectiveness in dealing with the UN. He is still in the position. He can be put back into the position without congressional over sight as soon as his current appointment ends and another congressional recess occurs. His power with the president is dictated by his ideas and effectiveness.

    I think this is being short sighted and petty by the democrats. If (and I admit it is a big if), they ever recapture the White House, they had better hope that the GOP doesn’t decide to take their plays from the democrats. I would hope that the GOP would be more mature than that, but it would be hard to blame them.

  5. Anderson says:


    Republican committee chairman Richard Lugar of Indiana criticized Bolton for ignoring the “policy consequences” of his statements, diplomatic speech “should never be undertaken simply to score international debating points to appeal to segments of the U.S. public opinion or to validate a personal point of view.” The committee’s top Democrat, Joe Biden of Delaware compared sending Bolton to the UN to sending a “bull into a china shop,” and expressed “grave concern” about Bolton’s “diplomatic temperament” and his record: “In my judgment,” Biden said, “your judgment about how to deal with the emerging threats have not been particularly useful.”

    * * *

    On April 12, 2005, the Senate panel focused on allegations discussed above that Bolton pressured intelligence analysts. “I’ve never seen anybody quite like Secretary Bolton. … I don’t have a second, third or fourth in terms of the way that he abuses his power and authority with little people,” former State Department intelligence chief Carl W. Ford Jr., said, calling Bolton a “serial abuser.” Ford contradicted Bolton’s earlier testimony, saying: “I had been asked for the first time to fire an intelligence analyst for what he had said and done.”

    Like I said: it’s about Bolton.

    (You can be forgiven for not reading the reams of Clemons’ posts on Bolton, but I was keeping up with them for a while, and that was the tenor.)

    Bush will, no doubt, nominate someone else who will carry out his policies dutifully.

  6. Anderson says:

    He can be put back into the position without congressional over sight as soon as his current appointment ends and another congressional recess occurs.

    At what point does this recess-appointment business become unconstitutional, folks? Maybe we’ll find out!

  7. James Joyner says:

    For the record, I think most modern uses of the recess appointment power are extra-Constitutional. Not sure that the Supremes would ever rule it thus but, clearly, the intent of the Framers was to provide for emergencies in an era when Congress was rarely in session. Now that they’re in essentially full time operation, the whole thing violates the spirit of checks and balances.

  8. DaveD says:

    I am sure our enemies are quite willing to biden their time while domestic political rancor muddies our foreign policy. Correct me if I’m wrong but now that Bolton has been on the job for a bit, where do examples exist that Bolton has made statements that are specifically intended to appeal to segments of U.S. public opinion or to validate a personal viewpoint – outside of the views of the Presdient himself, that is ????

  9. James,

    From a theoretical standpoint, I would agree. But from a practical standpoint, I think the use of the recess appointment makes sense.

    If you want to talk about fixing the problem, then I would say a recess appointment should only extend until the senate votes on the nomination. That would draw the thorn from the refusal to bring the issue up for a vote, give the senate duty to “advise and consent” due deference and allow the executive to staff positions as needed if that is faster than congress can work.

    But of course, such a change would require an amendment. The simpler solution would be for congress to do their job of “advice and consent” by voting up or down on the nomination and for political/social pressure to be applied when a recess appointment is used to circumvent congress.

  10. Tano says:


    Are we to assume that you have come into political consciousness only in the 21st century? You seem blissfully ignorant of the long history of Congressional obstruction of presidential nominees, sometimes circumvented by use of the recess appointment. Perhpas you could fill in the blanks of your knowledge by a short little study of the Clinton administration, and their dealings with the “mature” Republicans in the Congress.

  11. Ray says:

    Here’s the real question: If Bolton will not be appointed, who will? Since it now takes years for an appointment to be vetted and approved by Congress, it is apparent that Bolton will serve until the end of the current administration. To me, this is nothing more that political posturing.

  12. Triumph says:

    Bolton Confirmation Dead

    Bolton confirmed dead?? Let’s hope it’s Michael.