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Washington Political Update with Ron Elving


Back in Washington, the president continues to face challenges to his domestic plans and priorities. The Senate this week will return to the case of John Bolton. He is the president's pick to be ambassador to the UN. And senators may also go to war over some of the pending nominees for the federal appeals court. Joining us to talk about the struggles in the Capitol is NPR's senior Washington editor, Ron Elving.

Ron, welcome back.

RON ELVING reporting:

Hello, Alex.

CHADWICK: So John Bolton's nomination has been in suspended animation now for almost a month, since he first appeared before the Senate committee, and what's been going on?

ELVING: Alex, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff have been interviewing people non-stop for the last two to three weeks. They've interviewed 31 people, people who have worked with John Bolton and who know him well, some who have supported him and some others who have been critical of the nomination. And in these closed-door interviews, which just ended on Friday, the staff have heard a lot of what sounds like the same sorts of stories we'd heard before. Now the Republicans, of course, see it one way and the Democrats see it another. But on Thursday, they're going to have a meeting of the whole committee, and if the Democrats show up, which is in some dispute, they will then have a vote after several hours of debate.

CHADWICK: Well, just go over for us, what have we learned in these interviews? You say it's kind of the same stuff we've learned before, but lay it out a little.

ELVING: The Republicans say there's nothing new, that there's no smoking gun, that we just heard more about how the man has a tendency to be blunt, how he can be forceful with his underlings. The Democrats look at this and they say, `Well, you can call that nothing new. We call it corroborating evidence. We think that the bluntness and the abusiveness is just the beginning, and that he goes beyond that and he mishandles intelligence by suppressing those bits of intelligence that don't agree with his position and trying to play up those bits that do.'

CHADWICK: Lot of talk about where former Secretary of State Colin Powell stood on this nomination. Mr. Bolton worked for him at the State Department. How's that come out?

ELVING: Powell has not testified, but he has had private conversations with several of the senators who are involved, and we know he did not sign the letter of support that other Republican former secretaries of State signed. Now Powell's former deputy, Richard Armitage, has said he supports Bolton's nomination being confirmed, but there's a certain amount of irony in that because both Powell and Armitage wanted to have his speeches and public statements vetted through their office.

CHADWICK: Well, if the Republicans and Democrats in the Senate can't agree on Mr. Bolton, perhaps they could make peace over the issue of judicial confirmations? Perhaps not, but there is talk of some kind of deal being worked out on this dispute, isn't there?

ELVING: There's a group of Republican and Democratic senators talking about a way to avoid a confrontation over filibusters. And it's about breaking loose enough of the Republicans and enough of the Democrats, six on each side, that they could essentially prevail in such a confrontation. They could add their votes on one side, add their votes on the other side and prevent either a confrontation over filibusters or, for that matter, a filibuster on certain of the nominees. And if there are enough, they can essentially take this out of the hands of the regular leaders of the two parties.

CHADWICK: Well, how do they feel about that--the leaders, I mean?

ELVING: Well, it's frustrating and to some degree it would be humbling for them, but it could also be liberating to have this taken out of their hands. Now on the Republican side, Bill Frist, the majority leader, is under tremendous pressure from the White House and from the conservative religious wing of the Republican Party to force confirmation votes on every one of the president's nominees, and that would mean forcing him to outlaw the filibuster with respect to judicial nominees. If he has the votes to win, that would create a situation in which the Democrats have threatened to shut down other business in the Senate. If he doesn't have the votes to win, well, there's something of a failure in that for him, or a humiliation in that. So it's a no-win situation and he might be better off being relieved of it.

CHADWICK: NPR's senior Washington editor, Ron Elving. Thank you, Ron.

ELVING: Thank you, Alex.

CHADWICK: Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.
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