Bush woos Democrats despite divisions on UN post
Reuters - President Bush pledged on Friday to cooperate with the new Democratic-controlled Senate even as he pressed ahead with a divisive bid to get John Bolton confirmed as U.N. ambassador.
Adjusting to a shift of power after Democrats captured both houses of Congress in Tuesday's elections, Bush met the party's Senate leaders who will have increased influence over his policies at home and abroad, including the unpopular war in Iraq.
"The election's over. The problems haven't gone away," Bush said at the end of the meeting. "There is a great opportunity for us to show the country ... that we can work together."
But Bush's call for bipartisanship after years of bitter political battles between his Republicans and opposition Democrats could be undercut by his renewed effort to push through Bolton's nomination.
Bush on Thursday urged leaders of the outgoing Republican-led Senate to confirm Bolton, a favorite of conservatives, before the Democrats take over Congress early next year.
Democrats blocked Bolton's confirmation last year, saying he had used an earlier job as top U.S. diplomat for arms control to manipulate intelligence to promote his hawkish views. He has been serving as U.N. envoy under a temporary appointment by Bush that allows him to stay until January.
Democratic lawmakers, joined by key Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee (news, bio, voting record) of Rhode Island, vowed not to support Bolton's renomination, imperiling Bush's attempts to keep him in the post.
If Bolton goes, he would be the administration's second major second casualty since Republicans suffered humiliating defeats at the polls on Tuesday, hammered by voters disillusioned with Bush's handling of the Iraq war.
Bush quickly announced the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the lightning rod for criticism of U.S. Iraq policy, and insisted he was open to new ideas on the conduct of the war. Iraq figured prominently in his talks with Senate Democrats on Friday.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said Bolton had "earned the right to remain our U.N. ambassador."
"What we ought to do right now is simply allow senators in the lame-duck session to see if they will give John Bolton a fair shake," he told reporters. "The president wants it."
Snow insisted that Bolton's renomination should not be viewed as "necessarily provocative."
Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden (news, bio, voting record) of Delaware, who is expected to become chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the new Congress, said on Thursday that Bolton's nomination was "going nowhere."
Opponents of the nomination said Tuesday's elections, widely seen as the voters' repudiation of Bush's Iraq war strategy, showed a new direction was needed in foreign policy.
Critics accuse Bolton of having a go-it-alone stance in international affairs that they say is ill-suited to the job of U.N. ambassador. Conservatives view him as a strong advocate for U.S. interests.
Chafee is on the Senate Foreign Relations committee and his opposition means Bolton cannot get a favorable vote on the panel, where all the Democrats oppose the nominee.
While Republican leaders still could send the nomination to the Senate floor, some Democrats have vowed to use procedural rules to block it.
Faced with a new political landscape in Washington, Bush met Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and Democratic whip Richard Durbin at the White House on Friday after holding talks with the Democratic House leadership on Thursday.
The senators joined with Bush in promising to work together in a spirit of bipartisanship.
Reid has urged Bush to call a bipartisan summit on Iraq. Democrats have made clear they will exert strong pressure on Bush for a policy shift in Iraq amid rising U.S. casualties and violence.
The White House has insisted that Bush is open to changes in tactics but not in strategy on Iraq.
But analysts say a bipartisan committee co-chaired by Bush family loyalist James Baker could give the president a face-saving way to begin extricating U.S. forces from Iraq when it offers recommendations expected soon. Bush is due to meet the panel early next week.
(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan)