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GOP bullying on Bolton

What kind of moral value is this? Faced with a Republican with a conscience, President Bush attributes GOP concern over the nomination of John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations to partisan bickering.

‘‘Sometimes politics gets in the way of doing the people’s business,’’ Bush said yesterday in a speech to the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America convention in Washington. He urged senators to ‘‘put aside politics’’ and confirm Bolton.

That is an overt presidential mischaracterization of what is happening to his nominee, a mischaracterization that a morals class might even consider a falsehood. Democrats surely can be accused of partisanship in trying to block Bolton’s nomination. But how does that charge apply to Republicans who are feeling queasy about the nominee and want more information from him?

"My conscience got me,’’ said Republican Senator George V. Voinovich of Ohio, explaining on Tuesday why he changed his mind about supporting Bolton as UN ambassador. ‘‘I wanted more information about this individual and I didn’t feel comfortable voting for him.’’

As a result, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was forced to postpone a vote on Bolton’s nomination.

Since then, other Republicans are wavering as well. Senator Lincoln Chafee, a Rhode Island Republican, who earlier was inclined to support Bolton, said he wanted to consult with colleagues. And Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, is also expressing concern about some of the accusations against Bolton. ‘‘I think these charges are serious enough to demand they cry out for further explanation,’’ he said.

Voinovich got a conscience after hearing Senators Joseph R. Biden, Democrat of Delaware, and Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, make the case against Bolton.

Part of the case submitted by the Democrats involved a statement from Melody Townsel of Dallas, a former contract worker for the Agency for International Development. In an open letter to the committee, Townsel wrote that Bolton, as a private lawyer, routinely visited her hotel room in Moscow ‘‘to pound on the door and shout threats’’ because she complained about inefficiencies by one of Bolton’s clients, a contractor in a foreign aid program. ‘‘Mr. Bolton proceeded to chase me through the halls of a Russian hotel, throwing things at me, shoving threatening letters under my door and genuinely behaving like a madman,’’ Townsel wrote. She also said Bolton falsely told US Foreign Service officials that she was under investigation for misuse of funds.

One co-worker has corroborated some of the charges, while the president of the company has challenged some. Bolton has not responded to the charge.

Bolton’s critics also accuse him of trying to intimidate intelligence analysts and have them fired when they did not agree with him. At an earlier hearing, he defended his treatment of two analysts, saying he only meant to signal his lost confidence in them, not retaliate against them for their views.

The charges make temperment, not just ideology, an issue for Bolton. And temperment is fair game for a man nominated as ambassador to the UN, even one committed to ‘‘reforming’’ it.

In a fitting tribute to Bolton’s bullying style, the Wall Street Journal editorial page yesterday waded in with its own journalistic door-pounding and threat-shouting, belittling Voinovich and Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The pressure is now on Republicans on the Foreign Relations Committee. Will they fold in the face of the onslaught from Bolton’s supporters, or do the right thing and ask Bolton to come back and address the charges?

Lugar has not set a date for new hearing, but said his committee’s plans ‘‘would include the possibility that Secretary Bolton might be asked to come back for additional testimony.’’

Clearly, Bolton’s supporters do not want that to happen. They know that Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, is correct in assessing the potential for the nominee to die a ‘‘death of a thousand cuts.’’

But how does the GOP, the self-proclaimed party of moral purpose, overlook a Republican senator’s freely expressed conscience? Democrats did not beat that out of Voinovich; they did not pound at his door, shout threats, chase him down hallways, or throw things at him. They merely presented information that gave him and other Republicans pause, making them desire more information from the nominee.

That is not stopping the people’s business, as Bush charges.That is that is doing the people’s business, as high a moral purpose as there is in Washington.

Joan Vennochi’s e-mail address is

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