Friday, September 08, 2006

Chafee Takes a Dump In Bolton's Punchbowl

Now that the Republicans have finally gotten Sen. Voinovich back on the reservation vis a vis the John Bolton confirmation, Sen. Chafee has strayed from the group.

Republican efforts to formally confirm John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations hit an unexpected snag yesterday when a Republican senator in a tough reelection bid said he could not support the diplomat until the Bush administration answers his questions on Middle East policy.

The protest by Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee (R.I.) is only the latest development in the long-running battle to get Bolton confirmed to the post he now holds on a temporary basis. Last year, Chafee supported Bolton's confirmation, but the opposition of Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) prompted President Bush to name him to the U.N. post as a recess appointment.

This summer, Voinovich declared that his concerns over Bolton's temperament have been satisfactorily answered by the diplomat's performance at the United Nations. That conversion prompted Bush and GOP leaders to resubmit Bolton's name for confirmation. But Chafee informed Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) of his change of heart yesterday, forcing Lugar to call off the confirmation vote or face the possibility of a 9 to 9 deadlock in the 18-member panel.

Chafee is fighting for his political life. Next Tuesday, Rhode Island primary voters must decide between Chafee, the Senate's most liberal Republican, and Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey, who is challenging him from the right. If Chafee survives the GOP primary, he must then win reelection in one of the most Democratic states in the country.

Stephen Hourahan, Chafee's spokesman, said the senator's move against Bolton was not motivated by politics, noting that Chafee remains in a political bind. The move might play well with Democratic voters in November, he acknowledged, but next week it could enflame Republican primary voters already drawn to Laffey. ...

But victory in the primary will probably be decided by independent voters, not party stalwarts, and burnishing his independent credentials may be a help. In a new campaign advertisement airing in Rhode Island, a character labels the senator "independent minded" before Chafee states: "I believe that neither Republicans nor Democrats are always right."

Republican leadership aides said GOP leaders are willing to give Chafee some room to maneuver ahead of Tuesday's primary. But they indicated they will probably push for a vote after the polls close next week.

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