George Voinovich of Ohio called for Bush to consider somebody else for the position.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Senate Democrats blocked John Bolton's confirmation as U.N. ambassador for the second time Monday and President Bush left open the possibility of bypassing lawmakers and appointing the tough-talking former State Department official on his own.
The vote was 54-38, six shy of the total needed to force a final vote on Bolton, and represented an erosion in support from last month's failed Republican effort. Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, who voted in May to advance the nomination, switched positions and urged Bush to consider another candidate, while only three Democrats crossed party lines.
The setback left Bush facing stark choices -- most of which could leave him appearing weak at a time he is facing sagging poll numbers and fighting lame-duck status six months into his final term.
Some Republicans urged Bush to continue fighting for Bolton rather than appoint him on his own during an upcoming Senate recess for fear of sending a weakened nominee to the United Nations. "That would not be in our best interest," said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Democrats have demanded the administration check a list of 36 U.S. officials against names in secret national security intercepts that Bolton requested and received. They also want documents related to the preparation of testimony that Bolton planned to give in the House in July 2003 about Syria's weapons capability.
In remarks on the Senate floor, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, lead Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card had offered to provide some information about Syria. He said Democrats would give Bolton a final confirmation vote only when the administration provided all the information they seek.
Taking a stand
"The vote we're about to take is not, is not about John Bolton; the vote is about taking a stand," Biden said. He called it "totally unacceptable" for the president -- no matter the political party -- to "dictate to the Senate on how we should proceed."
At a White House news conference earlier Monday, Bush sidestepped a question on whether he would circumvent the Senate and appoint the fiery conservative to the ambassador's post when Congress leaves Washington for the Fourth of July.
"I think it's time for the Senate to give him an up-or-down vote. Now," the president said.
Bush has the power to install Bolton during the Senate's upcoming holiday break. The so-called recess appointment would only last through the next one-year session of Congress -- in Bolton's case until January 2007.
Should Bush decide against that, he could withdraw the nomination or authorize further concessions to Democrats who are demanding access to information, some of it classified, about Bolton before they stop stalling.
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