WASHINGTON -- President Bush bypassed Congress yesterday to install John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations, brushing aside Democratic objections to make the controversial, blunt-spoken UN critic the nation's top representative to the international body.
With the Senate out of session for the month of August, the president used his authority to make a ''recess appointment" that will allow Bolton to serve without Senate approval for 17 months. The ambassador's post has been vacant since January, and Bush said the nation can no longer wait to have its interests represented at UN headquarters in New York City.
''This post is too important to leave vacant any longer, especially during a war and a vital debate about UN reform," Bush said in announcing the appointment at the White House. ''A majority of United States senators agree that he is the right man for the job. Yet because of partisan delaying tactics by a handful of senators, John was unfairly denied the up-or-down vote that he deserves."
Bush's move means Bolton begins his new job without the clear backing of Congress, and with other UN delegates aware that his term may not last long. The president's decision to go around the Senate angered Democrats, who pointed to testimony about Bolton's bullying management style, and to the White House blocking access to internal documents they considered relevant to his nomination.
Republicans twice failed to break a Democrat-led filibuster of Bolton. Senator John F. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts and a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the recess appointment ''only diminishes John Bolton's validity and leverage to secure America's goals at the UN. . . . This is not the way to fill our most important diplomatic jobs."
Under the Constitution, the president has the power to ''fill up all vacancies" to posts such as judgeships and ambassadorships without Senate approval when Congress is out of session. Such appointments last through the end of the next year-long congressional session -- in this case, early January 2007. At that point, Bolton must win Senate confirmation or Bush has to choose someone else.
Bolton said yesterday that he looks forward to helping the UN adapt to a changing world. He headed to New York shortly after his appointment to begin preparing for the start of the next UN session in September.
''We seek a stronger, more effective organization, true to the ideals of its founders and agile enough to act in the 21st century," Bolton said at the White House.
Bolton, 58, has been harshly critical of the UN and has a reputation as a blunt-talking, hard-line conservative who has clashed repeatedly with colleagues. He once said that the UN could lose 10 of the 38 stories of its headquarters and ''it wouldn't make a bit of difference."
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan sidestepped a question yesterday about whether Bolton will be weakened because of the manner of his appointment. Annan noted that Bolton got the job in accordance with US laws.
''We will welcome him at a time when we are in the midst of major reform," Annan said. ''It is the president's prerogative, and the president has decided to appoint him through this process for him to come and represent him."
Privately, UN officials fretted that Bolton will try to curtail Annan's influence and marginalize him when the United States and its interests lie in the world body's minority.
Republicans see Bolton as exactly the presence the scandal-plagued UN requires if it is to stay relevant. But Democrats urged Bush to find a more conciliatory figure for the post in an effort to rebuild broken coalitions and ease strained alliances; the Bush administration has lost allies in the world community for its handling of the Iraq war and its decisions not to participate in the International Criminal Court and the Kyoto global-warming treaty.
In hearings before the Foreign Relations Committee, senators heard allegations that Bolton sought to reassign staff intelligence analysts who disagreed with him. Several of his former colleagues also claimed that Bolton tried to exaggerate intelligence on Syria's possession of weapons of mass destruction in 2003.
The Bush administration declined to release documents relating to that issue, arguing that internal communications must be kept private to encourage candor in deliberations.
Officials also refused to show senators the names of 19 Americans whose identities Bolton requested from 10 National Security Agency communications intercepts. Democrats have said they suspect Bolton asked for the names to exact retribution on officials who disagreed with him.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Bush chose a recess appointment for Bolton because Democrats made clear that they were ''playing politics" and would not allow a vote on his nomination.
Globe correspondent Joe Lauria contributed to this report from the United Nations.