Long before he was President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton was, for a short time, President George W. Bush’s United Nations ambassador, a role in which he made few friends and alienated many.
But as Bolton’s abbreviated tenure at Turtle Bay drew to a close in December 2006, he had one fan: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“I thought Bolton was doing a great job,” Bloomberg told New York radio host John R. Gambling, a frequent interlocutor for Bloomberg and his predecessor at Gracie Mansion, Rudy Giuliani. Congress’ opposition to Bolton was “a disgrace,” Bloomberg continued.
The “disgrace” he referred to was the Senate passing on Bolton in 2005 due to his open hostility to the U.N. and his advocacy of the Iraq war, and its refusal to reconsider.
Bloomberg’s favorable assessment of an ambassador who was considered the diplomatic equivalent of a wrecking ball is the latest in an accumulating series of difficulties for the billionaire oligarch as he seeks the Democratic presidential nomination.
Hizzoner told Gambling that he approved of Bolton’s performance at the U.N., defending the right of a president to put his “own people” in office. He sidestepped any discussion of Bolton’s qualifications—Bush himself said in 2008 he didn’t “consider Bolton credible” and regretted nominating him—and expressed a minimalist view of the Senate’s role in vetting presidential appointments.
“Should the president or a governor or a mayor, whomever, an executive, have the right to pick their own representatives and assistants and advisers. If you want to hold them accountable, you gotta let them have their own people,” Bloomberg told WABC radio’s Gambling on Dec. 8, 2006.
“First and foremost, it seems to me that the Congress couldn't be more wrong in denying Bolton the job, because this is who the president wanted, and the advice and consent that the Constitution gives the power to the Congress is, is the person qualified—education, that sort of thing, not their own personal policies,” Bloomberg said. ”Nor should it be used as a referendum on the elected officials’ policies. The public elected the president. Like him or not, he has a right to his people. ”
Bloomberg proclaimed himself “a very big fan of the United Nations,” even if “they say stupid things and a lot is said that I violently disagree with.”
He saw Bolton pushing the U.N. toward positions he embraced, calling them “pro-freedom loving people around the world, pro-United States, pro-Israel, against terrorism.”
“I thought Bolton was doing a great job,” Bloomberg said, “but the first and foremost reason I think this is a disgrace, other than the fact I think Bolton was doing a good job, the president has a right to have his own people.”
As for the Senate, Bloomberg continued, “Congress has some say. You can work your ways up there, too. That's fine. But to micromanage, Congress couldn't be more wrong in doing this. It's a cheap political stunt done for local partisanship, and it's an outrage.”
Bolton’s nomination failed in 2005 to overcome what was in effect a filibuster by minority Democrats. It arose in light of Bolton’s famous 1994 comment that if the U.N. secretariat “lost ten stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference” and accusations that Bolton, at the State Department, bureaucratically brawled with intelligence analysts who presented him with unwelcome assessments.
Senate opposition ensured that Bush appointed Bolton while Congress was on recess, thereby limiting his tenure. Once at the U.N., Bolton, attempting to pivot his hostility to the U.N. in principle toward an opposition to the U.N.’s fecklessness, raised hackles for confrontationally holding up the organization’s budget until it passed management reforms to his liking. While there, Bolton defended Israel’s destruction of the Beirut airport and other Lebanese infrastructure, a reprisal for Hezbollah killing three Israeli soldiers and kidnapping another two, as an “act in self-defense.” But by and large, the U.N. waited Bolton out.
Bloomberg’s 2006 praise for Bolton was consistent with his general approval of Bush’s foreign policy, which remains a subject of ire from the progressives Bloomberg now seeks to cultivate.
Mere hours before the U.S. invaded Iraq, Bloomberg, an unrepentant war supporter, emerged from a meeting with Bush to say the president is “not going to be cowed or dissuaded. He's going to go out there and do what we all pray is right." Later that week, Bloomberg defended Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge’s hysterical comments about purchasing duct tape and plastic sheeting for home defense against a chemical attack, telling ABC, “I think you have to have a lot of understanding of Tom Ridge's difficult job.” The next year, with Iraq in flames, Bloomberg insisted, “Don’t forget that the war started not very many blocks from here,” even though Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.
Later that year, at the 2004 Republican convention, Bloomberg gave Bush the imprimatur of a city devastated by 9/11: “Neither America nor President Bush ever stopped believing in us.” Bloomberg had initially demurred on an endorsement of Bush at the convention. “I'm told the mayors traditionally give a welcome speech, and I would be thrilled to do that. After that, I'm not a particularly political guy” he had told WNYC in January 2004. But in his speech, he thanked Bush “for leading the Global War on Terrorism” and said, “the president deserves our support.”
Bloomberg spokesperson Stu Loeser told The Daily Beast, “Though Mike disagrees with John Bolton in many areas, he was far from alone in noting a few areas of success. Months before Mike said this about Bolton, The New York Times editorial board praised him for his refusal to go along with a weakened human rights commission, saying, ‘John Bolton is right.’
“And Mike stands by his broader point that Presidents should get to pick their teams. One of the most pathetic parts of the Trump years has been how Donald Trump can't recruit much of anyone to help him govern, even with a rubber-stamp Republican majority in the Senate.”