Two veteran U.S. diplomats faced important confirmation hearings this week in the Senate. John Bolton is President Bush's nominee to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations while John Negroponte is the president's choice to fill the newly created job of director of national intelligence.
It is a political ritual as old as the Republic: "This hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is called to order."
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar did the honors as the Senate prepared to fulfill its constitutional mandate to advise and consent on the nomination of John Bolton to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Ambassador Bolton has been a blunt and frequent critic of the United Nations in the past, something opposition Democrats on the committee were eager to bring up again and again.
Mr. Bolton said his criticisms of the United Nations are all part of trying to make the institution work better and focus on what he believes should be its core mission, which includes the promotion of human rights: "The charge to the international community is clear. We who are on the right side of freedom's divide have an obligation to those who are unlucky enough to be born on the wrong side of that divide."
While Republicans defended the president's nominee, Democrats like Barbara Boxer of California highlighted his past statements critical of the United Nations: "I have spent the last month extensively reviewing your writings, your public statements about the United Nations. And my overall assessment, Mr. Bolton, is that you have nothing but disdain for the United Nations."
Under the confirmation process, nominees first face a vote in the committee that has jurisdiction over their agency or department, followed by a vote of the full Senate.
Nowadays, the confirmation battle often spreads to the public airways with groups both for and against certain nominees buying broadcast time to run ads on radio and television.
A conservative group called Move America Forward supports the Bolton nomination: "We tell other countries not to support organizations that harbor terrorists. Why then do we harbor the U.N. here in America? Join us as we help move America forward by kicking the U.N. out of the U.S."
It should be noted that Ambassador Bolton does not support the group's demand to expel the United Nations from U.S. territory.
On the other side of the debate, a liberal group called Citizens for Global Solutions is running an ad that opposes Mr. Bolton's confirmation: "John Bolton, wrong ideas, wrong message and the wrong man for the job. Call your senators now. Tell them to stop John Bolton today!"
One of the more memorable confirmation dramas took place in 1991 when the first President Bush nominated Federal Judge Clarence Thomas to a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Millions of Americans were watching the hearing on television when a former co-worker of Judge Thomas, a witness named Anita Hill, accused him of sexual harassment: "My working relationship became even more strained when Judge Thomas began to use work situations to discuss sex."
Judge Thomas denied the allegations and accused his political opponents of trying to orchestrate what he called a high-tech lynching: "Contrary to some press reports, I categorically denied all of the allegations and denied that I ever attempted to date Anita Hill when first interviewed by the FBI. I strongly reaffirm that denial."
Clarence Thomas eventually won appointment to the Supreme Court after one of the most divisive confirmation battles in U.S. history.
Historians say the confirmation process has evolved over the years and now includes more involvement from the public and special interest groups.
But Georgetown University political scientist Stephen Wayne says the main objective of the confirmation process has changed little from the days of the nation's first president, George Washington: "It is an opportunity for the president to put his person in place and it is an opportunity for the opposition to voice their dissent, even if they cannot or do not want to prevent the nomination. And that is the check and balance that the framers of the American Constitution obviously wanted when they divided this power between the executive/presidency and at least one of the legislative/Senate branches."
Political experts say the next major confirmation battle will likely occur when a vacancy opens up on the U.S. Supreme Court, something that has not happened for more than 10 years.