WASHINGTON -- President Bush on Wednesday withdrew the ambassadorial nomination of St. Louis businessman Sam Fox after Democrats denounced Fox for giving money to a controversial conservative group that undermined Sen. John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign.
Kerry, D-Mass., had criticized Fox because of a $50,000 contribution that Fox made in 2004 to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
Many Democrats blame the group for sinking Kerry's presidential hopes that year after it aired a series of controversial ads that impugned Kerry's military record in the Vietnam War.
"Sam Fox had every opportunity to disavow the politics of personal destruction and to embrace the truth," Kerry said Wednesday. "He chose not to. The White House made the right decision to withdraw the nomination. I hope this signals a new day in political discourse."
The White House announced the withdrawal in a news release distributed less than an hour before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee gathered to vote on his nomination to be ambassador to Belgium.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Bush believes Fox is qualified to serve as ambassador but withdrew the nomination "because of politics."
"Some members of the Senate would have voted against his nomination, which would have prevented him from serving in this important position," Perino said. "So we are disappointed that they made their decision based on partisan politics instead of his leadership abilities."
On Tuesday, Kerry's Vietnam crew mates had sent a letter urging committee members to oppose Fox's nomination.
"In our judgment, those who finance smears and lies of combat veterans don't deserve to represent America on the world stage," said the letter signed by 11 Vietnam Swift Boat veterans who served with Kerry.
Complicating matters is the presence of three Democratic presidential hopefuls on the committee -- the chairman, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del.; and Sens. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Chris Dodd, D-Conn.
"I had serious concerns about Mr. Fox's candor, judgment and qualifications for this important post, and I am pleased that the Bush administration acknowledged that it would not be able to muster the votes to confirm his nomination," Obama said.
Dodd, the second ranking member of the committee, had pledged to oppose the nomination a day before the vote because Fox "refused to apologize for his behavior" during his confirmation hearing last month.
"His unwillingness to denounce the reprehensible activities of the Swift Boat organization and express regret for providing $50,000 to bankroll the organization convinced me that he would not be an acceptable candidate to represent the United States abroad," Dodd said.
Fox, 77, of St. Louis is national chairman of the Jewish Republican Coalition and has donated more than $1 million to Republican candidates and causes since the 1990s, according to Federal Election Commission records. He was deemed a "ranger" by President Bush's campaign for helping to raise at least $200,000.
Kerry grilled Fox about the Swift Boat contribution during the Feb. 27 hearing, asking him why he gave money to a group that was "smearing and spreading lies" and had been condemned by members of both political parties.
Fox replied that he considers Kerry a hero. But he refused to call the contribution a mistake.
"When I'm asked, I just generally give," Fox told Kerry.
Fox did not backed down in a series of written responses to Kerry since the hearing.
But one of Fox's strongest backers, Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., said it was "disappointing that a capable and qualified candidate with bipartisan support has become a victim of a political vendetta."
Fox had garnered the public support of Bond and Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., all of whom testified for him.