WASHINGTON — A Senate Judiciary Committee divided along partisan lines advanced Alberto Gonzales’ nomination as attorney general to the full Senate on Wednesday despite Democratic complaints that he is too close to President Bush to be effective as the nation’s top law enforcement official.
“It’s hard to be a straight shooter when you’re a blind loyalist,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
Republicans muscled Gonzales’ nomination through the panel on a 10-8 party line vote and are expected to use their 55-44 advantage to confirm him there next week at the earliest.
Bush had urged lawmakers earlier Wednesday to “promptly act and confirm Judge Al Gonzales. He’ll be a great attorney general.”
“The political theater, delays and attempts to obstruct this outstanding nomination are now one step away from their rightful conclusion: an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas., after the committee vote.
The party line vote for Gonzales mirrored the vote four years ago for current Attorney General John Ashcroft, who is still a lightning rod for Democratic criticism. “Even voting against him (Gonzales), he’s a significant improvement over the attorney general we have there now,” said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del.
But being “less polarizing than John Ashcroft is not enough to get my vote,” Schumer said.
Democrats complained that Gonzales was evasive with his answers to their questions about White House policies in the war on terror. They have used his nomination and that of secretary of state nominee Condoleezza Rice to criticize the Iraq war and the treatment of foreign prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Democrats question Gonzales' judgment
Democrats laid much of the blame at Gonzales’ feet. “Based on the glimpses of secret policy formulations and legal rationales that have come to light, I believe his judgments not to have been sound,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
“His judgment is defective,” Biden added.
Republicans said Gonzales shouldn’t be the scapegoat for what happened to foreign prisoners.
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“Most of these allegations have nothing to do with Judge Gonzales and in any event have been thoroughly discussed,” said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.
Gonzales, who served as White House counsel during Bush’s first term, would replace Ashcroft if confirmed. He would be the nation’s first Hispanic attorney general.
Democrats say they will require several hours of debate on the Senate floor before allowing a confirmation vote.
“I think that a man who gave the legal advice to the president to allow this to take place is someone that deserves to be talked about on the Senate floor,” Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said Tuesday.
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