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Ashcroft Hearing: Senators Make Opening Statements, Question Attorney General NomineeAired January 16, 2001 - 1:30 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FRANK SESNO, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everybody. I am Frank Sesno in Washington, where in just a few minutes, the confirmation hearings begin for John Ashcroft, President-elect Bush's nominee to be the next attorney general for the United States, and a controversial nomination, as you probably, it is.
And there is the view of the room. John Ashcroft is in the room now packed with the media, reporters, photographers, and those senators who sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee. They will be making their opening statements today, as will John Ashcroft himself. And what tone will he strike, knowing that he does, that he is the man in the middle?
Our man on the Hill, Bob Franken has obtained a copy of John Ashcroft's statement.
John -- Bob, rather, what is John Ashcroft going to be saying?
BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What he is going to do, he is going to confront some of the controversies that are here, to get them out in the open for discussion. He is going to talk about the fact that while he has views on gun control, he is going to in fact make sure that he enforces the laws of the land; That he has views on abortion, he says he does have views on abortion, he opposes abortion, but he realizes, he will say, that it is the "settled law of the land," that is a quote, and that he will in fact enforce that settled law.
What he is trying to do is he is going to be trying to undermine some of the criticisms that have come from the groups that are opposed to him by getting these discussions out on the table, and trying to offer reassurance, not just to the senators, but more importantly to the people who are watching, as he tries to fight the impression that he is an extremist.
On the matter of Judge Ronnie White, the African-American supreme court judge in Missouri, he is going to say, the only reason he oppose him was -- had nothing to do with his race, when he was opposing him to be a federal judge, but he believed that White was too criminal.
We are now hearing that the hearing is about to get started. We are seeing that Pat Leahy, the Democrat, is chairing it right now. So, Frank, that is the quick thumbnail of what we are going to be hearing from Ashcroft, as he tries to take the offense, instead of playing defense.
SESNO: OK, and Pat Leahy is speaking. He is co-chairing this effectively, really he is the acting chair, because he is -- the Democrats right now, still with Al Gore sitting as the president of the Senate in charge, also with Orrin Hatch.
Here is Pat Leahy as he begins these proceedings.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN: ... and all of the continuing members of the both sides of the aisle.
We're being rejoined this year by Senator Durbin of Illinois. Senator Durbin was a very valuable member of this committee when he served here before, before leaving to go to a different committee.
Dick, we're delighted to have you back.
We're also joined by Senator Brownback, who has been in the Senate for some time, but this is his first time this year. And Sam and I have worked together on a number of significant pieces of legislation.
And, Sam, I'm delighted to have you in the committee.
SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R), KANSAS: Happy to join you.
LEAHY: I understand my neighbor from New Hampshire who was sitting on these hearings will be leaving, and I'm sorry to have that happen because Senator Smith and I have also worked together on matters. And we do have the ability to check with each other on what the weather is along the Connecticut River.
And Senator Cantwell of Washington state will be joining us, but she and Senator Biden are at the funeral of our former colleague, Alan Cranston, in California. Senator Cantwell first came to Washington as a staff member of Senator Cranston, and Senator Biden and I and several others here served with him.
LEAHY: And they would be here other than that. And of course, we have the nominee, Senator Ashcroft, his wife, Janet, and others who we'll get to in a few minutes.
I welcome Senator Ashcroft, who certainly is no stranger to this committee room, and his family here.
I have said many times, as most of us have, that the position of attorney general is of extraordinary importance. The attorney general is the lawyer for all the people, as the chief law enforcement officer in the country. That's why the attorney general not only needs the full confidence of the president, he or she also needs the confidence and trust of the American people. We all look to the attorney general to ensure even-handed law enforcement and protection of our basic constitutional rights, including the freedom of speech, the right to privacy, a woman's right to choose, freedom from government oppression, and equal protection of all our laws.
The attorney general plays a critical role in bringing the country together, in bridging racial divisions and inspiring people's confidence in their government.
Senator Ashcroft has often taken aggressively activist positions on a number of issues that deeply divide the American people.
LEAHY: Now, he had a right to take these activist positions, but we also have a duty to evaluate how these positions will affect his conduct as attorney general.
On many of these issues and on battles over executive branch or judicial nominees, Senator Ashcroft was not just in the minority of the United States Senate, but in a minority among Republicans in the Senate. Now we have to ask if somebody who has been that unyielding in a policy outlook can unite all Americans. And that's an important question for the Senate.
Now, the hearing is not about whether we like Senator John Ashcroft or call him a friend. All of us do. All of us like him; all of us know him. It is not about whether we agree or disagree with him on every issue. Many of us have worked productively with him on selected matters and then we've disagreed with him on others.
Let me be very clear about one thing: This is not about whether Senator Ashcroft is racist, anti-Catholic, anti-Mormon or anti- anything else. Those of us who have worked with him in the Senate do not make that charge.
But at the same time, I know that all senators and the nominee agree that no one nominated to be attorney general should be given special treatment just because he or she once served in the Senate.
So fundamentally, the question before us is whether Senator Ashcroft is the right person at this time for the critical position of attorney general of the United States. The appointment clause of the Constitution gives the Senate the duty and responsibility of providing both its advice and its consent.
LEAHY: Among the areas we will explore with Senator Ashcroft is how he fulfilled his constitutional duty as a senator in exercising his own advise and consent authority in connection with executive and judicial nominations. We'll explore the standards he would use in making recommendations to the president on executive and judicial appointments if he's confirmed as attorney general.
President Kennedy observed that to govern is to choose. What choices the next attorney general makes about resources and priorities will have a dramatic impact on almost every aspect of the society in which we live. The American people want to know not just whether this nominee will commit to enforce the laws on the books, but what his priorities will be, what choices he is likely to make and what changes he will seek in the law. Most importantly, we will want to know what changes he will seek in the constitutional rights that Americans currently enjoy.
These include what positions he would urge upon the Supreme Court; in particular, whether he'd ask the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade or to impose more burdensome restrictions on a woman's ability to secure a safe and legal contraceptives.
Now, we're proceeding expeditiously with these hearings as requested by President-elect Bush, as I told him I would. But I have also said from the outset that these hearings have to be thorough, but they have to be fair and they will be.
HATCH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I'm glad to welcome the members of the Ashcroft family and you, Senator Ashcroft, the witnesses here today, including Senator Ashcroft's highly accomplished wife, Janet, who has been a professor of business law here in Washington, D.C., at Howard University for the past five years. I want to take a moment to let the Ashcroft family know how much we appreciate their sacrifices while John has served in public office.
John Ashcroft is no stranger to the Senate Judiciary Committee. He served on our committee with distinction over the past four years, working closely with members on both sides of the aisle on a variety of issues ranging from privacy rights to racial profiling.
HATCH: As a member of the committee, he proved himself a leader in many areas, including the fight against drugs and violence, the assessment of the proper role of the Justice Department, and the protection of victims' rights.
John has an impressive record -- almost 30 years of public service.
Eight years as Missouri state attorney general, during which time he was elected by his 50 state attorney general peers to head the National Association of Attorneys General.
Eight years as governor of the great state of Missouri, during which time he was elected by the 50 governors to serve as the head of the National Governors' Association.
Six years in the United States Senate, four of which, he has served here with us on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Of the 67 attorneys general in the history of this country, only a handful come even close to having even some of the qualifications that John Ashcroft brings in assuming the position of chief law enforcement officer of this great nation.
The Department of Justice, of course, encompasses broad jurisdiction. It includes the executive administration of organizations ranging from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, all of the United States attorneys throughout the country, to the Bureau of Prisons.
It includes, among other things, enforcement of the law in areas including antitrust, terrorism, fraud, money laundering, organized crime, drugs and immigration -- just to mention a few.
To effectively prevent and manage crises in these important areas, one thing is certain: We needed to have a no-nonsense person with the background and experience of John Ashcroft. Those charged with enforcing the law of the nation must demonstrate both the proper understanding of that law and a determination to uphold its letter and spirit. This is the standard I have applied to nominees in the past, and this is the standard that I am applying to John Ashcroft here.
HATCH: During John Ashcroft's 30-year service for the public, he has worked to establish a number of things to keep Americans safe and free from criminal activities: tougher sentencing laws for serious crimes, keeping drugs out of the hands of children, improving our nation's immigration laws, protecting citizens from fraud, protecting competition in business. He has supported funding increases for law enforcement. He held the first hearings ever on the issue of racial profiling.
And he's been a leader for victim's rights in accordance of law and otherwise; helped to enact the violence against women bill, provisions making violence at abortion clinics fines nondischargeable -- and bankruptcy; authored anti-stalking laws, fought to allow women accused of homicide to have the privilege of presenting battered- spouse syndrome evidence in the courts of law. As governor, he commuted the sentences of two women, who did not have that privilege. He signed Missouri's hate crimes bill into law. I could go on and on. His record is distinguished.
Senator Ashcroft, during these hearings, we are eager to hear and the American people are eager to hear your plans for making America a safer place to live. A great number of people have said to me that they are tired of living in fear. They want to go to sleep at night without worrying about the safety of their children or about becoming victims of crime themselves.
I know you and I am familiar with your distinguished 30-year record of enforcing and upholding law. And I feel a great sense of comfort and a new-found security in your nomination to be our nation's chief law enforcement officer.
Mr. Chairman, I have one request of my colleagues as we proceed: In keeping with our promise to work in a bipartisan fashion, I ask that we begin with a rejection of the politics of division. If we want to encourage the most qualified citizens to serve in government, we must do everything we can to stop what has been termed the politics of personal destruction.
This is not to say that we should put an end to an open and candid debate on policy issues.
HATCH: Quite the contrary. Our system of government is designed to promote the expression of these differences, and our Constitution protects it. But the fact is that all of us, both Democrats and Republicans, know the difference between legitimate policy debate and unwarranted personal attacks promoted and sometimes urged by narrow special interest groups.
John Ashcroft, like many of us, is a man of strongly held views. I have every confidence, based on his distinguished record, that as attorney general he will vigorously work to enforce the law, whether or not the law happens to be consistent with his personal views.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, you know that I would have preferred a format similar to that followed for President Clinton's nominees and prior nominees for the last four attorney general nominees: no more than a two-day hearing with outside interest groups submitting their testimony in writing. But I'm sure that you will endeavor to be fair as we proceed with this hearing. I have confidence in that. And I look forward to these proceedings and look forward to participating in them.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
LEAHY: Thank you, Senator Hatch. And I can assure you the hearings will be fair. There are 280 million Americans who have views on who should be attorney general. There will be interest groups to the left or the right who may have suggestions. Ultimately, there's only 100 Americans who'll get to vote on that issue, and that's the 100 members of the Senate. And it will be -- the whole tone of the debate and all will be decided by us.
Just so we can understand, we'll do this. We should give each senator an opportunity for brief opening remarks. I'd ask if they could keep it at three or four minutes. We'll then turn to the nominee, both for the introductions and an opening remark. And then we'll have the opportunity to question the nominee for 15 minutes each in the first go-round and then shorter ones if we need to after that.
What I would do, too, once we have all finished, we'll take a very short break just so that those who are going to introduce him and all will know what's going to happen.
But with that, I would turn to the distinguished senior senator from Massachusetts, and also a former chairman of this committee, Senator Kennedy.
SEN. EDWARD M. KENNEDY (D-MA): Thank you.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding these hearings. They may well be the most important hearings that our committee will have this year. The power and reach of the Department of Justice is vast and the person at its head must have the ability and the commitment to enforce the laws vigorously. The reality and perception of fairness must be without question. During Senator Ashcroft's quarter-century in public service, he has taken strong positions on a range of important issues in the jurisdiction of the Justice Department.
KENNEDY: Unfortunately and often, he has used the power of his high office to advance his personal views in spite of the law of the land. The vast majority of Americans support vigorous enforcement of our civil rights laws, and those laws and the Constitution demand it.
Senator Ashcroft, however, spent significant parts of his term as attorney general of Missouri, and his term as governor, strongly opposing school desegregation and voter registration in St. Louis. The vast majority of Americans believe in access to contraception and a woman's right to choose, and our laws and Constitution demand it. Senator Ashcroft does not. His intense efforts have made him one of the principal architects of the ongoing right-wing strategy to dismantle Roe v. Wade and abolish a woman's right to choose.
Deep concerns have been raised about his record on gun control. He has called James Brady the leading enemy of responsible gun owners. Senator Ashcroft is so far out of the mainstream that he has said citizens need to be armed in order to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. Our government, tyrannical? In fact, he relies on an extreme reading of the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment to the Constitution to oppose virtually all gun control laws.
He doesn't show the same respect for the right of free speech under the First Amendment. In 1978, as attorney general of Missouri, he tried to use the antitrust laws to undermine the right to free speech of the National Organization for Women and prevent a boycott of Missouri by the organization over the state's refusal to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.
KENNEDY: As these few examples demonstrate, the clear question before the Senate is whether, if confirmed as attorney general, Senator Ashcroft will be capable of fully and fairly enforcing the nation's laws to benefit all Americans, even though he profoundly disagrees with many of the most important of those laws. His past actions strongly suggest that he will not.
Senator Ashcroft's record in Missouri and in the Senate is extremely troubling on this basic question. Many of us, probably all of us, who have served with Senator Ashcroft respect his ability on the issues and his intense commitment to the principles he believes in, even though we disagree profoundly with some of those principles.
We know that while serving in high office, he has time and again aggressively used litigation and legislation in creative and inappropriate ways to advance his political and ideological goals. How can we have any confidence at all that he won't do the same thing with the vast new powers he will have at his disposal as attorney general of the United States? President-elect Bush has asked us to look in Senator Ashcroft's heart to evaluate his ability and commitment to enforce the laws of our country. But actions speak louder than words, and based on his repeated actions over many years, it's clear that Senator Ashcroft's heart is not in some of the most important of the nation's laws.
The person who serves as attorney general must inspire the trust and respect of all Americans. Inscribed in stone over the center entrance to the Department of Justice is this phrase: "The place of justice is a hallowed place." All Americans deserve to have confidence that when the next attorney general walks through the doors of justice and into that hallowed place, he will be serving them too.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I look forward to the hearing.
LEAHY: Thank you, Senator Kennedy.
We'll put Senator Biden's statement in the record and turn to my good friend from South Carolina, Senator Thurmond.
SEN. STROM THURMOND (R-SC): Thank you.
Mr. Chairman, I am very pleased that President-elect Bush has chosen John Ashcroft to serve as his attorney general.
THURMOND: Senator Ashcroft is one of the most qualified people selected for this position in many years. He served two terms as attorney general of Missouri, rising to become the leader of the National Association of Attorneys General. He was then elected governor of Missouri, also serving for two terms, and rising to chair the National Governors Association. I would also note that he has a fine wife and family.
Most recently, Senator Ashcroft has been an effective leader in the Senate with a record of legislative accomplishments. For example, he was instrumental in passing a methamphetamine bill to help keep drugs out of the hands of children. Also, he worked in a bipartisan manner with Democrats to support COPS program funding for law enforcement.
In the Senate, his job was to make the laws, but as attorney general, his job will be to enforce the laws. It is clear that he understands that people in different positions have different roles because he has expressed concerns about federal judges who do not understand the separation of powers. I am confident that as attorney general he will enforce all the laws to the best of his ability, whether he helped enact them or not.
I hope that these hearings will not be about whoever the nominee agrees with each senator on every issue. After all, he is the president's choice and the president makes the ultimate policy decisions. A question should be whether he is qualified and will enforce the laws. The answer is clearly, yes.
Twenty years ago, I recommended him to be attorney general for President Ronald Reagan, and would like to place that letter into the record.
LEAHY: Without objection.
THURMOND: And I'd like for that to appear at the end of my statement.
I recognized his abilities then, and the passing years, while he has served as governor and senator, have only reinforced my belief he would have made a fine attorney general in 1981. He will make an outstanding attorney general in 2001.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
LEAHY: Thank you, Senator Thurmond.
We'll put into record a statement by Senator Biden, who is, as I said, is at Senator Cranston's funeral.
And we turn to the distinguished senator from Wisconsin, Senator Kohl.
SEN. HERBERT KOHL (D-WI): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Senator Ashcroft, welcome back to this committee.
Based upon what I know of your record thus far, I could not vote for you to be a Supreme Court justice, but this is different. As I said to previous nominees for attorney general, when considering Cabinet nominations I approach the process prepared to give deference to the president's choice. The president is entitled to surround himself with the people he trusts.
This deference, however, does not rise to the level of blind acceptance. And so, Senator Ashcroft, you have a responsibility to convince this panel and the American people that your views will not interfere with the administration of justice.
Laws are administered and interpreted by people. You have strong convictions. You often wear them on your sleeve and you take great pride in your convictions. You certainly are not to be faulted for this.
But it is not credible to say that you are or anyone can just administer the law like a robot, as if the law is not subject to feelings or strong convictions. It is up to you to explain to us why your convictions will not permeate or dominate or even overwhelm the Department of Justice. Remember, the attorney general must be a role model and not a lightning rod for certain causes. You have been passionate about many issues: civil rights, abortion, gun safety and the environment, to cite just a few.
KOHL: But there must be no doubt in the minds of Americans that you will fairly enforce the law. The attorney general must vigorously advocate for all Americans and, most particularly, protect those who cannot defend themselves.
Your many years as a politician make some people wonder whether you are prepared to dispassionately administer the law. Surely, you understand that many of the positions you've taken are unpopular with some members of this committee. You shouldn't be condemned for disagreeing with people, but rather you must convince the American people that you will enforce the laws of the land in a way that will make us proud and will make us feel that it is justice that is certainly being done.
I've enjoyed working with you as a colleague, and I look forward to this hearing and your answers to our questions.
LEAHY: I turn to the distinguished senior senator from Iowa, Senator Grassley.
SEN. CHARLES E. GRASSLEY (R-IA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'm pleased to welcome Senator John Ashcroft back to the committee today. I know him, from working with him, to be a man of integrity and also a person who loves America.
I've been privileged to serve with John here in the Senate and on the Judiciary Committee for the past six years. During this time, I've come to respect John's legal abilities and his keen insight into public policy.
John shares my concern about crime and has worked hard in the war against drugs. He's helped increase funding for local law enforcement and pushed for tougher sentences for criminals. John is also extremely concerned about the victims of crimes, having signed into law Missouri's Victims' Bill of Rights when he was governor of that state. John also cosponsored the Violence Against Women Act when he was here in the Senate.
GRASSLEY: Now John and I come from states where agriculture issues are very important, and we've had a number of discussions about how to best address the myriad of problems that are facing the family farmers today. He's concerned about ensuring competitive markets and a level playing field for farmers and independent producers. Based on my experience with Senator Ashcroft's work here in the Senate, I know that he is committed to doing what is right for the family farmer.
John Ashcroft is a man of the law. He is eminently qualified to serve as this nation's attorney general. His background as governor and attorney general of Missouri are some of the strongest qualifications that I've seen for this job. I believe that he will vigorously enforce all of our nation's laws. I believe that Senator Ashcroft will uphold the rule of law for all Americans, which will be a refreshing change from the way things were done in the present administration, where the Justice Department was more a defense counsel for the president than the nation's chief law enforcer.
John Ashcroft's integrity, then, will be a breath of fresh air. I do want to make a comment about the mob of extremists who have hit the airwaves and are trying to intimidate members of the Senate into voting against Senator Ashcroft. I hope that my colleagues have the intestinal fortitude to stand up to these extremist accusations. It's remarkable that accusations of bias and racism have increased to a roaring crescendo now that John Ashcroft has come up for confirmation, because if John Ashcroft is so bad, then why did the people of Missouri elect him Missouri attorney general, governor and senator? Would the majority of Missouri citizens support such a biased and extreme man to serve and represent them for well over two decades? I don't think so.
Would the National Association of Attorneys General and the National Governors Association, two national associations representing both Republican and Democratic attorneys general and governors, name such a biased man to lead their organization?
GRASSLEY: I don't think so. But the smear goes on.
I, for one, will make my decision based on facts, not innuendo, and rumor and spin. I will not let special interests groups with an agenda far out of the mainstream hijack the Judiciary Committee.
(INTERRUPTED BY COVERAGE OF BREAKING NEWS)
NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: We will get you back in the hearings now live on Capitol Hill.
HATCH: ... and I think Dick Thornburgh was his sole witness.
And I might add that I can remember when Janet Reno came up and I had every special interest group on the right wanting to oppose her, I refused to allow that. We took their statements and paid attention to them, but I didn't do what we're doing here today.
LEAHY: Mr. Chairman...
HATCH: Now, you have the right to make this decision. All I'm saying is is that I want to point out that the last three or four didn't go more than two days.
LEAHY: Well, I notice among our...
HATCH: And they were the sole witnesses.
LEAHY: ... our list of left-wing witnesses, The Heritage Foundation and a few like that, I suspect...
HATCH: For Mason, two conservatives, that's true...
LEAHY: I suspect that you're going to have...
HATCH: ... way back when.
LEAHY: ... that you're going to have all you want, but I would also note, as I said, when the Democrats were in control of the Senate and the Democratic president, it did take us seven days and 26 witnesses when the Republicans controlled. These are my seminal hearings, you see, Senator Hatch. It's...
HATCH: And I put...
LEAHY: ... the influence of your party and probably four days -- anyway.
HATCH: Well, just one more...
LEAHY: Can we hear from the distinguished...
HATCH: Mr. Chairman, just one more point of privilege.
LEAHY: I'm trying to speed this thing up.
HATCH: Well, we know that J.C. Watts asked to testify and he's not on the members' one, and we would like to have the Honorable Kenneth Holsaw (ph) testify on the same panel as the Honorable Ronnie White because he can...
LEAHY: He's on the members' panel.
HATCH: ... he was the prosecutor in one of the...
LEAHY: He's on a members' panel and...
HATCH: But we would like him to be on that panel because then it would be fair because then he can explain what happened.
LEAHY: All right. Let's go on with the...
HATCH: Well, I hope you'll give consideration to that because it would be highly unfair if you don't.
LEAHY: Well, I think the difficult thing, as you know, we sent you over our list of witnesses. And then we waited and waited for days to hear back from you.
HATCH: I always waited for yours, as well.
LEAHY: This is the distinguished and highly confident senior senator from California.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Chairman, I believe that the people of this nation deserve an attorney general who will be honest, strong and fair, whose integrity is beyond question and who will vigorously protect the rights of every American under law.
In my meeting with Senator Ashcroft, I assured him that I would keep an open mind and do everything I possibly could to see to it that he got a full and fair hearing. And I believe he's going to get just that. So I've not yet taken a position on whether I would or would not support his nomination to be attorney general of the United States.
But Mr. Ashcroft's past positions on civil rights, on human rights, on segregation, on affirmative action, on a woman's right to choose, on gun laws are very different from my own. All of the above areas are, today, covered by law. For civil rights, we have the Civil Rights Act and Title VII. For a woman's right to choose, the United States Supreme Court has adjudicated Roe v. Wade. For gun control, the ban on assault weapons, which I had something to do with, the National Firearms Act and the Brady bill are all laws of our land.
FEINSTEIN: We all know Senator Ashcroft as an independent thinker, as a strong advocate for his beliefs. Many of us on this committee have worked with him on various pieces of legislation; I, for one, on methamphetamine. And he has been gracious, true to his word and a very good person with whom to work.
For the past six years as senator and before that as governor, John Ashcroft served as a representative of the people of Missouri. This advocacy was both appropriate and strong-minded. But the attorney general of the United States must be prepared to use the full force and authority of that position to vigorously enforce all laws, regardless of personal belief. It's not enough, for example, for an attorney general to say he will enforce the laws and then appoint a solicitor general whose goal will be to undercut them.
And all of this raises in my mind serious questions. Can we expect, for example, an unabashed and vocal opponent of reproductive rights for women to vigorously enforce laws that protect a woman's right to choose? Will Senator Ashcroft continue to vigorously enforce the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act and retain the National Task Force on Violence against Health Care Providers? Would Justice under his leadership provide a vigorous defense of Roe v. Wade?
Will he fully enforce and support the ban on assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition clips, and the Brady law? Would he be steadfast in opposition to allowing violent felons to obtain guns, simply by applying for this right to be restored?
Would he unwaveringly and vigorously use the office of attorney general to protect Americans from violent hate crimes and other civil rights violations? Would he ensure that no citizen's right to vote is compromised by an illegal act?
FEINSTEIN: These are questions that don't relate to character or integrity, but they are also questions that must be answered.
Today, we begin the process of ensuring that our system of laws will be enforced with moral authority and fair effectiveness. So I look forward to asking some tough questions, hopefully receiving good answers, and giving Senator Ashcroft the full and fair hearing.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. LEAHY: And I turn now to the distinguished senior senator from Pennsylvania, Senator Specter.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
From the opening statements...
(INTERRUPTED BY COVERAGE OF BREAKING NEWS)
ALLEN: Right now back to the hearings and Senator Arlen Specter.
SPECTER: ... John Ashcroft voted that they should not be discharged in bankruptcy if the judgment came from blocking an abortion clinic.
There are legitimate concerns about the First Amendment as to Attorney General John Ashcroft's views, if he is confirmed, enforcing the separation of church and state. There is no doubt about the latitude for a president's Cabinet, for, in effect, the president's lawyer, although the attorney general is the lawyer of the American people as well. And there is also no doubt about the enormous difference between a federal judgeship, say a Supreme Court judgeship, where ideology would play a very different role than would the nation's chief law enforcement officer.
We are under a microscope, as we all know, ladies and gentlemen, and I hope that we can put partisanship aside. There is no doubt that if it becomes a partisan issue, that this nomination can be blocked by a refusal to cut off debate. And feelings are running very, very high, lots of calls on both sides, great intensity. I haven't seen this much intensity for more than a decade, not that we haven't had it in this room, but not for more than a decade.
SPECTER: And if the passions run high enough and partisanship takes over, it will not be in the interest of the American people.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
LEAHY: Thank you, Senator.
The distinguished senator from Wisconsin, Senator Feingold.
SEN. RUSSELL D. FEINGOLD (D-WI): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Let me begin by touching on two general principles to guide our consideration of Cabinet nominations. The first principle is that the Constitution imposes the duty on the president to faithfully execute the laws, and he is expected to propose new laws. To carry out these duties, the president needs advisers and policy-makers in the Cabinet to advance the president's program. Over the history of such nominations, the Senate, with rare exceptions, has given the president broad leeway in choosing subordinates.
The second principle that I think should govern nominations is what we might call the political golden rule. We, as Democrats, should, if at all possible, do unto the Republicans as we would have the Republicans do unto us. A Democratic president ought to be able to appoint to the Cabinet principled people of strong progressive or even liberal ideology. And therefore, a Republican president ought to be able to appoint people of strong conservative ideology.
Now, whether doing so is good politics, or more importantly is wise, in light of a promise to unify the nation after a very close election, is a very important issue for a sustained national debate. But that is not at the core of our responsibility in this body to advise and consent on Cabinet nominations.
Now, as to the case of former Senator John Ashcroft for attorney general, I think John Ashcroft is highly qualified, from the points of view of competence and experience. During the past six years, I've had the opportunity to get to know John Ashcroft as a colleague. I have had little contact with him outside the Senate floor or the committee rooms. In one of those very few encounters, I and Senator Paul Wellstone were walking outside the Capitol, and John Ashcroft offered us a short ride to our homes.
FEINGOLD: Let me tell you on the record, it should give at least some comfort that he was not nominated for secretary of transportation.
It was a kind gesture, but a wild, somewhat hair-raising ride.
Advise and consent, however, is not about who is a nice guy or collegiality. And in all seriousness, this is a very painful nomination for many Americans in light of John Ashcroft's views and votes on many issues, ranging from the right to choose, to gay-lesbian rights, to affirmative action, to the environment, to others. And I am also alarmed by some of these views.
Yet my own direct experience with John Ashcroft has been positive in the sense that he has been much more open to my strong feelings on issues, such as the outrageous practice of racial profiling, than almost all of his Republican colleagues on this committee and in the Senate as a whole. He and his staff not only permitted, but assisted in a significant and powerful hearing on racial profiling in the Constitution Subcommittee which John Ashcroft and I led at the time.
Nonetheless, although that experience is certainly relevant to my consideration, I want the individuals and groups that have raised concerns about the nomination to know this: I understand and agree that that experience should be one and only one of many other more important factors to be considered in judging the fitness of this nominee as attorney general.
In fact, as I consider the merits of this nomination, I can't help but take this moment to express my concern about the attitude and approach that the former and then future Republican majority in the Senate has taken since 1996 in considering executive appointments and judicial appointments. The previous majority -- and, yes, sometimes led by John Ashcroft -- seemed never to accept the legitimacy of President Clinton's 1996 victory.
FEINGOLD: Instead, in my view, they unfairly blocked many legitimate qualified appointees, such as Bill Lann Lee, Ronnie White and James Hormel. I think this is wrong. And even Chief Justice Reinquist blamed the under-staffing of the federal judiciary on this questionable approach. This is the very partisanship with which the American people have grown so frustrated and dismayed.
So it is not easy to tell those who fought so hard for Clinton and then for Gore that we should follow the golden rule, do the right thing, and not use a similar approach during the next four years. That's my inclination, but I openly wonder at what point we have to draw the line, given the previous majority's refusal to accord the Democrats the very deference that they, the Republicans, now seek.
Let me also commend the individuals and groups with whom I agree on virtually all of the key issues for prompting a significant national discussion on this nomination. Despite criticism, you are right to intensely scrutinize this nomination. Regardless of the outcome, this process will reap long-term benefits as these legitimate and heartfelt concerns I heard by all senators and the American people.
But in the end, Mr. Chairman, let me also repeat my conviction, as this hearing begins, that voting records and conservative ideology are not a sufficient basis to reject a Cabinet nominee, even for attorney general. I say this as a progressive Democrat from Wisconsin who hopes that the William O. Douglases and Ramsey Clarks of the future will be appointed to executive positions and Cabinets and not be rejected on that basis alone.
In other words, Mr. Chairman, being in the middle of the road is not a requirement for a Cabinet position.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
LEAHY: Thank you, Senator.
I turn to the distinguished senator from Arizona, Senator Kyl.
SEN. JON KYL (R-AZ): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I think it is appropriate, first, that we welcome our colleague back to this committee, and I do that with great fondness -- and also his wife, Janet, who is here.
Second, that we focus a little bit on the standard for judging nominees of the president to Cabinet positions. And both Senators Feinstein and Feingold have, I think, spoken eloquently to that point here. And I would like to in a moment, as well.
KYL: The last Cabinet secretary we had a chance to vote on was the treasury secretary, Larry Summers. And I remember at the time, he had spoken out very strongly against tax cuts, and I'm very much for tax cuts. I thought some of the things he said were relatively outrageous in that regards. But I voted to confirm him, as did I think every one of my colleagues, because of the standard which I think has historically been applied. And I'd like to quote an eloquent statement of that standard by a member of this committee in connection with another nominee a few years ago.
Our colleague at this time said, "The Senate has a responsibility to advice and consent on Department of Justice and other executive branch nominees. And we must always take our advice and consent responsibilities seriously because they are among the most sacred. But I think most senators will agree that the standard we apply in the case of executive branch appointments is not as stringent as that for judicial nominees. The president should get to pick his own team. Unless the nominee is incompetent or some other major ethical or investigative problem arises in the course of our carrying out our duties, then the president gets the benefit of the doubt. There is no doubt about this nominee's qualifications or integrity. This is not a lifetime appointment to the judicial branch of government. President Clinton should be given latitude in naming executive branch appointees, people to whom he will turn for advice."
And our colleague went on to say, with respect to this particular nominee, "Yes, he has advised and spoken out about high profile constitutional issues of the day. I would hope that an accomplished legal scholar would not shrink away from public positions on controversial issues as it appears his opponents would prefer. One can question Professor Delanger's (ph) positions and beliefs, but not his competence and legal abilities."
The eloquence, of course, is easily recognized as that of the chairman, Senator Leahy of Vermont, speaking on behalf of Walter Delanger, who was confirmed for assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel, in which he acquitted himself admirably.
And I think that is the standard. And when applying it to John Ashcroft there can be no doubt that he should be confirmed.
Others have spoken of his qualifications. Perhaps it would be of interest to note that he is the first attorney general nominee in the history of the United States that has served as state attorney general, governor and SEN..
KYL: Only six of the 67 former U.S. attorneys general had even some of Senator Ashcroft's experience. He led the National Association of Attorneys General. He was chairman of the National Governors Association, as well as chairman of the Education Commission of the states. And as all of my colleagues know, he served on this committee and chaired the subcommittee on the Constitution. He has the intelligence, a degree from Yale and the prestige law degree from the University of Chicago. And, of course, I think no one has questioned his integrity.
Now, there have been questions raised. I think, if my colleagues have an open mind, as both Senator Feinstein and Senator Feingold noted, Senator Ashcroft can answer many of these questions. I would just note, for example, that with respect to the charge that he opposes virtually any gun control, you can be assured that that's simply incorrect. And he will make that clear.
I think at the end of the day one thing is very clear. There have been two interesting assertions made with respect to Senator Ashcroft by opponents. The first is that he has very strong convictions, faith and belief in God. Indeed, he does.
The second is that he may not enforce the law and the Constitution. Well, the second assertion is at odds with the first. You can be assured that when John Ashcroft places his hand on the Bible and swears to uphold the laws and the Constitution, that he will do that on behalf of the people of the United States of America.
LEAHY: I would note, as my friend from Arizona has quoted me, just so people understand the setting for that vote on Walter Delanger, this was a matter that had been delayed by secret holds on the Republican side for months. And I was arguing they should vote him up or vote him down. He was not the attorney general; he would take orders from the attorney general, something that makes a big difference. But what I wanted was a vote up or down. And when the secret holds were released, he was confirmed.
I turn to the distinguished senior senator from New York.
SEN. CHARLES E. SCHUMER (D-NY): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And welcome, Senator Ashcroft. I know we have our differences, but I want to thank you for being open and honest with us in this process and making yourself available to all of our questions.
In return, let me be straight with you. As you know, I have misgivings about your nomination to be attorney general. I haven't come to this conclusion easily. Unquestionably, you deserve a full and fair hearing and a real chance to tell your side of the story.
SCHUMER: Moreover, I believe we owe a significant level of deference to the president in his choices for Cabinet. The president does not have carte blanche, but usually the presumption at least begins in favor of his nominees. I will support the vast majority of the president-elect's nominees, even though I don't agree with them on many issues.
I know that a number of my Democratic colleagues initially voiced some support for your nomination because of this presumption, but I think now that the record has been more closely reviewed, the burden of proof has shifted back to you.
When we met privately last week, I asked Senator Ashcroft what role ideology should play in our confirmation process. I meant that question sincerely. It's a difficult issue that many of us are wrestling with.
A few years ago, Senator Ashcroft opposed the nomination of Bill Lann Lee to be the assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division at DOJ. At the time, this is what he said about Lee, quote, "He has, obviously, the incredibly strong capacities to be an advocate, but I think his pursuit of specific objectives that are important to him limit his capacity to have a balanced view of making judgments that will be necessary for the person who runs that division."
Looking back now, I think Senator Ashcroft was correct, at least when it comes to evaluating nominees who have an ideological bent that is significantly outside the mainstream. In other words, the issue should be whether a nominee's fervent beliefs and views are so one- sided that we lose faith, that the American people lose faith, in that person's ability to carefully evaluate, abide by and uphold the law, the law as it is not as he might like it to be.
SCHUMER: This is even more the case for an attorney general nominee, because the position requires the utmost in balanced judgment, clarity of thought, sound use of discretion, and cautious decision-making.
The question I hope these hearings will help us to answer is whether John Ashcroft's passionate advocacy of his deeply held beliefs over the past 25 years will limit his capacity to have the balanced worldview necessary for an attorney general.
This is a man who has dedicated his career to eliminating a woman's right to choose. He believes that abortion is murder, that it's wrong and that it must be stopped. He has led the charge to enact new hurdles and restrictions against choice.
Senator, you have told me you will enforce the law, but just saying so isn't enough. When your solicitor general gets the chance to tell the Supreme Court to follow Roe v. Wade, will you demur? When the HHS secretary calls you for an analysis of new regulations restricting the right to choose, will your analysis be based solely on the current state of law? When you allocate the billions of dollars that DOJ receives, how much will go to protecting the clinics where you think murder is being committed?
Senator Ashcroft, as much as I respect you as a person and your faith, your past causes me grave concern on these issues. And like Bill Lann Lee, when you became the attorney general of Missouri, you did not relinquish your role as a passionate advocate. You sued nurses who dispensed contraception and continued litigating against them for years, despite being told by every court you came before that you were wrong.
You sued the National Organization of Women under the antitrust laws to muzzle their attempt to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. Will you now use, as United States attorney general, that office to continue crusading against those you passionately and fervently disagree with?
Senator Ashcroft, the issue boils down to this: When you have been such a zealous and impassioned advocate for so long, how do you just turn it off? This may be an impossible task.
And I would say to my friend from Wisconsin, this goes beyond ideology; it goes directly to and is unique to the Cabinet position of attorney general, the chief law enforcement officer of the land.
SCHUMER: Senator Ashcroft has been a leading advocate against gun control. He has fought to kill legislation that would have made it easier to catch illegal gun runners. He has vociferously opposed even child safety locks and the assault weapons ban. When the U.S. attorney from New York or Wisconsin calls him and pleads for more resources to prosecute gun runners, will this be a priority?
For many years in Missouri, Senator Ashcroft was a leading advocate against desegregation, he's been on the forefront of arguing against gay rights and for lowering barriers between church and state. In short, John Ashcroft has for decades now been knee-deep in many of the most significant, yet decisive, issues in our country.
What this hearing must get at is whether he can now step outside this ideological fray, set his advocacy to one side and become the balanced decision-maker with an unclouded vision of the law that this country deserves as its attorney general.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
LEAHY: The distinguished senator from Ohio, Mr. DeWine.
SEN. MIKE DEWINE (R-OH): Mr. Chairman, thank you very much.
We are now at a place in our nation's history where it sometimes seems as if there is a direct relationship between the qualifications, the experience, the length of service of the particular nominee and how contentious and how difficult the nomination process is.
Today, we have a nominee who has extensive experience, who is extremely well-qualified: assistant attorney general of Missouri, eight years as attorney general, eight years as governor, six years as SEN., member of this Judiciary Committee.
Therefore, I guess it should come as no surprise that he's taken positions, that he's taken positions on many, many issues. He's cast thousands of votes and he has a long track record.
Nor, frankly, should it come as a surprise that a record of a quarter of a century would generate criticism. I think we would worry if he hadn't taken tough positions. I think we would worry if, after a quarter of a century, there wasn't something controversial about what he had said or what he had done.
DEWINE: I intend, during this hearing, to listen. My personal experience with John Ashcroft over the last six years convinces me that he is a man of integrity, he is a man of honor, he is a man of courage.
The position of attorney general is unique, as my colleagues have already pointed out, among members of the United States Cabinet. His is, in many respects, the most difficult job, because he is the person who must, by statute, give advice to the president of the United States. But he is also, in essence, the chief law enforcement officer of the country.
Ultimately, the tenure of John Ashcroft as attorney general or the tenure of any attorney general will be judged not on any one particular decision that he will make, not on any one particular policy that he will take.
Ultimately, this attorney general and any attorney general will be judged on how he is perceived, how he is perceived by the public on much more essential issues and much more essential questions: the question of whether or not he was a man of integrity, whether or not he was a man of honesty, whether or not he had the courage to tell the president yes when it was right to tell him yes, and also to tell him no, if that was he needed to tell him.
I'm going to listen. But I am convinced, based upon what I have heard so far and what I know about John Ashcroft, is that after he has been attorney general the people will look up and say, "Yes, this was a man of integrity. We did not always agree with him. We may have disagreed with him on some issues. Maybe he wasn't always right. He gained the respect of the American people and he brought honor and integrity to the office."
LEAHY: Thank you, Senator.
Just so we'll let people know where we are, we have four more senators to speak and we will try to stay within the three to four minutes each. And then, what I will do at the end of these four, we will take -- as I've told Senator Ashcroft and Senator Bond, Senator Hutchison and others, we'll take a short break just so we can recoup and then come back and have the introductions and the opening statements.
The distinguished senator from Illinois, Senator Durbin.
DURBIN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It is good to be back on the committee and it's interesting that this would be the kick off for my return to the committee, a hearing of this consequence.
LEAHY: We like you senior senators over here.
DURBIN: Well, thank you.
I agree wholeheartedly with the statement made by Senator Hatch relative to the nature of this hearing and this investigation.
John Ashcroft, this should have nothing to do with your personal life or family life. As some have said, the politics of personal destruction should come to an end. And I don't believe this hearing will engage in any questions relative to that, nor should it. For a good reason: You have a fine family you're very proud of, and we have plenty to concern ourselves with, relative to the issues before us.
DURBIN: Some have suggested, though, that we're off to a rocky start here in this evenly divided Senate by having such a contentious hearing. Well, this hearing was not the idea of any Democrat, it happened to be the idea of the founding fathers in Article II, Section 2, when they said it would be the responsibility of the Senate to give advice and consent to the president of the United States in his nominations.
I don't think that that was a casual reference or surplus verbiage. I think, in fact, they decided very carefully that they would restrain the part of the president and make certain that the chosen leader of our nation would be subject to review in these decisions by another branch of government.
Senator Ashcroft, on the day, December 22, when President-elect George Bush nominated you to be attorney general, you made a brief statement which many of us have seen, and said at one point, and I quote, "President-elect Bush, you have my word that I will administer the Department of Justice with integrity, I will advise your administration with integrity, and I will enforce the laws of the United States of America with integrity."
Integrity, by common definition, is a unwavering commitment to a set of values. There is no quarrel that your public life shows a commitment to a set of values. There is no doubt that your service as attorney general will be guided by a set of values.
The question before this committee is, what will those values be? Will they be the values embodied in the laws of the land, many of which you have publicly opposed: a woman's right to choose, sensible gun control, civil rights laws, human rights protections? Will they be the values of President-elect Bush and Vice President-elect Cheney, many of which differ from your own public record? Will they be your values, the values in your heart, which have guided you throughout your public life?
DURBIN: The role of the attorney general, as described in the definition of the Department of Justice, first to enforce the law, and that is fairly obvious. And in conclusion, it says to ensure, quote, "the fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans."
Can you guarantee fair and impartial administration of justice if you believe some Americans are undeserving or engaged in conduct which you find morally objectionable?
As sound as America's principles may be, we must concede that we are not a perfect people. We have struggled throughout our history with issues of equality for women, African-Americans, Hispanics, new Americans, the disabled, people of diverse religious belief, people with different sexual orientation.
This last election has left America divided, and I know that the new president has suggested that he wants to unite this great nation. And I sincerely hope that he can.
He knows that his biggest challenge will be to reach out and win the confidence of many who opposed him -- families and women and minorities and new Americans and those concerned that his views are outside the mainstream of American values. And no office has a more direct impact on the lives and fortunes of these groups and all Americans, for that matter, than the office of attorney general.
If minority voters feel disenfranchised by backward election technology and politically biased oversight, it's the attorney general who must protect their rights. If women feel their reproductive choices, including their right to choose the best family planning for them, is threatened by violent demonstrators, it's the attorney general who must protect them. If those with different sexual orientation feel the pain of discrimination and threat of bodily harm, it is the attorney general and the Department of Justice who must protect them.
Senator Ashcroft, several weeks ago you and I were on an airplane together, you with your wife and I went alone to the funeral of former Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan.
DURBIN: It was a wonderful gesture on your part to be there, considering the fact that you were in the midst of a campaign. It was a funeral service that I will long remember.
At the end of that service, as I was leaving, someone pointed to me and said, "Senator Durbin, this group over here is the Missouri Supreme Court."
And I said, "Is Justice Ronnie White among them?"
They said, "Yes, he's the gentleman standing over here."
And I went over and met him for the first time and introduced myself. And I said, "I'm Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, and you're Justice Ronnie White, are you not?"
He said, "Yes."
And, Senator Ashcroft, I said to him, "I want to apologize to you for what happened on the floor on the United States Senate. That never should have happened."
He faced an embarrassment and a humiliation on the floor of the Senate which did not have to happen. If there was a heartfelt belief by the senators from Missouri that he should not have been a federal district court judge, it should never have reached that point in time. And it rarely ever does in the history of the United States Senate.
I have said to you personally and I will say to you at this hearing, I'm going to be asking you a number of questions about that decision and about the process and the way this man was treated. I think that is going to tell me a great deal about your conduct if you become attorney general.
During the course of this hearing, Senator Ashcroft will be given a chance to explain his vision of the office, to reconcile clear conflicts between his public record and the new responsibilities he seeks, and to give us and America a chance to look into his heart. This open, fair hearing is an opportunity which was often denied to many who sought the approval of this committee, but it is an opportunity which you will have.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
LEAHY: Thank you, Senator.
And we will put Senator Cantwell's statement also in the record. As I said, she's at former colleague Senator Cranston's funeral.
And I would recognize the distinguished senator from Alabama, Senator Sessions.
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL): I thank the chairman.
John, welcome to the pit. Those were the words of Alan Simpson, I believe, when Justice Scalia appeared here. And it's not a pleasant place to be. There are effective organized groups. One of the members said they are a seasoned coalition. There is a seasoned group that knows how to tarnish individuals who come before a committee when they want to.
SESSIONS: And as Senator DeWine noted, you, indeed, have a long and distinguished career that includes a lot of litigation and a lot of positions that you've taken, as you believed was right, and there's somebody that can complain about a lot of that. And I hope the burden of proof has not shifted; that wouldn't be appropriate, but it would be consistent with what Senator Simpson said in this committee once that we're more like prosecutor and accused than a confirmation hearing.
Well, I love the Department of Justice. I spent 15 years in the department as an assistant United States attorney, 12 years as United States attorney, served five different attorneys general. I believe in that department. It is a great department. It is the Department of Justice and, frankly, we may have had an attorney general who was right on some of our colleagues' ideological issues, but I don't think the department has run well. I think there's some problems there. I think it needs new, vigorous, positive leadership and as people have described your background, I think you're perfect for that and I'm honored to support you.
I don't expect anything to come out that would change my mind. Certainly the things that have come out that I have seen and studied are insignificant -- differences of opinion that we might have that should not change our view about your qualifications.
The attorney general is a law enforcer. There is a big difference between a politician and a senator, where we vote on policy, and executing policy. To me, I haven't had much difficulty making the switch from prosecutor, professional career, attorney general in Alabama to the -- actually, I may have had more problem than you're going to have going back.
(LAUGHTER) But there is a difference and it's pretty cleared in our minds. And I think, as an eight-year attorney general, you'll not have any difference problem going back and enforcing the law as written.
I would say this: I was surprised, Senator Specter, that John supported Chuck Schumer's bankruptcy bill. I tried my best to stop that amendment and I didn't know you had voted the other way on that, but it was...
LEAHY: You're going to have plenty of time to let him know how you think about that.
SESSIONS: But I don't think the attorney general is particularly unique in setting policy.
SESSIONS: HHS people, they set policy about whole kinds of contraceptives, very sensitive issues and health issues. There are sensitive issues in Labor that the labor secretary gets to set. I'm not sure the attorney general gets to set many issues at all; basically just has to carry out the laws that are set.
I do think bipartisanship is important. I support President Bush's commitment to bipartisanship. I'm going to try to do better this time.
I supported Trent Lott in trying to reach an agreement that we wouldn't be fighting here in the beginning of this session, even though some felt maybe it had gone too far. We need to work together. And I think this hearing is a bit of a test.
The independent groups, hard-left that they are, have every right to speak and advocate and raise questions. But I think this body needs to evaluate it and give John Ashcroft a fair hearing, in terms of what was known to him, what was the circumstances when he made these decisions, and not take them out of context and give it a spin that's unfair to him. All of us have done things, if taken out of context and twisted about, could be an honest statement, but be a misrepresentation of what's happening.
John has not been an obstructionist here. I've looked at the numbers. He voted for 95 percent of President Clinton's judicial nominees. He voted for 26 of 27 African-Americans; the only one that was raised, Ronnie White, is the only one he's opposed. And he had a personal and good reason for that, in my view.
He's going to be a champion of prosecution of gun laws. Under this administration prosecutions have dropped. I've talked to John about it. He's committed to me that he's going to work to increase the number of people that are prosecuted for violation of gun laws in America. And in my view, they can be done dramatically with no new resources, frankly.
And on Bill Lann Lee, this committee split on that vote.
SESSIONS: And, Chairman Hatch, if you'd like to read a brilliant address on it, read his speech on the floor about why he opposed Bill Lann Lee. That was not a racial thing. It was a serious discussion about his views about whether or not he would actually follow the Adarand Supreme Court decision. The Adarand case, he said he would support, but the way he defined it, in our view, was not an accurate definition of it. So then he would not be enforcing Adarand if he didn't properly understand Adarand. So that was the basis of our opposition there.
So I would just say this: I believe that John Ashcroft has all the gifts and graces to make a great attorney general. I believe he will be a great attorney general. I believe he will serve this country with distinction. I believe this department will flourish under his leadership. I know he will be responsive to us if we have problems. I know and he knows who the captain of the ship is, and that's the president, at whose pleasure he serves.
I believe in John. I think all of us do. I ask each member of this committee: Listen to the complaints, but think about the context, the values he held, ask yourself if he abused his office or did wrong on any significant matter. I don't think you will find that to have occurred. And I would like to see a very strong vote for John Ashcroft for attorney general.
LEAHY: Thank the senator from Alabama.
I give it now to my neighbor from New Hampshire, Senator Smith.
SEN. BOB SMITH (R-NH): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
And Senator Ashcroft and Janet, welcome.
I think Thomas Paine once said, "These are the times that try men's souls," and then he spoke of the sunshine patriots. You're not a sunshine patriot. You're willing to stand here and take it. You don't deserve some of the things that have been said about you and will be said about you. And I know it's tough, but there are a lot of us, I think frankly on both sides of the debate, that appreciate the fact that you're willing to do just that.
It is not pleasant for me, as a personal friend of yours -- and I will admit that publicly -- to hear terms such as racism applied to you, my friend. It's unworthy -- those who make the charges. And it's certainly not in the best interest of the political debate of this country.
Senator Kohl, I believe, a few moments ago said that the attorney general of the United States should be a role model. If I could pick a role model for my two sons, I'd pick John Ashcroft. And I wouldn't hesitate one moment to do just that.
Throughout his entire career in politics, in his own words, he has sought to bring America to its highest and best. He loves his country, he loves Missouri, he loves his family, he loves the law, and he loves the Constitution. And yes, he loves his God. That's not a disqualifier; that's a qualifier. That's not a divider; that's a uniter.
There's a lot of cynicism in this town. And people think there's too much politics in politics. We've heard some of it in the public debate leading up to this hearing. We'll hear some of it, and we've already heard some of it in the hearing.
SMITH: But John Ashcroft is a guy who's always looking to do what is right. I'm reminded, and I think Senator Durbin alluded to it, of John Ashcroft coming in to the Republican Conference after the sudden and tragic death of Governor Mel Carnahan, his opponent; emotionally talking about that in the confines of that room with only his colleagues there; announcing to all of us he would suspend his campaign immediately for at least the next 10 days. While that happened, the other side geared up to defeat him, but John did the right thing.
That's the kind of man he is. That's the kind of man he is, so when you hear the criticisms, be reminded of the kind of person that he really is. I've never known him to look at a poll or a focus group to make a decision. He looks to the law, he looks to the Constitution, he looks to the founding fathers.
America does not need an attorney general who is concerned about public opinion. Americans want an attorney general who is concerned about the law and the Constitution, an attorney general who will not only enforce it, but be an aggressive and vociferous advocate for it and the Constitution.
President-elect Bush could have picked another person for attorney general, but he couldn't have picked a better person for attorney general.
There will be witnesses who are going to say that because John Ashcroft is a man of religious faith that he won't enforce the law. On the contrary, I would say that knowing the importance Senator Ashcroft places in his faith, I can't think of anyone I'd place more confidence in to support the law.
Senator Feingold mentioned a few moments ago that some of the decisions or some of the views that Senator Ashcroft has taken are painful to some on his side. I might also say some of the views that the current attorney general has taken have been painful on our side.
But when he puts his hand on the Bible, as Senator Kyl said, and swears to enforce the law, he means it. He'll do it.
We're not going to hear much today, except on this side of the table, about the qualifications of Senator John Ashcroft. They've been mentioned a thousand sides, yet I want to say them again: two- term Missouri attorney general; head of the National Association of Attorneys General, receiving a commendation for that; two-term Missouri governor; head of the National Association of Governors; SEN. and former member of this Judiciary Committee. We won't hear a lot about that from the other side, because that's not the issue to them.
As a matter of fact, John Ashcroft may be the most qualified candidate ever nominated for attorney general. Again, we're not going to be focusing on those qualifications from the other side.
In 1993, Janet Reno said, quote, "The only reason for the death penalty is vengeance. What I want is to put the bad people away and keep them away." A strong statement from the attorney general, opposed to the death penalty, but Janet Reno applied the law of the land, which is the death penalty.
There's no fear here.
In conclusion, President-elect George Bush has chosen a like- minded conservative to serve as his U.S. attorney general. We should respect that choice, as has been said here, just as Republicans, by a vote of 98 to 0, confirmed Janet Reno.
SMITH: And I'll say to my colleagues, if it is painful, if I can vote for Janet Reno, you can vote for John Ashcroft.
Again, Mr. Chairman, let us set aside the mud slinging, set aside the rhetoric. This is a decent, honorable man. Let's focus on the qualifications on John Ashcroft to be the next U.S. attorney general.
My friend, they're going to put you down a bumpy road; there's no question about it. But you've got good shock absorbers. And you're bigger than the politics of self-destruction. Handle it well, as I know you will.
And the American people, once they know who you are, once they get to know you, they'll be with you.
LEAHY: I thank the senator from New Hampshire. And I do want, if he is feeling as badly about voting for Attorney General Reno, at least he has the satisfaction of knowing that while the national crime rate went up for the 12 years before she came there, it went down for the eight years she was there. So that will give you a chance to point to a very good accomplishment.
Having said that...
SESSIONS: It didn't go down all those years. Just a few, about 12 years before.
LEAHY: Didn't go down any before...
SESSIONS: Yes, it did.
HATCH: Enough said.
SESSIONS: I'll show you the numbers.
LEAHY: Well, we can...
SESSIONS: I was there.
LEAHY: Well, maybe when you were U.S. attorney.
HATCH: It's going to go down a heck of a lot more under Attorney General Ashcroft. I guarantee you that.
LEAHY: I wish you'd stop delaying this, Senator Hatch. We got to get going with this.
And now, I welcome, again, the distinguished senator from Kansas, who is a friend to all of us in this body, and delighted to have him here in the committee and please go ahead.
BROWNBACK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And it's a pleasure to join this committee. I look forward to serving on it and important issues that come here and before this committee. And this is one of them.
John, welcome, and Janet, delighted to have you folks here. I'm looking forward to your confirmation as attorney general and your serving with distinction in that capacity, as you have every place else you've served in your long public career that you have had thus far.
As a personal note, you know, they say a true friend is somebody who will give you the shirt off their back. I was in my apartment complex I was, in town, was in a fire this last year. And I was standing out in the streets with not much else that I got out with. And the Ashcroft's came over and gave me a roof over my head for several days and took me in. And unlike Senator Feingold's experience driving, I would put you as Secretary of HUD in a moment.
Housing was excellent, wonderful accommodations. And they were very kind. And I would dare say, they would do that for anybody in this room, not just me. That's the kind of people that John and Janet Ashcroft are. And I had a personal experience, and I deeply appreciate that kindness you showed me then and you have all along.
Our states share a common border. We served on two committees together, in the Commerce and Foreign Relations Committee. Our offices are just down the hall from each other. So we've had a chance to work on a lot of things together.
But, really, much more important than either geography or committee assignments, John has shared with me, through his life through the things that he has done, through what I've observed, what I've seen, what I've talked with him about: his honesty, his integrity, his devotion to his family and to his creator, his principled character and his steadfast belief that each of us, each of us is put here on Earth to help our fellow man and to leave this world a better place for all of our children, for those here now and those yet to be.
And contrary to the assertions of those who make a living exacerbating the tensions that divide us as a nation, I know John Ashcroft is committed to our nation's promise of equal justice for all, no matter what their stage of life.
BROWNBACK: He has been an outstanding public servant, an example of public service that many of us in this dais would be proud to have.
Now in the Constitution, Article II, Section 3 provides that the president, quote, "shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed," end of quote. I'm certain John has already read that provision many, many times.
John, when President-elect Bush nominated you to head the Department of Justice he stated that he believed in your, quote, "commitment to fair and firm and impartial administration of justice." When you accepted President-elect Bush's nomination, you reaffirmed for the world to hear, your commitment to equal justice under the law, something you've served your entire life with distinction and will continue to do so.
Mr. Chairman, let me close my brief statement by saying to our guests at the witness table that, John, you're missed here in the Senate, you really are. But I look forward to voting for your confirmation and towards working with you as attorney general of the United States, and you're going to do an outstanding job. Thanks.
LEAHY: Thank you.
I see no other senators have statements to make. We will take a 10-minute break.
Before everybody leaves, there are a lot of people who want to come in. If there's anybody who is -- I say this without a great deal of expectation -- but if there are those who wish to leave and give their seats to others, there are those available to take the seats. I mention this because we will have closed circuit TV in Dirksen 226, with chairs and so forth.
With that, we'll stand in recess.
SESNO: And back then to our story at hand here, which is the Senate confirmation hearing of John Ashcroft, as the attorney general of the United States of America. On Capitol Hill, Bob Franken has been listening along with us.
Bob, what we heard from both sides of the aisle, a very predictable rundown of what is ahead. Many Democrats questioning whether the zeal and ideology and even the religious beliefs of John Ashcroft put him outside the mainstream, so that he would be capable of enforcing the law, fairly and equitably, on the Republican side. Some, such as Senator Smith, saying he can think of no one who is better qualified to be a role model in the job, or for his own children.
FRANKEN: And as a matter of fact, John Ashcroft will make the same point when he finally gets to testify -- as you know, these things take awhile. In his prepared text obtained by CNN, he says, and for instance, on the matter of abortion:
"I am personally opposed to abortion, but as I have explained this afternoon, I well understand that the role of the attorney general is to enforce the law as it is, not as I would have it," and goes on to say, "I accept Roe and Casey as the settled law of the land," and he goes on to say that he will support those abortion laws.
Now, his opponents say that it's not just a matter of his saying that; that it's a matter of emphasis, it's a matter of where he would place his priorities, and they're going to say, that because he is so outspoken and beliefs of opposed various laws, that he can't be trusted, they argue, to uphold to enforce the laws that the attorney general should be expected to support.
On the other side, the Republicans are saying that this is really about ideology, and his opponents are really upset that their ideology will no longer be represented in the Justice Department.
SESNO: Bob Franken, thanks very much. To the studio now and Tucker Carlson and Bill Press of "THE SPIN ROOM." We heard a lot of comments here -- I don't know how much of it would qualify as spin, gentlemen. But let me start -- let's take apart some things on both sides.
First, from Senator Kennedy, where he, in very harsh terms, said that in his view Ashcroft is so far out of the mainstream, that he said that citizens need to be armed to counter what he says is a tyrannical government, and he made it quite clear that his opposition will come out in the form of his questions to this man.
BILL PRESS, HOST, CNN'S "CROSSFIRE": I think we saw the mark set by both sides, Frank. You know, the Democrats said, look, and notice, no Democrats said, publicly announced he was going to vote against Senator Ashcroft today, but I think all of them -- they are open minded but they have serious questions and they laid out the markers: civil rights, abortion, gun control, perhaps less so, and separation of church and state.
On the other hand, you have the Republicans who say, he a man with a long, distinguished record, you don't except to agree with him on everything and the president can appoint whoever he wants.
SESNO: Tucker Carlson, Russ Feingold, a Democrat, saying, you're not disqualified because of your ideology; it's not a requirement that you live in the middle of the road to be attorney general. TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, CNN'S "THE SPIN ROOM": That's right. And Feingold brought up, what is, really the fundamental Washington standard for all of this, which what he called the political golden rule: do to the other party what you'd have the other party do back to you. Russ Feingold is really, sort of, on the left on the Democrat Party and a straight talker, and I think that the standards that he articulated will prevail.
I think it's interesting, though, how personal all of this was. You mentioned Senator Kennedy; he actually attacked Ashcroft's heart or cast aspersions on it in response to President Bush's defense of his heart that he often articulates.
SESNO: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) or civil war?
CARLSON: Pretty civil, but also pretty personal.
PRESS: I think that the key point was Chuck Schumer, Frank, when he said, you have been a strong advocate, and we applaud that in many ways, the question is, how can you turn that off? I think we will be hearing that over and over again.
SESNO: OK, gentlemen, we will be with you throughout the afternoon, and we'll come back to these confirmation hearings; they should be underway in just a few minutes, but there's also other news; we want to bring that to you as well. So now to Natalie Allen in Atlanta.
(INTERRUPTED BY BREAKING NEWS)
SESNO: Going back to the confirmation hearings of John Ashcroft, the attorney general-designate in just a couple minutes when the Senate Judiciary Committee resumes, but we want to resume here with Tucker Carlson and Bill Press.
Gentlemen, a few moments ago, we were assessing what the Democrats and the Republicans were saying; I want to ask you about something Senator Arlen Specter had to say, a Republican. He said, in his view, he hasn't felt such intensity around a confirmation hearing, around a nomination, in over ten years, presumably his reference of either Clarence Thomas or John Tower. John Tower, the last time -- someone from the Senate club, actually, was rejected.
Talk a little bit about that intensity, and the kind of thing that we are feeling and hearing and sensing in Washington these days.
PRESS: Well, John Ashcroft is a person of strong feelings who brings out the strong feelings in other people, but I have to say, as often as the case, as Arlen Specter reaches out to make the point, and of course, we do too -- that is why we are on television. I don't think this is as intense as Robert Bork in '87; I don't think it's as intense as Clarence Thomas in 1991 -- perhaps it will get that way, I think you'll have questions raised, you'll have answered given, and the guy's probably...
SESNO: Tucker, all around the family? CARLSON: Well, clearly, Clarence Thomas was fewer than 10 years ago by a number of months -- really, I think this is all about abortion. You didn't hear the word used but a couple of times; it was always couched in euphemisms, but that is the core issue the Democrats are upset about here, far more than civil rights -- I think that is a smoke-screen for the essential, which is again, abortion.
SESNO: OK. And we're seeing pictures in the Senate committee room, where the members and the others may start to come back.
Kelly Wallace joins us now. She is in Austin, Texas -- has been tracking the Bush transition team and President-elect Bush himself.
Kelly, I would like you to address the issue of this intensity and what's at stake, not just this nomination, but much more broadly, as sort of a test case, for the incoming president?
KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, definitely, Frank. This will certainly be a test of Mr. Bush's political capital, and the timing of these hearings, three days of what could be very divisive hearings coming just before Saturday, when the president-elect will give his first speech as President of the United States, a speech where he will be talking about unity and bringing the country together; and so the timing here if this bitterness and divisiveness has any impact on the president-elect's ability to bring the country together.
That is one factor, and also of course, if this nomination is not confirmed, that will be enormously disastrous for the president-elect as he assumes the presidency, but of course, all indications are that 50 Republicans will support the nomination, also possibly some Democrats. So the Bush team is confident. It's well aware, there will be tough questions, but it believes in the end, he will be confirmed, and interestingly, Frank, the Bush team is saying that it welcomes these hearings, saying it's a opportunity for the facts about the former Missouri Senator's record to be brought to light, saying there's a lot misinformation out there, according to Bush aides, saying this is an opportunity for the public to hear from Mr. Ashcroft himself and to learn about his views as opposed to hearing about his record, through special interest groups or his opponents -- Frank
SESNO: White House correspondent Kelly Wallace in Austin, Texas.
Back to Bob Franken on Capitol Hill, now, and Bob, a little bit of explanation, if you would, on who we're seeing up next to John Ashcroft; not an insignificant cast of characters.
FRANKEN: No, as a matter of fact, part of the ritual that goes on in these hearings is that the nominee is introduced, and usually by the elected officials from his home state. Well, among those who will be introducing John Ashcroft is Kit Bond, who is the Republican senator from Missouri. No particular surprise there.
But he's also going to be introduced by U.S. Senator Jean Carnahan. Now, Jean Carnahan is a surprise simply because it was her husband, Mel Carnahan, who was involved in that really bitter campaign against John Ashcroft. When Mel Carnahan, who was of the governor of the state, died in a plane crash. Jean Carnahan was appointed after Mel Carnahan, after deceased, still beat Ashcroft, toppling him from the U.S. Senate.
Jean Carnahan -- the Carnahans were not known to be friends of the Ashcrofts, but she says that although she's reserving her opinion of how she's going to vote, she feels that protocol, courtesy, requires her to do the thing of the senator from Missouri. She, too, will provide an introduction.
Taking no chances, the Republicans are also having one more introduction, and it's Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison on of Texas. But all eyes will be on Jean Carnahan as she introduces the man who lost the senate race, which was such an unusual circumstance, after her husband died and then she was appointed after the husband won.
SESNO: She will introduce him, but she has by no means endorsed him for this job, as Bob mentions. When you see in the room there and the picture over my shoulder that John Ashcroft and his wife have returned to the room.
These hearings to resume very, very shortly. His handlers managing his appearances here. We're going to be getting, when this resumes, his opening statement and then some of the early questioning which promises to be perhaps both informative and to some extent politically entertaining.
We're going to take a quick break. We'll be back.
SESNO: And once again, we're back inside the room where the Senate Judiciary Committee is doing its business today, which is the beginning of the confirmation hearings for John Ashcroft, the who would be the next attorney general, presuming the Senate goes along in its constitutional capacity to advise and consent the president of the United States, in this case, President-elect George W. Bush.
Tracking President-elect George W. Bush has been our White House correspondent Kelly Wallace.
Kelly, we want to come back to you now and talk specifically about -- since this is the most significant and perhaps controversial nomination of the president-elect, the degree to which he is tracking this thing, whether he is watching these hearings himself?
WALLACE: Well, viewers might be surprised to hear he is not expected to be watching these hearings for the simple fact that he is out at his ranch, which is in Crawford, Texas, and he does not have cable. So, he is not able to watch CNN; he would only be able to track them if they were carried on one of the broadcast networks. So he was not expected to be watching them. Of course, he would be getting updates from his advisers and other officials.
We did also ask if the president-elect had called Mr. Ashcroft today to wish him luck before he goes before the United States Senate. It appears that the last time Mr. Bush and former Senator Ashcroft had spoken was last week. But it -- so it does not appear that President- elect Bush has spoken to Mr. Ashcroft.
Of course, though, through his advisers, the president-elect even in interviews making it clear he believes he is extremely qualified for the position, and believes he will enforce the laws on the book and that he will not politicize the attorney general's office -- Frank.
SESNO: And Kelly, as our viewers are watching along with us, you see the gaggle of still photographers huddled around the table where John Ashcroft himself was sitting. There's some of senators there in the picture. In the center of your picture: Senator Strom Thurmond, 98-year-old from South Carolina, already back for these hearings that are to resume shortly.
You see many of the seats still vacant there as the senators weave their way in. But there, the gaggle of photographers and reporters is, as Senator Ashcroft, former Senator Ashcroft has taken his seat and is ready to resume himself.
Kelly, one other point that I would like to talk you about, and that is the track record on race, something that was raised by a number of the Democratic senators in particular: the commitment of John Ashcroft to enforcing the laws, specifically affirmative action and some of these other things that are very controversial and about which he has been most outspoken.
WALLACE: Well, definitely, Frank.
You know, much has been made about the role that Senator Ashcroft played in derailing the nomination of Missouri Supreme Court Justice Ronnie White, an African-American, for a federal judgeship. Bush aides say you will hear from Mr. Ashcroft and his supporters that he supported 26 judicial appointments of African-Americans while he was governor of Missouri and one of its senators. He also signed a bill into law making Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a state holiday in Missouri.
And he led the efforts to save Lincoln College, historically black university in Missouri. So they are going to try and bring out some of these other issues to show that he has a solid record on race, and that the Ronnie White -- according to former Senator Ashcroft -- was strictly that he believed he was too soft on crime -- Frank.
SESNO: All right, Kelly Wallace, thanks very much.
Bill Press, to you on that point: Some of those who were working with John Ashcroft say this business of Ronnie White and all is just flatly -- and quoting here -- "a red herring," that the guy's not a racist, that he's got this track record on other judicial appointments, both as a senator and before that as a governor, that he has done these other things, that Kelly was just talking about, which show both sensitivity and, in a sense, activism on the subject of civil rights -- red herring? PRESS: I think the question is -- no, I don't think that it's a red herring. And I haven't heard anybody call him a racist, by the way. I note that I keep hearing the word used. I have not heard anyone actually call John Ashcroft a racist. But I think the questions about his commitment, his enforcing the civil-rights laws, stem not just from the Ronnie White thing, but from the fact that he also opposed the nominations of David Foster -- I mean, Henry Foster and David Satcher for surgeon general.
He opposed Bill Lann Lee for deputy attorney general for civil rights. When he was attorney general, he opposed the federal orders for school desegregation. And he went to Bob Jones and accepted that honorary degree. So you add all those together and people are saying: Is there such an insensitivity to racial issues that he's not going to be a strong enforcer of the civil-rights laws? They are going to find out.
CARLSON: Well, I mean, Maxine Waters did call him a racist in a memo circulated to her colleagues in the House. And other people have, too. Look, the guy's wife works at Howard University. I mean, that would be a pretty tricky move for a hardened racist to have your wife work at a black college.
I think you are going to hear the Bush people make the point -- and I believe it's a valid one -- that he is going to be serving in a Bush administration. He is not going to be a renegade or some sort of freelancer, enforcing the laws in the way he sees fit. He is going to be doing it at the behest of the president, whose views on race are well known, and I think, by any standard, pretty moderate.
SESNO: He's addressed the issue of Ronnie White, some of the issue of race that we're talking about here. We have a clip of videotape. Let's play it and take a look.
I am sorry, Bob Franken, I thought -- I am sorry. I thought we had a piece of tape there. Instead, we have Bob Franken, the real thing -- Bob.
FRANKEN: Live as a matter of fact. The charge that many people are making who are the opponents of John Ashcroft, most of them -- not including Maxine Waters -- most of them say they don't accuse him of being a racist. But what they say is that the Ronnie White matter -- since it was in the context a very hard-fought election year -- the Ronnie White matter showed that John Ashcroft was not above employing -- when he thought it was an advantage -- not above employing racial politics.
That is the charge. That is what he is going to have to defend. Of course, Ashcroft says -- his supporters say -- that he was opposed to Ronnie White. It had nothing to do with race. It had to do with a voting record as a Supreme Court judge: that Ronnie White, according to Ashcroft, was too pro-defendant, too pro-criminal. Other people say that, in fact, that is just subterfuge, that he was actually just being opportunistic, trying to take advantage of an opportunity he believed was there to further his political aspirations. SESNO: And you see Senator Pat Leahy, who is acting as chair for the Senate Judiciary Committee, making the rounds there with his camera. He has been known to move around with his camera to record this for his own personal posterity, as he bangs the gavel and pulls this confirmation hearing back to order.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John, thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. No, you can take this. Sure.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Everybody -- if everyone could get seated.
So we can understand where we stand before we go to Senator Ashcroft's testimony, we will first have three distinguished senators who are here, who I wish to introduce them.
And following tradition, as he is from Missouri, we'll go first to the senior senator from Missouri, Senator Bond.
SEN. CHRISTOPHER BOND (R-MO): Mr. Chairman, if you don't mind, I might defer to the other members of the panel for their first introductions, and I would be happy to relinquish my spot and follow as the third and least of the introducers.
LEAHY: And the senator, of course, has that right. I thank him for his courtesy, and then we'll go to Senator Carnahan as the other senator from Missouri.
SEN. JEAN CARNAHAN (D-MO): Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Senator Hatch. Three months ago this very day I could not possibly have imagined that I would be here. And I suspect that Senator Ashcroft could say the same.
During the time that John Ashcroft served the state of Missouri, my late husband, Mel Carnahan, also served in public life as state treasurer, lieutenant governor and governor. So I have an appreciation for the many burdens that Senator Ashcroft and Janet and his family have had to bear in order to serve.
Now a new burden rests upon his shoulders and upon each member of the United States Senate. We are considering the nomination of Mr. Ashcroft to be the attorney general of the United States, one of the most powerful and sensitive offices in the nation. I urge you to show him fairness but not favoritism, to welcome all of the facts without fear, and to base your decision on principle and not partisanship.
I ask you to look beyond any history of friendship or disputes, and to look beyond the bonds or divisions of party, and to look beyond the urging of interest groups expressing either support or opposition to this nomination. Instead, let us base our decision on the facts as they are determined by a full and fair hearing. I believe that is how we can best serve the interests of the people of America.
Mr. Chairman, Senator Hatch, as a proud resident of the Show Me state and a member of this esteemed body, I come here today to introduce to you my fellow Missourian, John David Ashcroft.
LEAHY: Thank you very much, Senator.
And Senator Hutchison? Following our regional procedure, we will go to you, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas.
SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R-TX): Thank you, Chairman Leahy, Chairman Hatch and other members of this committee.
I'm pleased to be here in support of my good friend, former Senator John Ashcroft, whom I've known for many years before he became my colleague. In fact, I was in Kansas City with him and Janet when he had his first press conference after suspending his campaign for the United States Senate for 10 days out of respect for his deceased opponent. The people of America saw the true heart of John Ashcroft in the way he handled the tragic death of Mel Carnahan. He showed magnanimity in his defeat. He put the people of Missouri before his own self-interest.
Mr. Chairman, I think he will do the same for the people of America as attorney general of the United States.
John and I have served together for six years. He brings an impressive background which all of you have heard several times today. I also think it is worth mentioning, because I think it adds to the integrity of this family, to mention his wonderful wife Janet, who has spent the last five years showing her commitment to education and diversity by teaching at one of our great historically black colleges, Howard University.
Senator Ashcroft and I have worked together on many issues and I want to mention a few of those here because he was a leader. He was a leader in co-sponsoring my legislation to eliminate the marriage tax penalty which has the effect of taxing many women at higher rates when the enter the workplace. Last year, he and I worked together to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. He and I both introduced legislation to amend the current stalking laws to make it a crime to stalk someone via electronic means such as the Internet. This new criminal law is now in place.
John led the effort to allow hourly wage earners, particularly working mothers, the ability to craft flexible work schedules to better meet the demands of both job and family. While in the Senate, John Ashcroft voted to prohibit people convicted of domestic violence from owning a firearm.
John also took a very important issue increasing the rights of victims.
HUTCHISON: While he was governor, he enacted a victim's rights law in Missouri, and has been a staunch co-sponsor with Senator Kyl on the victim's right constitutional amendment, along with Senator Feinstein.
Also while governor, he appointed the first women to the Missouri Supreme Court.
So I would say to this committee, maybe you might not agree with John Ashcroft on every issue, I think there will be legitimate philosophical differences between Congress and the executive branch, but as I have heard all of the opening statements today, there has been no question whatsoever of John Ashcroft's qualifications, his experience for this job and his absolute total integrity.
On the question of enforcing the law, I don't think there's any question that John Ashcroft will uphold and enforce all the laws of our country, and do it vigorously.
So in nominating John Ashcroft, President-elect Bush has made his choice. And I believe the Congress should respect the new president's decision.
I am pleased to be here, and I thank you, Mr. Chairman, for giving me the opportunity to say a few words on behalf of my former colleague, a person for whom I have great respect.
LEAHY: Thank you, Senator Hutchison. And I appreciate you taking the time to be here.
And, Senator Bond, we'll go now to you, please.
BOND: Mr. Chairman, ranking minority member, temporarily, Senator Hatch...
HATCH: We want you to repeat the "temporarily," Kit.
BOND: ... temporarily, Senator Hatch, if I may submit my full statement to the record, I'll try to summarize it, because I have a good bit to say about the man I'm honored to present today, President- elect Bush's nominee for attorney general.
It's a proud day for me, for the state of Missouri, and for this body. As a well-respected former member of this body, John Ashcroft doesn't need to be introduced to you.
I go back to 1973.
BOND: I had the responsibility to appoint a state auditor for Missouri, and based upon what I saw as promise in John Ashcroft, his character, intelligence and commitment to public service, I selected him. For 28 years I have watched him work every day in the best and highest traditions of this country. Those of you who work with him in the Senate have had an opportunity to see that.
If you were to ask me one word to describe John Ashcroft, it would be "integrity." And integrity means a steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code. And I'm saying to my colleagues on the committee, that code subsumes within it the adherence to the Constitution and laws. Throughout John Ashcroft's career as attorney general and governor, he has done that.
But in this new position, I can think of no one better to be the chief law enforcement agent of this country. He believes in strong and fair law enforcement. He has a consistently strong record on law enforcement, and it's supported by those on the frontlines of law enforcement.
If you would permit me, Mr. Chairman, I wish to recognize Mary Ann Vevrett (ph), chief of police for Gaithersburg, Maryland, who is here today on behalf of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 18,000 members strong, who know firsthand how crucial it is to have the support of someone like John Ashcroft in the attorney general's office. They are behind John. And I thank you very much, Chief.
Mr. Chairman, in recent weeks we've seen self-described proponents of various activist groups, trying to convince senators that there is a different John Ashcroft than the man we know personally. Like a sidewalk con-artist, these groups are asking senators, "Who are you going to believe, me or your own lying eyes?" Well, they're asking members of this body to embrace the caricature of John Ashcroft over senators' own close knowledge of the man's fine record, built in this committee and on the Senate floor.
I've been disappointed in some of the things that I've heard said about John Ashcroft; slash and attack methods are something we've seen far too often in Washington, and I believe the American people are sick and tired of it.
Nevertheless, there are legitimate questions that can and should be raised. And several members of the committee have raised the reasonable question of whether John Ashcroft can be trusted to enforce laws with which he personally disagrees.
BOND: Well, I'm here to tell you that I have observed him, and I can give you the Missouri "show me" test. He will enforce the laws.
We can assume that most, if not all, United States attorneys general have disagreed with some of the laws they were charged with enforcing. But why is it now that John Ashcroft, a conservative and committed Christian, is charged by some extreme groups of special interest that he would somehow be unable to enforce the laws because of his beliefs? I see some elements of religious bigotry in that.
John Ashcroft has stated and repeated firmly that he believes his religion teaches him that he should not impose his religious beliefs on anybody else. He has, however, sought, as we all have, to change the law where he deeply believes it was inadequate or wrong.
Undoubtedly, every member of this committee can find votes cast or positions taken by John Ashcroft with which we disagree. I certainly can. Obviously, some of you find many issues on which you disagree legislatively with John Ashcroft. But that is not the point. When you look at the record, you'll see that John Ashcroft believes in enforcing the law as it stands.
As Missouri's attorney general, he was my lawyer when I was governor. In 1981, despite his opposition to abortion, he issued an opinion in which he ruled that the Missouri Division of Health could not release to the public information on the number of abortions performed by particular hospitals.
Despite his personal view that life begins at conception, he issued an opinion that Missouri law did not require a certificate of death if a fetus was 20 weeks old or less.
Despite his own personal commitment to the distribution of Bibles and other religious materials, he issued an attorney general's opinion in 1979 that a board of education has no legal authority to grant permission to any organization to distribute religious material to any or all the student body on school property.
BOND: Although he stated his opposition to racial set-asides, he issued an opinion in 1980 that allowed the Missouri Clean Water Commission to award a 15 percent state grant to the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District to establish a minority business enterprise program.
The John Ashcroft you and I know will be a good attorney general. I can think of no nominee who is better qualified. Senator Kyl and many of you have already spoken about the qualifications. I must say, in deep regret, that the characterization of John Ashcroft's record by my distinguished colleague from Massachusetts is flat, simply wrong. That is not the person that we in Missouri know and respect.
John Ashcroft will and can continue to serve this nation with distinction. He knows the legislator's job is to write the laws and the attorney general's job is to enforce it. The American people have a right to expect something better than an attorney general who bends the law to serve a president's political needs and personal views. I know John Ashcroft would never engage in such behavior. He will faithfully, fairly, and effectively administer the laws of this great land. He is not one to bend the laws to his personal beliefs.
I come before this committee and respectfully asks that John Ashcroft's nomination to be attorney general be judged on the basis of the content of his character and that charges against him which are personal and insubstantial be dismissed, and this committee and that the full body confirm him as United States attorney general.
KENNEDY: Mr. Chairman, I appreciate what Senator Bond has mentioned. I'll come back during the question period and we'll have an opportunity to have an exchange with the nominee.
LEAHY: What the senator wants is somewhat extraordinary for somebody introducing somebody to take issue with an opening statement of a senator on the panel. I would give opportunity for you to respond now, if you want it, but if not, it's up to you. KENNEDY: I'd be happy to. We'll wait until the question period.
LEAHY: Why don't we do this? I think all three of the introducers, and I'll let you leave and maybe the staff can move this around a little bit so that Senator Ashcroft could sit in the center, move the name tags around the rest.
I thank Senator Hutchison, Senator Carnahan and Senator Bond, I thank you for being here.
SESNO: And so a little musical chairs here in the Judiciary Committee room, where John Ashcroft will now take center stage for his remarks, as we were hearing from Bob Franken. And if Bob is with us. Well, actually, we -- I think we're not going to have time to go back to Bob, because I think that the senator is rapidly taking his seat -- an extraordinary introduction by three people on his behalf, where Senator Kennedy was taken on directly. As we've heard, Senator Kennedy will respond to what Senator Kit Bond had to say at a later time.
LEAHY: ... swear or affirm that the testimony you are about to give before the committee will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL-DESIGNATE: I do.
LEAHY: Please be seated.
And Senator Ashcroft, before you begin your statement, it's been mentioned several times that you have family and friends here. Would you like -- following our normal procedure at these things -- to point out family or members or others you may wish to in the audience?
ASHCROFT: Mr. Chairman, if it pleases the committee, I will make that part of my opening remarks.
LEAHY: It's totally your choice. Go ahead.
ASHCROFT: Mr. Chairman, Senator Leahy, Senator Hatch, members of the committee.
THURMOND: Will you speak in your loudspeaker?
ASHCROFT: Yes, Senator Thurmond, I will. Thank you very much.
(UNKNOWN): You should know that by now, John.
ASHCROFT: It's a case of how soon we forget. What struck me most is that I came here, and I had a distinct and clear signal that being out of the Senate is different because each other member of the Senate was designated as honorable, and I'm just designated as senator. And I'm just trying to figure what the difference is between being honorable and being a senator.
LEAHY: Be careful, you may lose some votes over here.
HATCH: I don't think so. ASHCROFT: Thank you. It is a high honor for me to appear before you today for consideration as the attorney general of the United States of America.
I first want to extend my appreciation to the senators from my home state of Missouri, Senators Bond and Carnahan, for the courtesy and kindness of participating in an introduction for me at this committee today.
And, of course, it's most pleasing that Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas would join them by adding introductory remarks on my behalf. I extend to her my sincere appreciation as well.
For four years, I had the privilege of sitting with you on this committee. During that time, I never thought of it simply as the Judiciary Committee.
ASHCROFT: Instead, I thought of it being the Justice Committee, for this distinguished body is the ultimate legislative voice on American justice. It was an honor to serve with you in that noble endeavor.
Today, I'm here in a far different capacity: President-elect George W. Bush has designated me to lead the Justice Department, the principal executive voice on American justice and what must be, should be and continue to be the role model for justice the world over.
It's not only with honor, therefore, that I sit before you today, it's with an awesome sense of responsibility. For I know that if confirmed on my shoulders will rest the responsibility of upholding American justice, a tradition that strives to bring protection to the weak, freedom to the restrained -- I wasn't going to introduce my grandson, Jimmy, at this point...
Jimmy, what you've got going for you is there are a lot of grandparents on this panel, so.
He upstages me around the house, too. I'm not what I used to be.
Our tradition in the Justice Department that strives to bring protection to the weak, and freedom to the restrained, liberty to the oppressed, and security to every citizen.
Mine will be the same mantle carried by my predecessors, by Edmund Randolph, President George Washington's choice to be America's first attorney general; by Robert Kennedy, who found within himself the courage to surmount America's historic racial intolerance and to lend powerful assistance to the burgeoning civil rights movement.
I understand the responsibility of the attorney general's office. I revere it. I am humbled by it. And if I am fortunate enough to be confirmed as the attorney general, I will spend every waking moment, and probably some sleeping moments as well, dedicated to ensuring that the Justice Department lives up to its heritage, not only enforcing the rule of law, but guaranteeing rights for the advancement of all Americans.
ASHCROFT: The attorney general must recognize this: The language of justice is not the reality of justice for all Americans.
My wife has helped me with anecdotes of hers from her experience to understand that there are millions of Americans who wonder if justice means hostility aimed at "just us." From racial profiling to news of unwarranted strip searches, the list of injustice in America today is still long. Injustice in America against any individual must not stand; this is the special charge of the U.S. Department of Justice.
No American should be turned away from a polling place because of the color of her skin or the sound of his name. No American should be denied access to public accommodations or a job as a result of a disability. No American family should be prevented from realizing the dream of home ownership in the neighborhood of their choice just because of skin color. No American should have the door to employment or educational opportunity slammed shut because of gender or race. No American should fear being stopped by police just because of skin color. And no woman should fear being threatened or coerced in seeking constitutionally protected health services.
I pledge to you that if I'm confirmed as attorney general, the Justice Department will meet its special charge. Injustice against individuals will not stand, no ifs, ands or buts, period.
The attorney general is charged with the solemn responsibility of serving as the attorney for the United States of America. The attorney general is the people's counsel. The attorney general must lead a professional, nonpartisan Justice Department that is uncompromisingly fair, defined by integrity and dedicated to upholding the rule of law.
I pledge to you that if I am confirmed as attorney general I will serve as the attorney general of all the people.
Today, I'd like to spend a few minutes telling you a bit about myself and my family and my beliefs. I am the grandson of immigrants. My father was a pastor and a college president. I was raised in Springfield, Missouri, in a home where all of God's children were welcome. In fact, my parents gave up their bed so many times that I thought that they actually knew all of God's children who came to visit. That lesson of hospitality and generosity was just one of many my parents urged on me.
I went to Yale University, where I dreamed of playing quarterback. When I got there, I discovered that either I was slow or everybody else was really fast. So I studied hard and I was fortunate enough to graduate and then attend the University of Chicago Law School.
For me, the law was about the promise of justice, the promise that under law, all men, all women, all people are equal.
ASHCROFT: While in Chicago, however, I did find one person I thought a little more equal than all the others, a woman of grace and charm and intellect and not insignificantly to me, as a young man, a woman that I thought was the most beautiful I'd ever seen. Only thing better than her, I thought, would be two of them.
After rebuffing me several times, my persistence overcame her better judgment and she has stuck with me for 33 years. And members of the committee, her name is Janet Ashcroft. I'm privileged to have her with me today.
I'm also pleased to tell you she is an accomplished legal author and has spent the last five years teaching law in the Business Department of Howard University, here in Washington, D.C. I'm also pleased, as well, to welcome her identical twin sister -- they're not as identical as they used to be, but I could always tell them apart -- Ann Giddings (ph), to the hearing today.
THURMOND: Tell her to raise her hand.
ASHCROFT: Would the real Janet Ashcroft please stand up?
ASHCROFT: And Ann (ph), would you stand up with your sister, please? Thank you.
And I also wanted to introduce my daughter, Martha Grace Patterson (ph), who is an attorney from Kansas City -- attorney and mother. My grandson, Jimmy Patterson, who has already made his presence known to you.
I regret that my eldest son, John Robert Ashcroft, whose faculty responsibilities at Forest Park Community College in St. Louis require his presence with students and cannot be with us today. Additionally, I regret that active duty responsibilities of my son, Andrew David Ashcroft, in the United States Navy, make impossible his attendance at this hearing. I'm grateful for my family, they are wonderful people. They are not wonderful because of me, they are wonderful in spite of me. They are wonderful, a support and help to me. I thank God for them.
Upon graduating from law school, I returned to Missouri where I taught business law at Southwest Missouri State University. And after five years of teaching, I embarked on a quarter-century career in public service serving the people of Missouri.
ASHCROFT: In 1973, the then-governor, Kit Bond, appointed me as state auditor. Two years later, then-attorney general, Jack Danforth, appointed me assistant attorney general. I could not have had two more accomplished and distinguished mentors in public life than Jack and Kit.
Beginning in 1976, I was elected to the two terms as attorney general, then two terms as governor and, unfortunately -- well, pardon me, just one term as the United States senator.
In the course of the six state-wide election campaigns, I came to know the people of Missouri very well. Missouri is representative of the rich diversity of the American people. The people of the Show Me state respond to the plain-spoken honesty and tolerance of men like Jack and Kit and, of course, Harry Truman. I'm pleased they elected me to state-wide office five times.
Eighteen years of my service in elective office have been focused on enforcing the law, six years enacting the law. I know the difference between enactment and enforcement, and my record shows that.
I am here today as the attorney general-designate, I know what the office requires. I've been an attorney general before. I understand that being attorney general means enforcing the laws as they are written, not enforcing my own personal preference; it means advancing the national interest, not advocating my personal interest.
For example, in 1979, I issued an attorney general's opinion stating that under the state constitution and the law of Missouri, a local school board of education had no legal authority to grant permission for the distribution of religious publications to the student body on public school grounds.
On another occasion, contrary to the demands of pro-life advocates, I directed the state government of Missouri to maintain the confidentiality of abortion records because a fair reading of the law required it.
Throughout my tenure, I did my level best to enforce fully and faithfully the laws as they were written and to protect the legal interests of the state of Missouri when it was attacked and when the institutions of the state were attacked.
I did this without regard to any personal policy preferences. And when I left the attorney general's office, Missouri was a state more committed to fairness and justice.
From my experience, I also understand that the citizens' paramount civil right is safety.
ASHCROFT: Americans have the right to be secure in their persons, in their homes and in their communities. Gun violence, violence against women, drug crime, sexual predators, they all threaten to deny this most fundamental of rights to be secure in the person, property and community of individuals.
It is a core responsibility that government, led by the attorney general and the Department of Justice, cooperating with local law enforcement officials, will secure this right.
Children don't learn in schools overrun by neighborhood violence. Jobs will not be found in communities where criminals own the streets. No American who now feels threatened should have to move in order to live in a safer neighborhood.
My record on these issues is clear and unmistakable and my determination is unwavering. I will continue to work to deter and punish violent criminals who use guns. I will vigorously enforce federal domestic violence laws and utilize the Violence Against Women Act to assist states in this effort. Likewise, we will put new vigor into the fight against the illegal drug organizations and redouble our vigilance against terrorists.
During my service as both state attorney general and governor, we increased the number of full-time law enforcement officers by over 60 percent. We also lengthened prison sentences for criminals and significantly increased juvenile prosecutions for serious crimes. During my tenure as governor, we won passage for a Missouri victim's bill of rights. We secured $100 million in increased funding to combat violence against women. We also increased funding for anti- drug programs by almost 40 percent and 3/4 of that went for education, prevention and for treatment.
As a senator, I voted to deny the right to bear arms to those convicted of domestic violence. I supported increased funding for victims and helped enact legislation combating telemarketing scams against seniors. I supported mandatory background checks for gun show sales and increased federal funds for law enforcement at the local level. I've always been pleased by my support from law enforcement officers. Those who are here today -- for whom I am grateful and those who in past times have endorsed me, most recently in my campaign for the Senate, by the Missouri Federation of Police Chiefs and the St. Louis Police Officer's Association.
ASHCROFT: On the strength of this record and my commitment to the personal security and safety of the people of the United States of America, I pledge my commitment to secure the rights of all Americans to safety and security in their daily lives.
I also know from my service that a successful attorney general must be able to listen and find common ground with leaders of diversely held viewpoints. Few organizations reflect the diversity and strongly held views as much as the bipartisan National Association of Attorneys General.
I was honored when my fellow state attorneys general elected me president of that associate. I was humbled when they recognized me for outstanding service and presented me with the distinguished Wyeman (ph) Award.
I was similarly honored when the bipartisan National Governor's Association elected me to serve as their chairman.
I know something about the role of an attorney general. As I said earlier, the Justice Department has a special charge to protect the most vulnerable in our society from injustice. I take pride in my record of having vigorously enforced the civil rights laws as attorney general and governor.
Not only did I enforce the law, I took proactive steps to expand opportunity. I signed Missouri's first hate crime statute. By executive order, I made Missouri one of the first states to recognize Martin Luther King Day. I lead the fight to save Lincoln University, the Missouri University founded by African-American Civil War veterans. I took special care to expand racial and gender diversity in Missouri's courts. I appointed more African-American judges to the bench than any governor in Missouri history, including appointing the first African-American on the Western District Court of Appeals and the first African-American woman to the St. Louis County Circuit Court.
It was my to appoint the first two women to the Missouri Courts of Appeals and the first woman to the Missouri State Supreme Court, the only woman ever to have been appointed to that court.
ASHCROFT: No part of the Department of Justice is more important than the Civil Rights Division. I look forward to the president's appointment, with your advice and consent, of a talented and dedicated leader of that division. It is essential that such strong leadership pursue fair treatment for all Americans.
Before leaving the topic of civil rights, I want to address an issue that has been raised in the weeks since President Bush nominated me to this post. Some have suggested that my opposition to the appointment of Judge Ronnie White, an African-American Missouri Supreme Court judge, to a lifetime term on the federal bench was based on something other than my own honest assessment of his qualifications for the post.
During my eight years as governor, I was the appointing authority for judges. As I have just noted, I exercised the power with special care to promote racial diversity on the Missouri state court bench. Because of my experience as governor, when I became senator I approached the judicial confirmation process with both the appropriate deference due an executive and also a personal commitment to ensuring diversity on the bench.
Of the approximately 1,686 Clinton presidential nominees, both judicial and nonjudicial, voted on by the Senate, I voted to confirm all but 15. I voted to approve every Cabinet nomination made by the president of the United States.
Of President Clinton's 230 judicial nominees, I voted to confirm 218 of them. Perhaps it is needless to say, but I had philosophic disagreements with many, if not most of those judicial nominees. But I think the record of votes stands for itself.
On the floor of this body, I voted to confirm 26 out of 27 African-American judicial nominees. My opposition to Judge Ronnie White was well-founded. Studying his judicial record, considering the implications of his decisions, and hearing the widespread objections to his appointment from a large body of my constituents, I simply came to the overwhelming conclusion that Judge White should not be given lifetime tenure as a U.S. district court judge.
ASHCROFT: My legal review revealed a troubling pattern of his willingness to modify settled law in criminal cases; 53 of my colleagues reached the same conclusion. While I will not take time during my brief opening statement to discuss particular matters in Judge White's record that compelled me to my decision, I welcome the opportunity to discuss those matters later.
Another issue merits specific mention in these opening remarks, and that is the issue that we would identify with the case of Roe v. Wade, which established a woman's constitutional right to an abortion. As is well known, consistent with Republican United States attorneys general before me, I believe Roe v. Wade, as an original matter, was wrongly decided. I am personally opposed to abortion.
But as I have explained this afternoon, I well understand that the role of attorney general is to enforce the law as it is, not as I would have it. I accept Roe and Casey as the settled law of the land. If confirmed as attorney general, I will follow the law in this area and in all other areas. The Supreme Court's decisions on this have been multiple, they have been recent and they have been emphatic.
I have been entrusted with public service for more than 25 years. It's a responsibility I have honored and a trust that, I believe, I have kept. During those years, I have not thought of myself as a public servant of some of the people, but a keeper of the public trust for all the people. If I become United States attorney general, I, again, commit to enforcing the law, all of the law for all of the people.
I appear here today as a man of faith, a man of common sense conservative beliefs, a man resolutely committed to the American idea. On occasion, some of you have disagreed with my views. You have done so respectfully, and I thank you. In turn, I hope that my disagreements with you have reciprocated your respect.
But whether we are conservatives or liberals, religious or secular, Republicans or Democrats, what we have in common is far greater and more important than what divides us. As Americans, we live under a Constitution, uniting us under a rule of law, a Constitution that allows us to live side by side in harmony, working for the mutual interest of all Americans and our communities.
ASHCROFT: It is indeed adherence to the rule of law that is the basis of our democracy. Never in the history of the world has any country so thoroughly dedicated itself to respecting laws, for it is in respecting laws that we respect the individual dignity and freedom of people. Nowhere in government is thorough obedience to the rule of law more powerfully evident and more urgently necessary than at the Department of Justice.
If I am fortunate enough to be confirmed by the United States Senate and to become the next United States attorney general, I pledge to you that strict enforcement of the rule of law will be the cornerstone of justice.
As a man of faith, I take my word and my integrity seriously. So when I swear to uphold the law, I will keep my oath, so help me God.
LEAHY: Thank you, Senator.
What we will do now, we will have in the first round of questioning...
LEAHY: The committee will be in order. The committee will stand in recess until the police can restore order.
Officer, restore order.
The police will restore order.
LEAHY: The committee will also stay in order.
It will be the policy of the chairman to not allow any demonstrations for or against the nominee. You're all guests of the United States Senate. The 100 senators have a duty to vote for or against this nominee.
LEAHY: We will make up our mind based on the testimony within this room and the testimony of the nominee. We will not allow demonstrations of any sort. Everybody has a chance to write or call their individual senators for or against Senator Ashcroft. I thank the Capitol Police for restoring order.
Now, as I was saying, it will be the intent of the committee to have 15-minute rounds of each senator, doing the usual alternating on the first round. If there are further questions, we'll have shorter rounds after that. I have told the nominee if at any time he wants a break, of course, we will take one, again following normal time.
So I will start the questioning, and then we turn to Senator Hatch. Senator Ashcroft, while you served in the Senate, you did not have an opportunity to vote on a nomination for attorney general, and, in effect, this is your first hearing that you have attended in any capacity in the Senate for an attorney general. But from 1995 to last year, as you pointed out, you voted for a number of President Clinton's nominees. You also chose to oppose and vote against a number of President Clinton's nominees to the executive branch; in both cases exercising the right any senator has.
But I want to explore with you what appears to be the, for want of a better term, the Ashcroft standard that you used when you reviewed presidential nominations, and I'll start with that of Bill Lann Lee.
You opposed the nomination of Bill Lann Lee to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. In November of 1997, you said, "This is what I've been sent to Washington to do; to evaluate whether or not an individual will be the kind of an administrator, in an agency, that people are entitled to have."
And then you opposed Mr. Lee because, as a civil rights lawyer, you thought, and I quote you again, "His pursuit of specific objectives that are important to him limit his capacity to have the balanced view of making the judgments that would be necessary for the person who runs that division."
LEAHY: And you also said, quote, "We don't need an individual who is trying to go against the Constitution as recently interpreted by the Supreme Court. We need someone who is going to say, 'I'm here to provide the administration'" -- and that's an actual quote -- "I'm not here to amend the Constitution; I'm here to defend the Constitution.' That is what we need."
Now, Senator, using this Ashcroft standard, do you adhere to those views as setting the proper standard by which senators should evaluate presidential nominations?
ASHCROFT: Well, I'm pleased, first of all, Mr. Chairman, to thank you for the question. It's an important question. I thank you also for the way you're conducting this hearing. I appreciate the willingness to make sure that we have an opportunity to make these discussions in a setting which is conducive to understanding.
I think the ability to enforce the law as it is written and as it has been defined by the United States Supreme Court is very important. And when I have evaluated individuals, that's a very important criteria, especially for someone in an administrative or enforcement role and not in an enactment role.
Obviously, in the Senate we take a variety of positions because we -- I say advisedly we -- I'm no longer a senator, and I don't mean to be presumptive -- but because in the debate and in the exchange we arrive at what the law will be.
I joined with eight other Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee in opposing Bill Lee's nomination to be assistant attorney general because I had serious concerns about his willingness to enforce the Adarand decision which was a recent decision of the United States Supreme Court.
ASHCROFT: He was an excellent litigant, but I had concerns that he viewed the Adarand decision as an obstacle rather than as a way in which the law was defined. Adarand held that government programs that establish racial preferences based on race are subject to strict scrutiny, that is the highest level of scrutiny under the Supreme Court's equal protection clause. Adarand was a landmark decision, it was substantial, it was important. Mr. Lee did not indicate a clear willingness to enforce the law based on that decision.
LEAHY: In the last part, if I could disagree with you on that. Mr. Lee testified on a number of occasions -- in fact, testified under oath, including, incidentally directly in answer to your questions, that he would enforce the law as declared in Adarand.
And he also said, in direct answer to questions of this committee, he considered the Adarand decision of the Supreme Court as the controlling legal authority of the land, that he would seek to enforce it, he would give it full effect, but you say that he would not accept that decision and apply it fairly.
Was Bill Lann Lee lying under oath to this committee?
ASHCROFT: I certainly don't want to say that. I simply want to say that when asked what the standard was, he did not repeat the strict scrutiny standard of "narrowly tailored and directly related."
LEAHY: But how could he be more strict...
ASHCROFT: He stated another standard, and when asked whether the standard which he applied would affect programs, he basically said it wouldn't have any effect on the programs of the federal government. Now in my judgment...
LEAHY: But he said he would uphold it. I mean, what more could he say?
ASHCROFT: Well, frankly, he could have said that when applying a test, he would use the same test that the Supreme Court of the United States said should be used in strict scrutiny cases.
And, if he had, I believe that people would have been more likely to give credence -- when Chairman Hatch -- of course, he made an eloquent floor statement about this in speaking on this matter, but when Chairman Hatch delivered his remarks on this matter, I think he made clear what the rest of us felt, that while he said he considered the Adarand decision the law of the land, when he discussed the way in which it was implemented, it was clear that it would be applied in the way that the Supreme Court would require its application.
LEAHY: OK. Then I understand, as I said, the Ashcroft standard on that, but let's go a little further, let's take another step.
Like Bill Lann Lee, you have a long history of pursuing specific objectives that are important to you. And I would assume, like he, within the law. But throughout your public life as attorney general and governor of Missouri and as SEN., you have opposed a women's constitutionally protected right to reproductive freedom and choice, even in cases of rape and incest, you have fought voluntary school desegregation, affirmative action and gay rights. When you were running for president in 1998, you were quoted as saying, quote, "There are voices in the Republican Party today who preach pragmatism, who champion conciliation, who counsel compromise. I stand here today to reject those deceptions." Again, your words.
Now, given that history, you can understand why some might be troubled by it. What assurances can you give us that you would serve as the chief enforcement officer of this country with the kind of balanced view that you acknowledge is necessary for top official in the Department of Justice, the balanced view that you said others must have before you would vote for their confirmation?
ASHCROFT: Mr. Chairman, with all due respect, I would like to just have a chance to go back to that list, the litany of things...
LEAHY: Of course.
ASHCROFT: ... and positions you attributed to me. You said I opposed voluntary desegregation of the schools. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I don't oppose desegregation, I repudiate segregation. I am in favor of integration.
When the state of Missouri was asked to fund, with hundreds of billions of dollars, a program imposed by a federal court...
LEAHY: Hundreds of billions?
ASHCROFT: Hundreds of millions of dollars, pardon me. I thank you for correcting me. I've been in Washington so long, I've forgot how to say millions. I've just started saying billions.
LEAHY: I'm more interested in what you said at the time of the desegregation orders in Missouri. ASHCROFT: I opposed a mandate by the federal government that the state, which had done nothing wrong, found guilty of no wrong, that they should be asked to pay this very substantial sum of money over a long course of years. And that's what I opposed.
ASHCROFT: I have always opposed segregation. I have never opposed integration. I believe that segregation is inconsistent with the 14th Amendment's guaranteeing of equal protection. I supported integrating the schools.
Now, while I was the Missouri attorney general, I inherited a desegregation lawsuit in St. Louis from my predecessor in office, Jack Danforth. The state had been sued. I argued on behalf of the state of Missouri that it could not be found legally liable for segregation in St. Louis schools because the state had never been a party to the litigation.
Now, one of the responsibilities of an attorney general, in my judgment, is that when the entity which you represent legally is attacked or sued, you should defend it. Here, the court sought to make the state responsible and liable for the payment of these very substantial sums of money, and the state had not been found really guilty of anything.
I also took the position, on behalf of the state, that the court's inter-district remedy in that case was inappropriate because there was never any finding of an inter-district violation.
Now, to me, I just want to try and make it clear, it's been mentioned on several occasions, and I just think I want to have the opportunity to say with clarity that I do not support segregation; I support integration.
I happened to have been a young person in school when Brown v. Board of Education was announced. The schools in my town had been segregated. They were immediately integrated. And I support that. And so I would be very pleased -- there was a list of things that were similarly...
LEAHY: And we'll go back to them, and I will make absolutely sure, I can assure you, that you will have the time to go on them.
LEAHY: I would point out, though, that on the case you speak about, the federal district court threatened to hold the state in contempt if it didn't submit a specific desegregation plan within 60 days and said, quote, "The court can draw only one conclusion: The state has, as a matter of deliberate policy, decided to defy the authority of this court."
What I'm driving at...
ASHCROFT: Mr. Chairman, I'd be glad to respond to that if you'd like to have me do so.
LEAHY: I will. Hold on one moment.
ASHCROFT: I take these very seriously...
LEAHY: Well, go ahead. Respond to that.
ASHCROFT: Well, you know, if the state hadn't been made a party to the litigation and the state is being asked to do things to remedy the situation, I think it's important to ask the opportunity for the state to have a, kind of, due process and the protection of the law that an individual would expect.
A person swears to uphold the law of the state and to become the attorney general, when the state is attacked, I think it's important to expect the attorney general of the state to defend the state. Now over time it may be that if there had been a different structure, something different would have happened.
LEAHY: Did you consider -- and this you actually can answer yes or no -- did you consider the district court was fair in suggesting that you, on behalf of the state of Missouri, that you were basically dragging your feet? Do you think that was fair?
ASHCROFT: I think it's unfair to characterize a person as being uncooperative if they are asked to indemnify a situation when there was no opportunity for them to originally be a party to the lawsuit and if they weren't in a position to defend themselves. That would be unfair.
LEAHY: So you found the criticism of you by the court to be unfair?
ASHCROFT: Frankly, I thought the ruling by the court that the state would have to pay when there was not showing of a state violation to be unfair.
LEAHY: Thank you, but now my question -- do you feel that their criticism of you in your role as attorney general was unfair?
ASHCROFT: Would you mind -- this is 20-some years ago...
LEAHY: "The court can draw only one conclusion: The state has, as a matter of deliberate policy, decided to defy the authority of this court."
Would you consider that unfair?
LEAHY: Thank you.
Now, Dr. Satcher -- David Satcher -- you opposed his nomination to be our surgeon general even though the Senate eventually approved him. In your speech, you said, "Dr. Satcher says he has a mainstream approach; he's going to pursue consensus." But then you went on to say that you didn't believe that.
LEAHY: You told the Senate that he was, "a person of incredibly strong medical credentials, in terms of his expertise and his capacity, but you said the United States has participated in confirming nominations or ratifying proposals without looking carefully at the ethics involved of the guys that are being challenged."
So the opposition to Dr. Satcher, by your own statement, was not based on his professional qualifications. Indeed, is it fair to say that applying an Ashcroft standard you were articulating as a SEN. that you are going to oppose a nominee who you believed to be out of step with the mainstream of America, to use the words you used in your speech. ASHCROFT: Mr. Chairman, I'm pleased to have the opportunity to express my concerns here. Dr. David Satcher supported a number of activities that I thought were inconsistent with the ethical obligations of a medical doctor and a physician, particularly the surgeon general, because I think the surgeon general is an individual to whom America must look for guidance in terms of not just technical expertise, but the kind of ethics that ought to accompany people who have life-and-death decision-making in their hands. We all know how important the medical profession is.
LEAHY: And you disagreed with those ethics and values.
ASHCROFT: Yes, for example, he supported an AIDS study on pregnant women in Africa where some patients were given placebos, even though a treatment existed to limit transmission of AIDS from the mother to the child. In my understanding, this would not be an acceptable strategy for a study in the United States, but he was willing to support the study under those terms in Africa. That was a matter of deep concern to me.
Let me -- if I might -- he lobbied Congress to continue an anonymous study testing newborn infants' blood for the AIDS virus, without informing the mother if the test was positive. Now, I have real problems with a situation where someone wants to be the surgeon general of the United States, wants to learn about whether or not there's AIDS present in a medical situation, and not tell the people involved about the AIDS virus.
ASHCROFT: This is a matter of deep concern to me. The idea of sending fatally infected babies home with their unwitting mothers, even after a treatment had been identified for AIDS, to me was an idea that was unacceptable for an individual who wanted to be the leader in terms of the medical community and a role model in the United States. It was on those grounds that I made the decision.
Now, it's my decision and I'm not trying to duck responsibility for the decision. But those are the facts as I understood them, and that's the reason I made the decision.
LEAHY: So it'd be fair to say you disagreed with his ethical choices and his values, and you felt you should vote against him because of that.
ASHCROFT: I think it's fair to say that I believed he violated the ethical values that are characteristic...
LEAHY: I'm not trying to parse words, and I just want to make sure I understand, because I'm trying to get this...
ASHCROFT: It was a shortfall in his adherence to ethical values of the American medical community that I think were...
LEAHY: And because you disagreed with what you saw as his ethics and values, you voted against him. I'm not trying to place words in your mouth, I want to make sure I understand.
ASHCROFT: Well, then maybe...
LEAHY: Trying to give you the fairest...
ASHCROFT: Well, maybe if you will let me state my words...
ASHCROFT: ... then you don't have to worry about placing words in my mouth.
I believed that his willingness to accept a standard for medical research in Africa, on African women, that would not be acceptable in the United States was an ethical lapse that was very important. I, secondly, believed his willingness to send AIDS-infected babies home with their mothers without telling their mothers about the infection of the children was another ethical problem that was very serious.
Based on those standards, which I believe are less than acceptable standards in the medical community in this country, I voted against him.
LEAHY: That's what I was trying to get you to say. Thank you.
ASHCROFT: I'm sorry.
LEAHY: Maybe we were speaking past each other. But thank you.
HATCH: Well, thank you.
Senator Ashcroft, the principal argument raised against your nomination by some people is because of your firmly held personal beliefs, which happen not to be consistent with the views of the abortion right groups, the People for the American Way, and other similar interest groups; that you will not enforce the laws of the land as attorney general. That seems to be the argument.
HATCH: Now, your record, however, which the special interest groups seem to ignore, seems to provide clear evidence to the contrary. For example, as attorney general for the state of Missouri, you repeatedly issued legal opinions regarding how a particular statute should be interpreted and enforced.
Time and again, Senator, your record reflects your dedication to enforcing the law, regardless of your particular views in areas like the environment, abortion, guns, religion and rights.
Let me give just a couple of examples, and you gave some other examples in your opening remarks. You issued an opinion in 1981 that the Missouri Division of Health could not release information to the public on the number of abortions performed by particular hospitals. You determined that the state legislature made clear its intent that such reports remain confidential and be used only for statistical purposes. You also determined that in order to protect the patient- client privilege access to health data maintained by the Division of Health, that it only be subject to review by public health officers, something that people in the right-to-life community disagreed with you on. That's correct, isn't it?
ASHCROFT: It is correct.
HATCH: You also, in Attorney General Opinion Number 50 -- I'm just going to mention two, there are all kinds of these.
ASHCROFT: Well, don't ask me to quote them. We had 800 or more.
HATCH: I won't ask you to quote them. Let me see what I can do.
"In Attorney General Opinion Number 50, dated March 2, 1977, Attorney General Ashcroft issued an opinion, which interpreted state law to prohibit prosecuting attorneys from carrying concealed weapons, even while engaged in the discharge of their official duties. Attorney General Ashcroft reached this opinion, despite the fact that some prosecuting attorneys conducted their own investigations, and as a result faced dangerous situations." That's true too, isn't it?
ASHCROFT: Yes, sir, it is true. And it may not have been my personal judgment that their safety was best regarded by that, but the law was, we thought, clear.
HATCH: That's what the law said, and so you enforced it. I mean, I have to admit I don't agree with that law either. They ought to be able to protect themselves. But I could go on and on with further examples, but I want to hear from you.
The special interest groups who have sharply attacked you, seem to ignore these instances where you have interpreted the laws as written, despite your personal beliefs.
Now, if confirmed as attorney general of the United States, will you enforce the laws of this land irrespective of your personal beliefs?
ASHCROFT: I will. And I think I should clarify that just a little bit.
ASHCROFT: My primary personal belief is that the law is supreme; that I don't place myself above the law, and I shouldn't place myself above the law. So it would violate my beliefs to do it.
So I spent 24 years in elective public offices as -- the auditor's office in Missouri is really a compliance office. We audit not only for financial integrity but for compliance with legal mandates to the agencies. I spent two years there as state auditor, and then the eight years as attorney general and eight years as governor. And there are other things you do as governor, but you also are a law enforcement individual. The executive branch does that. And most of my time in government has been in enforcement. And I'm pleased to say that I have enforced the law faithfully to the best of my ability in those settings.
HATCH: With regard to Mr. Bill Lann Lee -- I happen to like Mr. Lee, but I voted against him. Not because I wouldn't have supported him for any number of other positions; I would have, because he's a sincerely dedicated, decent, honorable man.
But when he appeared before the committee, I have to say that one of the problems that I had at that particular time was that I was concerned, because of his prior background, that he force consent decrees on local municipalities, cities, counties and other governments by bringing very expensive lawsuits that would cost millions of dollars to defend where they'd have to cave in to consent decrees that would require quotas that were really wrong under the Adarand and other decisions by the Supreme Court.
I can remember -- and like I say, while I have the highest personal regard for Mr. Lee's accomplishments when he was in the private sector, I was extremely concerned about his interpretation of civil rights laws.
His lifetime's work was devoted to preserving constitutionally suspect, race-conscious public policies that sort and divide citizens by race. For instance, Mr. Lee, when he appeared before the committee, interpreted the Adarand v. Pena case to mean that racial preferences are permitted if, quote, "conducted in a limited and measured manner," unquote.
Now, as I noted on the floor of the Senate, his statement mis- stated the court's fundamental holding on such programs that are presumptively unconstitutional. And unfortunately, I have to say, that his recent record indicates that's what he has been doing in a large degree, or at least to a significant degree, in his position in the Justice Department.
HATCH: So there was a legitimate reason to vote against Bill Lann Lee, even though I think all of us would admit he's a nice person and probably could fill any number of other positions in government. I suspect that that's the reason you voted against him, and I can see why others might have voted for him, but the fact is, I had to do what I thought was the law. What about you?
ASHCROFT: Well, frankly, I struggled to say that perhaps earlier, not as effectively as you have just said it or as you said it on the floor. When he indicated that the test of whether a program would survive strict scrutiny was that it be limited and measured, he really basically was expanding the test substantially.
The district court on remand in that case said it, and I quote "is difficult to envisage a race-based classification that is narrowly tailored." But Mr. Lee, when asked if he could identify a single racial preference program that was unconstitutionally suspect, could only identify one out of all the programs.
I think the key, though, is the material that you presented at the time, which I found persuasive, and his statement of a test for programs, which was just monumentally different than the test provided for by the court in the Adarand case.
HATCH: It's been mentioned that you opposed certain aspects of federal court decrees surrounding the desegregation of schools in Kansas City. Well, Senator Ashcroft, isn't it time that in Missouri v. Jenkins, which is a poster-child case for what many think is judicial activism, that the Supreme Court found that the district court had exceeded its authority by ordering remedies beyond its power? Was your position not vindicated by the Supreme Court after some 18 years of litigation?
ASHCROFT: Well, very frankly, the Jenkins case was a five-four case...
ASHCROFT: ... and it was a case in which the judge imposing a tax was upheld in imposing the tax...
HATCH: Yes, it wasn't the Congress the imposed the tax, it was the judge.
ASHCROFT: No, nor was it the state legislature or the city council. HATCH: That's right. So it was a legitimate argument.
ASHCROFT: Obviously, it's a legitimate argument. And I hope these hearings will allow me to clarify the fact that a state attorney general has a responsibility to defend the state when it is asked by other parties to open its treasury to fund one thing or another.
ASHCROFT: The situation in Kansas City, at the order of the federal district court judge, was tragic, in terms of the amount of money spent. And really, frankly, this hadn't become -- this really wasn't that much of a partisan issue; it became clear that this was not helping children, but it was a very, very serious diversion of the state's resources, in a way which made difficult the achievement of other objectives.
For example, busing had strong opponents in Missouri, Democrat and Republican, black and white. Freeman Bosley, St. Louis' first African-American mayor, opposed forced busing, as did Democrat state Attorney General Jay Nixon. This forced busing that was opposed is not on their part or on my part an opposition to integration. It was an opposition to a counterproductive, inappropriate effort to impose on the state, transportation of students to and from, at great expense and at little benefit educationally to the students.
HATCH: Well, I've heard some arguments against you, because of your firmly held religious beliefs. In fact, I've seen it over and over in the press in this country. When Vice President Gore selected our esteemed colleague, Joseph Lieberman, to be his running mate, many individuals and organizations supported that choice and applauded Senator Lieberman for his strong religious beliefs. I have to say, I felt the same way.
Unfortunately, many left-wing groups have not been as supportive of your religious beliefs and convictions. Almost like it's OK for a liberal, but it's not OK for somebody who is conservative.
Personally, I, as a Christian, am very unsettled by the different treatment accorded you and Senator Lieberman. I think it's wrong.
Now, the job of the attorney general of the United States is an extremely important job, and it is to enforce the laws enacted by Congress. The only issue for me is the manner in which you execute the job, or will execute the job.
HATCH: Doesn't matter to me whether you're Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, whatever, or an atheist or agnostic. I'm sure that goes for -- I hope that I'm sure that that goes to the rest of our fellow senators. In fact, the Constitution of the United States specifically forbids religious qualifications for office.
Now, having gone through that type of, I think, offensive criticism, which is continuing right up to today, is there anything in your religious beliefs that would impair you from faithfully and fully fulfilling your responsibilities as attorney general of the United States?
ASHCROFT: Well, I don't believe it's appropriate to have a test based on one's religion for a job. I think Article V of the Constitution makes that clear.
In examining my understanding and my commitment and my faith heritage, I'd have to say that my faith heritage compels me to enforce the law and abide by the law rather than to violate the law. And if in some measure somehow I were to encounter a situation where the two came into conflict so that I could not respond to this faith heritage which requires me to enforce the law, then I would have to resign. I do not believe that to be the case.
Can I just say a word about this? America has struggled in this respect for quite some time, and people who come from different religious and faith perspectives have emerged at one time and another, and when they have, there have been questions about this. This is not new.
Before I was old enough to vote, but when I was old enough to be very active in watching elections, in 1960, the first person became president of the United States from a Catholic perspective. In my part of the country there were people who thought, "He will not be free. He will have to do whatever the pope tells him to do. He will be a client of a foreign individual." You know, I heard that talk. But America got by that talk, and I think it's good that we did. And my own view is that, yes, people won't understand different kinds of individuals from time to time. Most people hailed, as I did, the elevation to national candidate status of my college classmate and former colleague here in the United States Senate, Joe Lieberman. We need more people like Joe Lieberman in public office, not fewer people like Joe Lieberman in public office.
But I was the first person from my faith denomination to be elected to a statewide public office, as attorney general. I was the first governor ever from my denomination.
ASHCROFT: I was the first senator from my denomination. I understand these things, and I think this is something we work our way through as Americans. And we're going to come to an understanding that well-intentioned people of good faith, when they raise their hand and take an oath to support the Constitution and enforce the law, they do it.
And as I look back across America and this heritage -- and it's been focused on different kinds of people at different times -- I, frankly, don't see that our faith has been misplaced. As I look across -- when we had our first Catholic president, we didn't suffer.
So, you know, I think this is something we will work our way through.
HATCH: My time's just about up. Let me just ask you one last question.
You've publicly stated your agreement with the law of Adarand, which states that all racial classifications made by the government must be able to withstand strict scrutiny.
You were also a sponsor of the Civil Rights Act of 1997. This Civil Rights Act basically seeks to implement the Supreme Court's holding in Adarand with respect to federal racial classifications. The Civil Rights Act of 1997 does state that affirmative action, such as encouraging qualified women and minorities to apply for government contracts and employment, would not be affected.
Now what sort of affirmative action programs would you support, if confirmed, and what would be your plans for the Civil Rights Division?
And my time is up.
ASHCROFT: Well, very frankly, there are lots of ways that are acceptable, and some have been working their way through the courts and I think will be sustained.
The president-elect of the United States has identified a series of things that he calls affirmative access. I think those are good ideas. They've been in place now in Texas and in California and in Florida and are making their way in the educational system where access is so very important. We can expand the invitation for people to participate aggressively so that no one is denied the capacity to participate simply because they didn't know about the opportunities. We can work on education, which is the best way for people to have access to achievement.
There are a wide variety of things. We can size government opportunities so that people can bid who don't have the megastrength of the big, old-time contractors but some new entrants into the marketplace.
These are all policy decisions that I believe this next administration -- President-elect Bush is eager to consider. And, certainly, the affirmative access that he's described is something that I think the entire country would be well-served to work on.
HATCH: Thank you, Senator Ashcroft.
LEAHY: I just would not want to leave one of the questions from my friend from Utah to give the wrong impression to the people here and just, sort of, make it very clear. Have you heard any senator, Republican or Democrat, suggest that there should be a religious test on your confirmation?
ASHCROFT: No senator has said, "I will test you," but a number of senators have said, "Will your religion keep you from being able to perform your duties in office?"
LEAHY: I'm amazed at that.
LEAHY: Well, I'm amazed at that -- at any more than...
ASHCROFT: I understand, and I accept the opportunity to say with clarity that not only will I represent that I will enforce the law, but there is some record here of my two years as auditor, eight years as attorney, eight years in the governor's office, that when the law is clear and decided, that I enforce the law.
LEAHY: Senator Kennedy?
KENNEDY: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
If we could, Senator Ashcroft, come back to the St. Louis situation. Let me just spell out very briefly, as you remember, but just so that we have the common understanding.
In the '70s, more than 20 years after the Brown v. Board of Education, St. Louis still maintained a segregated school system. Finally, responding to the lawsuits brought by the parents, the courts stepped in and ruled the state of Missouri and the St. Louis School Board were jointly responsible for violating the Constitution by creating and maintaining segregated and grossly unequal schools. The court ruled that the state had maintained an elaborate set of laws to enforce segregation. At one time, the state law even forced black children who lived in the suburbs and in white city neighborhoods to be bussed to all-black inner-city schools. According to the court, the state had completely abdicated its constitutional duty to desegregate the schools. You disagreed with that finding, but despite your repeated appeals, requests for injunctions, three denials of review by the Supreme Court over a four-year period, the final ruling of the courts were not changed. So you had your chance in the courts to make the case that you've just made here and rejected on each time.
Let me just continue.
KENNEDY: Now the city of St. Louis and its schools and surrounding 23 county districts all accepted the ruling. They negotiated a model desegregation plan, relying on the voluntary public school. Black students from city schools could volunteer, transfer to white suburban schools. White suburban students would have the opportunity to transfer to magnet schools run by the city.
KENNEDY: In fact, the plan has been a lifeline for tens of thousands of students, with graduation rates that are consistently twice as high for the transferred students, more of them going on to college, and over 11,000 students are still using it today, including 900 suburban students.
Now, given the voluntary nature of the desegregation plan and the fact that the city and country school districts all agreed to it, how do you justify your relentless opposition to the voluntary school desegregation and, sort of, a scorched earth legal strategy to try and block it?
ASHCROFT: Senator Kennedy, first of all, the litany of charges that were made about the state's activities included a rather loose definition of things that the state had done prior to Brown v. Board of Education. Virtually none of the offensive activities described in what you charged happened in the state after Brown v. Board of Education. As a matter of fact, most of them had been eliminated far before Brown v. Board of Education.
Secondly, in saying that the city maintained a segregated school system into the '70s, is simply a way of saying that after Brown v. Board of Education when citizens started to flee the city and move to the county -- and you'll know that St. Louis, for a number of decades now, has been a place that has lost more population than virtually any other city as people moved into the county -- the schools, as people changed their location, began to be more intensely segregated. That was after the rules of segregation had been lifted, and it was not a consequence of any state activity.
Then I would just simply say that I think it's unfair to call the program totally voluntary and to suggest that we opposed a voluntary program when the thing was that the state was going to have to pay for everything people volunteered to do.
Now the situation was basically this: The county school districts agreed with the city school districts that they could confess judgment and get a lot of money from the state of Missouri by saying, "If we'll just say that we'll do this voluntary plan, the state will have to pay for the situation."
ASHCROFT: So you had a situation something like this -- and I don't have all the material that you all have, but let me try and recreate it from my memory.
KENNEDY: I want to give you a fair chance, but we've got...
KENNEDY: Go ahead.
ASHCROFT: Thank you for your fairness. Because when the machine gun of charges comes out, I want to try and respond to all the lead.
KENNEDY: Well, let me give you one point that you've just raised, because I want to move on. In earlier, you said, "Well, the state wasn't involved."
KENNEDY: Well, now let me just read you. "Now, 1980, in the Adams v. United States, the city board and the state were jointly responsible for maintaining segregated school system. 1982, we again note that the state and the city board."
My question is, how costly was this going to be, Senator Ashcroft, before you were going to say that those kids going in lousy schools, that you were going to do something about it? You were there as an attorney general, you were there as governor and did virtually nothing about it. And a new governor came in, Mel Carnahan, and resolved that and basically accepted it.
You used every kind of device to oppose it. You have the Economist magazine, which is not a liberal magazine, saying, "The campaign" -- and you were involved in a campaign -- "quickly degenerated in 1984" -- when this was still before you -- "into a contest over who was most opposed to the plan for voluntary racial desegregation at St. Louis schools.
"Mr. McNary claimed that Mr. Ashcroft had not done enough to defeat the plan in court. Mr. Ashcroft countered that Mr. McNary was a closet supporter of racial integration. Both ran openly bigoted advertisement on television."
This is what we have in terms of Gary Orfield (ph), the consultant for the court in St. Louis, a leading expert on desegregation cases, testifies against desegregation. He said that you had no positive vision, constantly stirred up racial divisions over the questions. Finally, rather than provide the conciliatory leadership, in 1990 a judicial order described the recent state filings -- recent state filings -- as, "Extremely antagonistic and said that state was ignoring the real objective of this case, a better education for the city's students, to personally embark on a litigious pursuit of righteousness."
Now, that's a pretty tough record.
KENNEDY: That's a pretty tough record.
Where in your priority would the rights of the interests of those black students that were trying to get a decent education? We've just heard you about what the cost was going to be, how you had a responsibility as an attorney general to protect the taxpayer. What about the interest of those black students? And the fact that you have those courts, repeatedly time, time, time again said that you failed to even offer an alternative. Did you offer an alternative?
ASHCROFT: Now may I respond?
ASHCROFT: Thank you.
In all of the cases where the court made an order, I followed the order, both as attorney general and as governor. It was my judgment that when the law was settled and spoken that the law should be obeyed.
At one point, I had to detail the deputy attorney general of the state of Missouri to the state treasurer's office in order to urge the state treasurer to write the check. And the treasurer wrote the check. His name has been used in this hearing, but I won't use it. But it was because I explained to him that when the court spoke, the state had to respond and obey the law.
Now, the framework for the system was that the state was to pay the city for the students who left, and the state was to pay again, in the county, for the students who had left and gone out there. It was not a way to integrate the city's schools.
The facts which you specific show that the brightest students left the city, leaving the students in those schools behind with fewer people aspiring to college graduation and going on further for education, not improving those schools.
I'm pleased to respond to your question about my priority for education. During my time as governor, funding for education in the state of Missouri went up about 70 percent. The vast majority of all state resources that were new and available went to education, because I believe in education.
ASHCROFT: In Missouri v. Jenkins, the case in Kansas City... KENNEDY: Well, could we get on -- I'm glad -- I don't think we've...
HATCH: Let him answer the question.
KENNEDY: All right, if he wants to take the -- the question wasn't about Kansas City. I asked about St. Louis.
HATCH: It was about education.
KENNEDY: And if he wants to talk about Kansas City...
ASHCROFT: I would like to talk about Kansas City, but it's not...
ASHCROFT: I'd rather answer your question than talk about Kansas City.
KENNEDY: That isn't the question, but if you want to talk about it.
ASHCROFT: Well, I'll just give you an idea...
SESSIONS: You challenged his interest in education, Senator Kennedy, you suggested he didn't care about children.
LEAHY: All right, gentlemen, gentlemen, gentlemen.
HATCH: Let him answer the question.
LEAHY: First, I would note that whatever questions are asked, if the witness feels that he's not given time to answer all the questions he will be given time, as will senators be given time to do follow-up questions.
KENNEDY: Well, I had one other area to cover, but whatever you want to do, John.
ASHCROFT: Well, you're the senator.
KENNEDY: Well, you're the...
ASHCROFT: Well, you know, I look forward to working with this committee upon confirmation, I do, and I don't know when there was last an attorney general that had previously served as a member of this committee. And, frankly, I think we can work together and I want to. I don't want any rancor to characterize our relationship, and I'm very pleased to defer.
KENNEDY: Let me just go on one, hopefully, time, and this is on the questions of voter registration, vetoes, your vetoes on the voter registration. We talked about this.
You know, obviously we've learned in this presidential campaign every vote does count, and obviously the procedures in Florida and across the nation, plagued by inequities, often result in disenfranchisement of poor and minority. The Justice Department is conducting the investigation whether any of the voting irregularities that occurred in Florida violating the federal Voting Rights Act. So if confirmed, you'll have a responsibility for completing the investigation and bringing suit if any violations are found.
Now, your actions as governor of Missouri -- I'm concerned about your willingness about where you might go with this. Now, let me mention this.
As governor you appointed election boards in both St. Louis County and St. Louis city. The county which surrounds much of the city is relatively affluent, 86 percent white, votes heavily Republican. The city's poorer, 48 percent black, votes heavily Democratic.
Like other communities across the state, the county election board has a standard procedure for training volunteers from nonpartisan groups, like the League of Women Voters, to assist the voter registration. And according to the press reports, the county trained as many as 1,500 volunteers, but the number of trained volunteers in the city was zero, because your appointed city board refused to follow the standard practice used in the county and throughout the rest of the state.
KENNEDY: As a result, the county had a voter registration rate higher than the state average and considerably higher than the city. Now concerned about the obvious disparity, the legislature passed bills in 1988 and '89 to require the city to use the same training procedures as the county and the rest of the state. On both occasions, you vetoed these bills.
In 1988, you claimed it was unfair to impose this procedure just on the city of St. Louis, and in '89, the legislature responded by passing a bill applying the procedure to the entire state, but you vetoed it again. And you cited concerns about voter fraud, even though the Republican director of elections in the county was quoted as saying, "It worked well here and I don't know why it wouldn't work in the city as well." That makes sense. The only difference between the county and city is that the city is poorer, more heavily African- American, and votes Democratic.
The question, rather than working to expand the right to vote, you and the appointed election board in the city did all you could to block the increased voter registration. The results of your stonewalling tactics are clear: By the time you left the governor's mansion, the city of St. Louis had the lowest voting registration in the state, 15 percent lower than St. Louis County. Eight years later, Governor Carnahan's reforms in the St. Louis city election, and now the rate for St. Louis city has increased dramatically.
Why did you feel that you had to not provide the same kind of registrars in the city as you did in the county and as they did in the rest of the part of the state, particularly when those groups indicated their willingness to provide those services?
ASHCROFT: Well, thank you for the question, Senator Kennedy. And let me just say, that I am concerned that all Americans have the opportunity to vote. I'm committed to the integrity of the ballot box. I know what it means to individuals who are deprived of the opportunity to vote, and I know what it means to candidates who have been the subject of elections where the integrity of the ballot box has been violated. I have personal experience in that respect.
I vetoed a number of bills as governor, and, frankly, I don't say that I can remember all the details of all of them. Accordingly, I reviewed my veto message and recalled that I was urged to veto these bills by the responsible local election officials. I also appeared to anticipate the Supreme Court's recent decision, as I expressed a concern that voting procedures be unified statewide.
ASHCROFT: I would like to read my relatively short veto statements from the two relevant bills. And these are statements which I made when I was governor.
ASHCROFT: And it's quite sometime...
KENNEDY: And if you could elaborate on the local officials that urged you to veto them, the reason why they did that. If you could add that, I'd appreciate it. And my time then is up.
ASHCROFT: "Conference Committee Substitute for House Bill Number 1333" -- I believe it is -- "is vetoed and not approved for the following reasons. The Comprehensive Election Act of 1977 was intended to simplify, clarify and harmonize the laws governing elections. Section 115.003 revised statutes of Missouri, 1988, the General Assembly has directed that the act be construed and applied so as to accomplish this purpose.
"The few amendments to this law since 1977 have been acted only as necessary to further statewide policy goals. Election bills approved by the general assembly this year continue this trend by standardizing voter registration and other election procedures.
"Conference Committee Substitute for House Bill 1333 stands in marked contrast to the overall trend of our election laws. It would single out one election authority and mandate for that one authority that certain procedures be followed. I see no compelling reason to impose this special requirement on the St. Louis Election Board.
"There are more than 150 permanent registration sites spread throughout the city of St. Louis. Each of these sites is manned by bipartisan, board-appointed registrars and is in a public facility. Before every election, the board opens an additional 84 special registration sites manned by bipartisan registration teams at places such as shopping centers, churches and union halls. The success of the St. Louis Election Board in promoting voter registration is evidenced by the fact that the city has a registration rate of 73 percent compared to the national average of 69 percent.
"I join with the proponents of this bill in encouraging the St. Louis Board of Election commissioners to review its present policy and to work to ensure that every resident has a clear opportunity to register to vote. But even as we work to increase voter registration, we must preserve the right of the voters to participate in fair elections.
"The bipartisan St. Louis County Board of Election Commissioners, St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Tom Villa (ph), and St. Louis circuit attorney George Peach (ph), have expressed concerns about the impact of this bill on the democratic process and urged me to veto it."
ASHCROFT: I might add that Tom Villa was a noted Democratic leader in the state of Missouri from the city of St. Louis. The Villa family had a historic, sort of, reputation. I don't know whether some of you close to St. Louis will remember that.
St. Louis circuit attorney George Peach was a Democrat who was the prosecutor in the St. Louis area, so we had a bipartisan county election board said, "This is not good; this is not right."
You had the Democrat circuit attorney saying, "I have reservations about this; this shouldn't be done." You have the St. Louis Board of Aldermen president -- an almost totally Democrat organization, the Board of Aldermen, City of St. Louis, is about as Democrat as the Democratic National Committee.
They all urged me to veto this bill.
Now, I do think that when you look at the recent Supreme Court rulings pushing us more towards uniformity, that it's important to understand that creating and carving out special responsibilities in a variety of settings is something we shouldn't do.
"The people of St. Louis," I went on to say, "have an absolute and fundamental right to open, fair, and non-partisan elections. My veto of this bill today will protect that right. For the above and foregoing reasons, Conference Committee Substitute for House Bill Number 1333 is returned and not approved."
ASHCROFT: The second veto message is -- I'd be happy to read another one.
KENNEDY: No -- Mr. Chairman, it's not necessary. The point, Senator, if I could just add and get your response and then I'll -- you vetoed it because it was special legislation for St. Louis. Then, the next year the legislature said, "OK, because you haven't done anything in St. Louis, we'll apply it statewide." That's what I can't understand.
I can see you saying, "It's special legislation, so we won't do it for St. Louis because it's special." Now you've just mentioned the Supreme Court wants uniformity. The state legislature said, "OK, let's get uniformity." And you've vetoed that as well. That's the point, if you could address that. ASHCROFT: Thank you very much. It just takes a lot longer to answer these charges than it does to make them, and I apologize for that.
LEAHY: Well, all right. Gentlemen, just a moment. I want him to answer that, but I also point out, the witness said that sometimes the charges, or the questions, come I think machine gun fashion was his expression.
I can assure you, the chair will make sure that you are given time to answer all of the questions. If, when you review the transcript, there's further answers you want, you'll be given the time to respond to that. And of course, the senator asking his question can follow up. But I don't want any implication being given that you would not have a chance to answer all the questions asked.
ASHCROFT: I appreciate that very much, Mr. Chairman, and I apologize if any of my remarks would indicate that you wouldn't fairly give me the opportunity to respond.
This is the veto message from the next year: "House Committee substitute for House Bill Number 200 is vetoed and not approved for the following reasons: The bill would require election authorities to permit, quote, 'any recognized non-partisan civic organization, political, fraternal, religious or service organization interested in voter registration and education to conduct registration at any reasonable place selected by the organization.' The election authority is required to have a deputy registration official present at the place. The bill provides that these deputies may be volunteers.
"I encourage all qualified Missourians to register and vote in elections. I also encourage election authorities to improve voter registration efforts by keeping registration offices open for longer hours and by conducting registration drives at special registration sites.
"As I noted last year, in St. Louis alone, the success of the St. Louis election board is apparent from the fact that the city has a registration rate of 73 percent, compared to the national average of 69 percent. Efforts to promote voter registration must be balanced with the need to ensure that the voters participate in fair elections. This bill would tie the hands of election authorities and give private organizations a virtually unbridled right to add names to state voter registration rolls.
"As noted in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial, 'There is no overwhelming reason to allow an individual group of any political persuasion to register people. With the numerous instances of voter fraud that the city has experienced in recent years, election officials should be cautious about their procedures. The registration apparatus must be available to everyone, but it also must be protected jealously to prevent its abuse.' The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, quote, 'Keeping Registration Fair,' close quote.
"Election authorities are free to participate..." -- August 28. This was an editorial, not -- I don't believe this editorial was about this specific measure. I don't want to create that impression.
ASHCROFT: If it is about it, that be fine.
"Election authorities are free to participate with private organizations, now, to conduct voter registration. Giving the overriding need to promote honesty and integrity in the process, I see no compelling reason to require that they do so in every instance in which a request is made.
"For the above and foregoing reasons, House Committee substitute for House Bill number 200 is returned and not approved. Respectfully submitted, signed John Ashcroft, governor."
LEAHY: Senator Thurmond?
THURMOND: When outgoing Attorney General Janet Reno appeared before this committee for confirmation, I expressed concerns about her opposition to the death penalty, but I still supported her. Those views did not prevent her from being confirmed. Do you think most attorney generals have had to impose some law that they did not personally support?
ASHCROFT: Senator, I am virtually sure that everyone who has served in the attorney general's office has had to impose or enforce laws that he or she would not personally support.
The definition of personal support is almost inconsistent with laws, because laws are compromises of what people decide to do in the legislative process where we have a give-and-take in terms of what's finally achieved. So very seldom is there any law that's identical to the way any of us would write it completely.
So law enforcement officers uniformly, not just those in uniform, but those uniformly across the board, I think, always have to enforce laws that they wouldn't personally have written.
THURMOND: During much of the Clinton administration, the number of gun prosecutioners declined. For example, I single out prosecutions for using a gun to commit a felony dropped 46 percent from 1992 to 1998. As attorney general, will you expand successful gun prosecution initiatives, like Project Exile, and make imposing gun laws a priority?
ASHCROFT: I would hope that we would be able to more effectively enforce the laws relating to guns.
ASHCROFT: From the data that I have seen out of Project Exile and other efforts around the country, we have a far greater and more dramatic impact on violent crime by enforcing gun laws than we do in many other efforts that we make to try and improve the personal security and safety of our citizens.
As a matter of fact, in the last couple of years, I've sought additional appropriations when a member of the Senate to fund a similar program in St. Louis -- a program which I think is entitled Project Cease Fire. But it's similarly a focus on saying to those who use guns in the commission of a crime, "You can't do that with impunity, and we will make sure that if you use a gun in the commission of a crime, you will regret it."
In Project Exile, the remediation and the rates of crime was very, very dramatic, and it seems to be a promising program that ought to be explored further. I think enforcement of gun laws holds great promise.
And incidentally, I might add that, as attorney general of the United States, obviously I would be interested in advancing the agenda of the president when possible. And he has stated clearly his attention to have more vigorous and energetic prosecution of gun crime.
THURMOND: As a senator, you were very dedicated to the war on drugs. For example, you successfully led the fight to pass major drug legislation to combat the methamphetamine epidemic. As attorney general, would you continue that commitment to fight illegal drugs?
ASHCROFT: Well, Senator, I think the illegal drugs are a mark and a stain on America, but they are a mark against the young people of this country that makes very difficult their success in the future, and I would hope I would have an opportunity to have an energetic enforcement of the drug laws in this country in a way which would curtail drug use. And I would hope we would be able to lead in such a way as to make it possible for young people to look to national officials and to the, kind of, atmosphere we create as one that rejects drug use.
In the methamphetamine laws, which I had the privilege of working closely with members of this committee on, including Senator Biden and Senator Feinstein, we did a couple of things that were important. We took methamphetamine, which people had not taken seriously, and we put very serious penalties into the law. I think it was important that we put penalties in the law that were on a parity with the penalties for cocaine, because too often people thought that methamphetamine was not an important or challenging thing, and we needed to have an opportunity to make sure that we signalled our disapproval and the danger that these dangerous drugs really present to our young people.
THURMOND: A great deal of attention is focused on the rights of criminals, but we do not hear as much about the rights of victims. Nevertheless, you have been a leader for victims' rights. Should crime victims be a top concern for the Justice Department?
ASHCROFT: Indeed, they should. I had the privilege of being involved in signing victims' rights legislation in the state of Missouri, and I was eager to find a way to have a national program for victims' rights legislation, because too often technical problems relating to minor conflicts between the federal system and the state system made impossible an effective use of the state's victims' rights legislation to protect the interests of individuals who have been victims of crime.
THURMOND: You have been endorsed by numerous law enforcement organizations, including the Fraternal Order of Police and the National Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Sheriffs' Association. Is it important for the attorney general to work closely with state and local law enforcement, including rural law enforcement?
ASHCROFT: Well, it certainly is important.
One of the things about methamphetamine that struck me in the state of Missouri is that it tended to be a rural drug. It wasn't as focused in our city centers, where drugs like cocaine were prevalent, but in the out-state portions of Missouri, the methamphetamine production in a variety of labs -- and I'm sorry to say that Missouri is second only to California in terms of meth labs that were taken down.
It exploded on our state. There were two meth labs taken down in 1992; there were about 1,000 taken down last year in the state. And many more -- I talked to one county sheriff who was in what we call a collar county around St. Louis where he said that his sheriff's department would take down 200 meth labs in that one county during the year.
And at the same time I met with that sheriff, there were five or six small city police chiefs from that same county, and they said they would break down another 100. So there you have one county with 300 meth labs in a single year. It's a very serious problem. And it is in rural America. And our ability to provide assistance through HIDTAs and other programs in the Justice Department can help curtail this very serious threat.
LEAHY: I'll put in the record a number of statements of others so that we can have a chance -- one, so that the witness can have a chance, if he wishes to add to his answers, to do so in the transcript; but so those who asked a question would have also a chance to see that.
We will recess now. We will reconvene in the Senate Caucus Room in the Russell Building, third floor of the Russell Building, tomorrow morning at 10:00. SESSIONS: Mr. Chairman, we have leave to file a written statement? May I have leave to file a written statement?
LEAHY: Oh, of course. Of course. All senators would.
SESNO: And the Senate Judiciary Committee is adjourned then after a rather lengthy day when we heard from all of the senators on the committee, the opening statement from John Ashcroft himself, and then, alternately rather tame and much more aggressive questioning from at least the first round of senators.
Bob Franken, on Capitol Hill, in particular with reference to some of the questioning coming from Senator Edward Kennedy and the opening statements from John Ashcroft himself, why don't you summarize what we heard today?
FRANKEN: Well, in particular, the questioning of Senator Kennedy, who handled various school desegregation matters, trying to make the point that the liberals believe that John Ashcroft, in his capacity as governor and attorney general in Missouri, had tried to thwart school-desegregation plans. And Ashcroft shot back and said he was for integration. He kept making that point repeatedly.
There were also questions about the Ronnie White matter. Ronnie White is the Missouri state Supreme Court justice who is an African- American. Civil rights groups and many of the people who are opponents of Ashcroft say that his opposition to White's becoming a federal judge had racial overtones, something that Ashcroft repeatedly denied today.
Questions also about abortion: And Ashcroft was aggressive about that himself, saying that, while he disagrees with the -- with abortion, it is the "settled law of the land" -- his words -- and he would enforce the laws as he ran the Justice Department as attorney general.
He was introduced, in one poignant moment, by Jean Carnahan, Senator Jean Carnahan, the wife of the Mel Carnahan, who had been Ashcroft's opponent in the election which Ashcroft lost, even though that Governor Carnahan died in a plane crash. And Jean Carnahan has made it clear she is not ready yet to announce her support of John Ashcroft.
There's been a long history, as a matter of fact, of political rivalry in the state between the Ashcrofts and the Carnahans, but she did say that this is a hearing that should be fair. It should look beyond her, quoting her, "any basis of friendship or disputes."
She did not come out and offer any sort of endorsement of him; just simply to make it clear that she believes she had a responsibility as a senator from Missouri to introduce her fellow Missourian. As I said, Ashcroft tried to take the offense. He repeatedly made the same point. No matter what his beliefs may be, he believes mostly in enforcing the law and would do so as the attorney general -- Frank.
SESNO: Enforcing all of the laws for all of the people, as Ashcroft said. Bob, thanks very much.
Into the studio here, Tucker Carlson and Bill Press listening to all of this. At one point we had heckler interrupt, intrude on these proceedings as if to remind -- as we if we needed the reminding that John Ashcroft's nomination is something of a lightning rod nomination, and he tried to address that a number of times today with respect, as Bob mentioned, both to abortion laws, which he said he would enforce; civil rights laws, which he said that he would enforce -- Bill Press.
PRESS: I thought he was off -- I think he's off to a shaky start, Frank, frankly. His opening statement, I thought, was very good and very strong. I could have written most of it. He said he's going to enforce all of those laws, as you said, equally, across the board.
But then on the questioning, I thought, particularly on school desegregation, he looked defensive, he looked uncertain of himself. He had to read the answers several times. I think when it came to defending his opposition to David Satcher, he made some various strong and specific charges against David Satcher, which I'm sure are going to be researched and brought back to him.
And I will point out, he didn't face, yet, tough questioning on Ronnie White or any tough questions on abortion. They're still to come.
CARLSON: But he did face a lot of huffing and puffing from Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. He kept his cool, which I think was the main thing to do. It was interesting, his tack really was to make the case to that he's not some sort of right-wing extremist. He actually described abortion as a constitutionally protected health service, a phrase I think...
PRESS: Which he said he would protect.
CARLSON: That's exactly right, but to use that terminology, to use a euphemism like that, I mean, I think in the throats of most conservatives those words would stick. But he let them off fluidly. He said he supported the battered wife syndrome as a defense against murder. He went on about how he does support desegregation, as if, you know, someone would have to say that in the year 2001. He really made the case that he was a moderate.
SESNO: And what we saw was strong support from Republicans and continued strong skepticism and strong questioning from Democrats to continue tomorrow.
We're going to get out of the way here so that our colleagues over on "INSIDE POLITICS" can get in the way and can explain this story and more in a greater detail.
I'm Frank Sesno in Washington. The testimony and the hearings regarding John Ashcroft for attorney general will continue tomorrow. CNN will, of course, be covering those hearings and others here in Washington as the new administration takes shape. So don't go away; "INSIDE POLITICS" up next.
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