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Ashcroft Facing Uphill Battle in Confirmation Fight

Aired January 16, 2001 - 3:03 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: Tucker Carlson and Bill Press from "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. We are seeing pictures in the Senate committee room, where the members and the others may start to come back.

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