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Confirmation Hearings: On Day Two, Bush Pick for Attorney General Faces Tough QuestionsAired January 17, 2001 - 2:09 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN ANCHOR: And you've been watching the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. They've been quizzing General Colin Powell, George W. Bush's designee to be secretary of state. He, of course, has extensive foreign policy experience, is well-known to the committee and to the American public. He is expected to have an easy way to confirmation.
Not so for John Ashcroft. He is Bush's nominee to be attorney general. There has been a firestorm of controversy about this man and his conservative views on many issues.
Bob Franken has been covering the hearings up on Capitol Hill.
Bob, summarize what happened this morning for us.
BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what's happened is is that the various Democratic adversaries have tried to penetrate this bubble of civility that Ashcroft has prepared. Any of the criticisms that have come up -- and there have been criticisms about views of gun control, criticisms about his views of abortion -- he has hearkened back to days when he was a Missouri attorney general and told anecdotes about how, in fact, he administered laws even though he had a personal distaste for them.
Of course, his opponents -- and there are a huge number of them, particularly among the liberal special interest groups -- are saying that he is an extremist. They're trying to picture of a man -- trying to paint a picture of a man who is so extreme that he could not be counted on to administer the laws that he opposes when he is the attorney general, considered the nation's chief law enforcement officer.
Thus far, most of Ashcroft's supporters very happy. They don't believe that the Democrats on the committee have really laid a glove on him. He has been bobbing and weaving all day. There have been some really stark criticisms, Senator Edward Kennedy among the ones who has been most vocal, really went after Senator Ashcroft for comments he had made about gun control sometime in the recent past, where Ashcroft in a speech had said that gun control, as a matter of fact -- or the right to own guns and the right to have free expression were the greatest protection against "a tyrannical government."
And Kennedy cited an author who said that that is tantamount to treason. Ashcroft, in fact, sat quietly there while Kennedy said what he had to say, and it really just passed. It ends up being quite a sound bite, but does not seem to penetrate, as I said, this shell that Ashcroft has put around him, a shell that his supporters thus far believe has been very successful in countering the image of extremist -- Jeanne.
MESERVE: Bob, I listen with interest to the exchange from Charles Schumer of New York. The senator had asked him about views on Roe versus Wade. And we heard Ashcroft say I don't think it's the agenda of the Bush administration to overturn Roe versus Wade; it's not my role as attorney general to alter that agenda. And I couldn't help but wonder what his conservative supporters are thinking when they hear something like that. Are they afraid that he is leaving his philosophical roots?
FRANKEN: I think they're delighted. I think that the conservative supporters are pleased as all get out that one of their own might be attorney general, and they are probably the ones who are sophisticated anyway -- quite pleased that he has been able to be unruffled, to in fact not look like the extremist that his opponents are painting him to be.
Now, it is also, of course, no surprise that the attorney general designate of President George W. Bush would say that his job would be to administer the policies of the boss, the president. That, of course, is nothing remarkable and is an effective argument.
MESERVE: He was also questioned, Bob, about the diversity of his judicial appointees. And that, I presume, is something of a setup for what's going to come tomorrow when Ronnie White takes the stand.
FRANKEN: Well, first of all, he's said glad you asked that, and he pointed out that as governor, he appointed in Missouri more African-Americans to positions of judges than any governor who had preceded him. So that was a thank-you-very-much question.
But you're right, it is a setup for tomorrow's debate in what will probably be the most electric moments of this confirmation hearing. Ronnie White will be the person who is expected to be the witness tomorrow, schedule permitting. He is a Missouri state Supreme Court judge, the first African-American on that state's high court. President Clinton nominated him to be a federal judge. Senator Ashcroft was seeking re-election. He made quite a big deal out of the positions of Judge White, saying that he was too pro-defendant, favored the criminals over victims, and specifically cited one case which had been a major murder case in Missouri in 1991, where as a state judge he had written a dissenting opinion against the death penalty against this man, saying that he had not had effective counsel.
And that became a real cause celebre in the state of Missouri, and it was one that Ashcroft was able to use successfully and block the nomination, block confirmation of Ronnie White to be a federal judge. Civil rights group have charged that that really showed a willingness on Ashcroft's part to, in the heat of an election campaign, employ racial politics. Ashcroft said it's not the case, all he was doing was objecting to the judicial philosophy of Ronnie White.
Tomorrow, White is expected to testify. It will be the first time, just about that he has had anything to say about this, and we'll all be curious whether in fact he really levels a charge against Ashcroft and whether it sticks.
MESERVE: OK, Bob Franken, thanks, and we'll be getting back to you.
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