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Special Event

Senator Patrick Leahy Voices Intention to Vote Against Ashcroft Nomination

Aired January 29, 2001 - 12:18 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We are going to go live back to the U.S. Senate floor, where Patrick Leahy is now talking about his plans to vote against the John Ashcroft attorney general nomination. Let's listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: Fundamentally, the question before us is whether Senator Ashcroft is the right at this moment for the critical position of attorney general of the United States. This is an especially sensitive time in our nation's history. Many seeds of disunity have been carried aloft by winds that often come in gusts, most recently out of Florida.

The presidential election, the margin of victory, the way in the vote-counting was halted by the United States Supreme Court remain sources of public concern and even of alienation. Deep divisions within our country have infected the body politic. We experienced the closest presidential election in the last 130 years, possibly in our history. For the first time, a candidate who received...

PHILLIPS: We are going to bring in our John King now, who is live at the White House for some reaction from President Clinton and those there with regard to Patrick Leahy and his announcement -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kyra, will hear from Ari Fleischer the Bush White House spokesman in just a minute. Let me tell you the reaction so far. Mindy Tucker, a spokesman for the nominee, John Ashcroft -- and also she worked for then Governor Bush in the campaign -- said this is no surprise.

If you look at how critical Senator Leahy has been throughout the confirmation process, no surprise at all that he would oppose Mr. Ashcroft. She also says this is about more than just opposing John Ashcroft, that what the Bush team now believes this is, is an effort by liberal and other Democratic-leaning groups -- civil rights organization, abortion-rights organizations -- to serve notice to the new administration that they will be there, that they plan to be harshly critical of this new president, although Ms. Mindy Tucker also said that they are confident, in the end, that Mr. Ashcroft will be confirmed and that perhaps a half-a-dozen or so Democrats will vote in favor of his nomination. Certainly had Senator Leahy supported Mr. Ashcroft, it would have brought more Democrats with him, but the team saying it is no surprise that Patrick Leahy, the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, announcing today he will oppose Mr. Ashcroft -- this the first big partisan fight of the Bush administration. And it does come at a time when the new president would very much like to set a bipartisan tone as he tries to win the cooperation of the Democrats, especially in the 50-50 Senate.

On other agenda items, the Bush team saying it's confident they can keep the two separate: that you can have a fight over a nominee and that a debate over the new president's agenda, that will be the test in the days ahead as the Bush teams now gears up to try to win a few more Democratic votes for the controversial nominee for attorney general, former Missouri Senator John Ashcroft -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: John, forgive me I'm getting used to saying "Bush." I shouldn't be saying "Clinton." I thank you for correcting me there. With regard to Ashcroft vote, when can we expect a committee vote and a full Senate vote do, you think?

KING: Well, we heard Senator Leahy at the top of hour saying the chairman, the Republican chairman, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, out of the country -- although he says that now that all the official paperwork is up there and Senator Ashcroft has responded to some questions, that perhaps later this week, he would have the committee vote. Then it would go to the floor as quickly as possible.

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