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The First 100 Days: Senate Judiciary Committee Expected to Vote on Ashcroft Today

Aired January 30, 2001 - 2:08 p.m. ET

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

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: So will there be swift action on all the nominees?

Let's find out from CNN's Jonathan Karl. He joins us from Capitol Hill.

Jonathan, hello.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Natalie, after four days of contentious hearing and weeks of intense lobbying efforts by groups opposed to the Ashcroft nomination, the Judiciary Committee is expected to finally vote on that nomination today. At about 3:00, the committee, which includes nine Democrats and nine Republicans, like all committees in the Senate now completely evenly divided -- they will meet at about 3:00 today, have one final round of debate and are expected to go ahead and vote sometime early this evening.

Now, the committee -- all eyes on the committee will be on two Democratic senator, both from Wisconsin: Herb Kohl, senior senator from Wisconsin, and Russ Feingold, the junior senator from Wisconsin. those are the only two members of the committee that their votes are still really considered up in the air. All Republicans are expected to vote in favor of an Ashcroft nomination, all democrats beside those two expected to vote against.

Now, those familiar with Kohl's thinking say that he is strongly inclined to vote against Ashcroft. But I spoke with Senator Russ Feingold yesterday, and as of late yesterday, he still considered himself very much leaning towards a vote in favor of Ashcroft, despite his strong disagreement with Ashcroft on a number of issues. So all eyes will be on those two senators.

Now, Ted Kennedy, who of course has been leading the charge against Ashcroft for the Democrats, had a late meeting today with Senator Feingold, making one last pitch to Feingold to vote against the Ashcroft nomination. They met for about 20 minutes. No word at all from Feingold yet about what his final vote will be. Democrats would very much like to see this go to a 9-9 vote denying Ashcroft victory on the Judiciary Committee.

But after that, it does go to the Senate floor, and Natalie, there's one other thing we'll be watching for today, and that is the minority leader, the Democratic leader in the Senate, Tom Daschle, is expected to go to the floor of the Senate today at about 3:45 and announce how he will vote on the Ashcroft nomination.

Now, Daschle, of course, is the -- really the top Democrat in power right now as the leader here in the Senate. But he is also from a state, the state of South Dakota, that is very strong in favor of George W. Bush, a state that Bush carried by some 30 points during the election. So Daschle is under some pressure from his home state to vote in favor of the Ashcroft nomination even as being the top Democrat, he's under great pressure from interest groups and members of his won party to vote against it. So we'll be watching to hear what Tom Daschle has to say as well this afternoon -- Natalie.

ALLEN: So it seems it would be a surprise if Ashcroft didn't get in as this country's attorney general at this point.

KARL: Well, it would be, Natalie, but we have an important step before we get that, and that's this vote of the Judiciary Committee. Again, it's an evenly-divided committee, like the Senate is evenly divided, so it'll be very interesting to see what happen there. If he doesn't win in the Judiciary Committee -- if it's a tie vote, a 9-9 vote -- his nomination would still go to the Senate floor, where we have all Republicans saying they'll vote yes and at least a handful of Democrats also saying they'll vote yes. So really what we're looking at here is not whether Ashcroft will win, but what the margin of victory will be.

ALLEN: All right, Jonathan Karl, on Capitol Hill, thanks to you, Jonathan.

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