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The Bush Presidency: Senate Debate Under Way, Confirmation Expected for AshcroftAired January 31, 2001 - 11:27 a.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Senate debate is well under way the last and arguably the most controversial of President Bush's Cabinet nominees. We are speaking, of course, of Attorney General-designate John Ashcroft.
Our national correspondent Bob Franken has been monitoring the words and comments on Capitol Hill -- Bob.
BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And the Senate is in full debate over this, John Ashcroft, of course, is reaching the final plateau of his quest to become the attorney general. He's been extremely controversial.
On the Senate floor right now is one of his more vocal supporters, Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona. He is followed -- strong statement of opposition from Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who had been preceded by Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
Let's just listen in for a second to get a flavor of what the Ashcroft supporters are saying.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: ... both liberal and conservative interest groups have weighed in on this nomination. It's totally appropriate for them to do so, and therefore, I'm not quite clear why one would make the point that it's only conservative groups that have weighed in. Clearly, liberal groups have weighed in as well; that is their right.
I, in fact, admire those Democratic senators who will vote to confirm Senator Ashcroft, because I appreciate intense pressure that they're under. We all have pressures, but it takes courage sometimes to go against what they may -- what they may perceive as going against the grain in their own state.
The second point made was this was a divisive nominee. Now, it's a little hard for me to understand how a nomination can be divisive until somebody objects. President Bush laid out his potential Cabinet, and immediately all attention focused on three of those nominees. They were said to be divisive. Well, they were divisive because somebody objected to them. Third -- and this relates to it -- this business about enforcing the law has really put Senator Ashcroft into a difficult position. It's a Catch-22 for him. He can't win literally. If he says he will enforce the law -- which of course, every nominee has said -- then he is subject to the criticism that this is a change, this is a new Ashcroft, and we can't believe that he will in fact enforce the law.
What's he to do? He can't prove a negative; he can't prove that he will fail -- that he not fail to enforce the law. You can look to his experience, you can look to his service here in the Senate. Let me note that one of his colleagues, one of our colleagues, who will be voting on him, made this statement -- this is from West Virginia Democratic Senator Robert Byrd: I'm going to vote for him. He was legislator. His opinions at that time were the opinions of someone who writes the laws.
FRANKEN: This is the kind of argument that you're going to be hearing all day. This from one of Senator Ashcroft's most vocal supporters, Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona. He was characterizing, of course, his version what the opponents are saying. What the opponents are saying is that, in fact, John Ashcroft is somebody who has been very vigorous in opposing abortion, opposing gun control laws, opposing any number of matters that he would now have to enforce as the head of the Justice Department, as the attorney general.
That, of course, has been the focus of the entire controversy since he was named. Now we're finding that these arguments are being taken to the Senate floor. It is the last step in the advise and consent operation that is part of the United States Senate's constitutional responsibility.
It is very clear that it is going to consent in the confirmation, in the nomination of John Ashcroft. He will become the attorney general. The Democrats are shooting from 35 to 40 of their numbers to vote against him, just to set the marker that they are watching him very closely and that they have genuine concerns about how he will operate as attorney general, and they don't want to -- to use term that might not be appropriate on the Senate floor -- cut him any slack -- Daryn.
KAGAN: Bob Franken, thank you very much, on Capitol Hill.
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