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CNN Today

Ashcroft Debate Reaches Senate Floor

Aired January 31, 2001 - 1:43 p.m. ET

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

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: On Capitol Hill today, the embattled nomination of John Ashcroft to be U.S. attorney general has made its way to the Senate floor. And only two questions remain: when the nominee will be confirmed and by how big or how narrow a margin.

CNN national correspondent Bob Franken is taking notes, counting heads there -- Bob, what's the latest?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You forgot one word, Joie: It made it to the Senate floor "finally."

(LAUGHTER)

FRANKEN: After we have heard the same arguments over and over. The Democrats are saying that they would like to get 41 of their members to vote against Ashcroft. Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle said it would be a shame if they got only around 30 or so. The reason for that is, they want to show a real bit of strength as they try and set down their markers, to let John Ashcroft know that even though he's going to win his confirmation battle, he's got to play it very careful when he goes to be attorney general.

We have heard the arguments over and over. We are hearing them on the Senate floor, that Ashcroft, according to the opponents, is such a doctrinaire, so strongly disagrees with many of the laws that he would have to enforce that he couldn't be counted on to do so -- the other side saying that he has a long history of in fact enforcing laws in administrative positions even when he did disagree.

The debate has been going on. It continues to go on and on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: We know him to be a man of his word. He is not the man unfairly painted by extremists, left-wing activists who have reportedly threatened senators in their reelection bids if they vote for his confirmation. They present a man that none of us really know. And they have distorted his record and impugned his character and have exaggerated their case.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: I do feel that the nomination of John Ashcroft to be the attorney general does not meet the standard that the president himself has set. In those who doubt the promise of American justice -- and, unfortunately, there are many in this country who doubt it -- this nomination does not inspire confidence in the United States Department of Justice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FRANKEN: I believe your other question, Joie, was: When would we expect a vote? About everybody agrees the vote will come tomorrow. And then John Ashcroft and his long torturous Senate confirmation will be over. And the Democrats are hoping that they have the ability that, when they get into a debate with Ashcroft after he is the attorney general, that they can point to the record and say: I told you so -- Joie.

CHEN: All right, Bob, since you've answered all the questions, we'll say goodbye. We'll see you a little later -- Bob Franken for us on Capitol Hill.

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