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CNN Today

Debate Continues Over John Ashcroft

Aired January 31, 2001 - 2:39 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: Also in Washington today, the still continuing controversy over President Bush's selection for his attorney general, John Ashcroft. The former Missouri senator and governor has been criticized for his views on civil rights and abortion.

CNN's Bob Franken has been following developments in the Ashcroft nomination at the Capitol -- Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And criticized and criticized and criticized. He has been a hot button for the Democratic constituency groups who believe that Ashcroft's very Republican, very conservative views on matters like abortion, gun control, civil rights, et cetera leave him -- leave him unable to in fact enforce laws that he has been so vocally against.

We've heard those arguments over and over. We've heard the other side say that, in fact, Ashcroft has a long record of enforcing laws as an administrator that he honestly disagreed with. That is the argument, that is the nutshell of the argument. It is going on now on the Senate floor. The debate goes round and round.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BOB SMITH (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: That's what this debate is about. It's about the continuation of the election. The election is over. Hello. The election is over, folks. The president of the United States should pick his Cabinet. That is the right thing to do, and every one of you know it, and to get into this character assassination of racism, anti-Catholic, anti-gay, anti-this, anti-that -- there's not a shred of evidence about John Ashcroft that would indicate that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARBARA MIKULSKI (D), MARYLAND: I say to President Bush, in order to work to build a single -- you said in your inaugural address, sir -- to work -- you want to work to build a single nation of justice and opportunity. Yet one of the first acts was to choose John Ashcroft to lead the Department of Justice, someone who has had an extreme ideological agenda on civil rights, on a woman's right to choose, on gun control -- positions far outside the mainstream. (END VIDEO CLIP)

FRANKEN: So now the question is when will this debate be over, and the answer is probably tomorrow. The opponents are hoping to get as many as 41 votes. The reason for that is because that would be the amount that could have sustained a filibuster, a filibuster the Democrats decided never to hold.

So it looks like it's a certainty that Ashcroft will be confirmed to be attorney general, and then the controversy will continue when he goes over to the Justice Department -- Joie.

CHEN: Bob, in listening to all the criticism and the defense of John Ashcroft as the nominee, I'm wondering throughout the course of the committee hearings on Mr. Ashcroft, as well as what's going on, on the Senate floor today, have we learned anything new about John Ashcroft?

FRANKEN: Well, we've certainly learned a lot about John Ashcroft. I suspect that most of us were not intimately familiar with John Ashcroft's history. We have learned positions that he has taken on the appointment, for instance, of a person to become a federal judge, the Ronnie White matter. We've learned about his views on desegregation. A lot of people were not aware of his views, his strong views on abortion, gun control, et cetera.

So there has certainly been a thorough venting of his positions. But was there any new disclosure that came out of it? No.

CHEN: Bob Franken for us on Capitol Hill today.

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