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Ashcroft's Confirmation as Next Attorney General Almost Certain

Aired February 1, 2001 - 9:26 a.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: The subject at U.S. Senate today, the nomination of John Ashcroft as attorney general.

Let's listen to some those comments, now; Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa. Yesterday we heard many pro-Ashcroft comments; as you will be able to tell, Senator Harkin does not share those views.


SEN. TOM HARKIN (D), IOWA: There is a difference. Now, someone said, well Mr. Ashcroft kept saying he would uphold the law; there is a difference between upholding the law and vigorously enforcing our nation's most important constitutional rights and federal laws.

Mr. Ashcroft's statements on his support for civil rights, women's rights are at odds with his record. His record as Attorney General of Missouri, in continually fighting integration in St. Louis schools has been well-documented, and this was in the 1980s, not the 1950s. Twice in judiciary committee hearings Mr. Ashcroft denied that the state of Missouri was found guilty of no wrong in desegregation, but the 8th Circuit Court's opinion left no doubt that the state and the city were responsible for the wrong of desegregation.

As governor, Mr. Ashcroft appointed the election boards in St. Louis county and in St. Louis city. In the county, affluent area, 84 percent white, votes mainly Republican. The city, less affluent, 47 percent black, votes mainly democratic. During that period of time the county hired 1,500 volunteers, like out of the League of Women Voters, for training -- for registration of voters. During that same period of time, the city board trained zero -- zero; the county trained 1,500. Well, the state legislature saw this anomaly, passed two bills in 1988 and 1999 to require the city to do the same as the county. Governor Ashcroft vetoed both of those bills.

So I'm really concerned about this record, and I'm particularly concerned about John Ashcroft's statements and actions regarding reproductive rights. Throughout his career, he has been a staunch opponent of the right of women to make their own reproductive decisions; he even wrote legislation to criminalize abortion even if the cases of rape and incest.

And yet, during his recent testimony he disavowed this record. John Ashcroft told committee members he believed that Roe v. Wade is the law of the land -- well I'm glad he does, it is -- and he would not try to overturn it. He even stated, quote, "No woman should fear threatened or coerced in seeking constitutionally protected health services, period," close quotes.

How are America's women supposed to believe that John Ashcroft, in his recent testimony on a woman's right to choose, when he had repeatedly stated during his political career that there is no constitutional right to choose and that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided?

For his entire life -- at least his political life -- John Ashcroft has take that position. Fine, he can take that position. Now, if that's the position that the people of Missouri want to elect as Governor or senator, that's fine; but not to be put in as attorney general. Well, no one can simply switch off decades of hostility to reproductive rights, intolerance towards homosexuality and other non- mainstream views and then fairly and aggressively enforce the laws -- not just uphold the laws, but enforce the laws.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Senator's time has expired.

KAGAN: And we break away from Senator Harkin's comments for just a minute to bring you opening bell on Wall Street.

Dow closed up six points yesterday; the Nasdaq fell more than 65 points.

Our Christine Romans, at the New York Stock Exchange is telling us to expect a lower open today as investors are selling on the news. They've heard that the Fed plans to cut interest rates, but they had already factored that into the market and now they want it to be more. We'll watch the market and we'll have a business update in about 15 minutes.

And now let's go back to the Senate and -- as we were listening to Senator Harkin and bring in our own national correspondent Bob Franken who was listening right along with us.

Bob, the nomination of John Ashcroft once again appears to be a done deal, and yet not done in terms of being talked about on the floor of the Senate today.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, and what we heard from Sen. Harkin, of course, was really an outline of the very strong opposition. But there is, of course, another side. There are actually three points of view here. But the most prevalent one on the other side is the Republican support for John Ashcroft.

His supporters say that, contrary to what Sen. Harkin was claiming, Ashcroft has a long public record as an administrator of the law as a governor and a state attorney general in Missouri of, in fact, aggressively, assertively enforcing the laws, even those he did not believe in. And Ashcroft repeatedly said during his Senate confirmation hearings that his beliefs start with the supremacy of the law, that even if he is opposed to the laws concerning abortion, gun control, gay rights, et cetera, that he would aggressively as attorney general enforce those laws. Of course, as the head of the Justice Department, the attorney general is considered the nation's chief law enforcement officer.

So that is the point of view that has been repeatedly argued by Ashcroft and the people who are his supporters. It's been a very, very tough campaign, of course. It has left, as I said, three points of view.

The other point of view from a few Democrats is, we do not like his beliefs, but we have to give him the support that the president deserves when he is naming his Cabinet. That was a point of view that was surprisingly argued by Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd.


SEN. CHRIS DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: John Ashcroft is a decent human being, and I will take him at his word. If his flaws loom large, it is at least in part because they have been aired and examined in the magnifying light of public life. And while I will not excuse these flaws, particularly in his treatment of others, public officials, I will not engage in the same form of payback politics that seem to have been growing currency in our time.


FRANKEN: Now, notwithstanding Sen. Dodd's position, the Democrats are hoping to get 40-plus people to vote no on Ashcroft. They want to, in fact, keep his feet to the fire and make sure that he is on a very short leash, Daryn, as he goes to the Justice Department after the confirmation vote today, which is now considered as certain -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Well, Bob, Sen. Harkin that we just were listening to live obviously a very vocal Democrat in opposition to John Ashcroft as attorney general. But the Democrats in the Senate do not have a unanimous no vote. What does that say about their strength of keeping it together?

FRANKEN: Well, actually, we have to look at some numbers here. The Democrat are hoping to accumulate 40-plus votes. They believe that that will be a strong statement in the Senate, where nobody marches in lock step on the Democratic side; in particular, a strong statement that there is a deep concern within the Democratic Party and that John Ashcroft did not get the acclamation to become the attorney general that so many of the other people in the Cabinet did. Remember, everybody else was voted in by huge margins.

So Ashcroft will be the Cabinet member who is going to be watched very closely. And, of course, what the Democrats want to do with their symbolic vote is to make sure when it comes time for the appointment of federal judges, particularly Supreme Court justices, when that becomes necessary -- the attorney general plays a very significant role in that and they want to make sure that Ashcroft is looking over his shoulder when he makes his recommendations.

KAGAN: All right, Bob Franken on Capitol Hill, thank you very much.

We're going to be bringing you live coverage of the Ashcroft confirmation vote, scheduled to begin at 1:45 p.m. Eastern, 10:45 a.m. Pacific.



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