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Special Event

Sen. John Edwards Addresses Senate in Debate Over Ashcroft Nomination

Aired February 1, 2001 - 11:04 a.m. ET

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

STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: The other story we've been following today as it unfolds is the fierce battle over President Bush's most controversial Cabinet pick. And that battle is expected to end today. The Senate poised to vote to confirm John Ashcroft as attorney general, but not before some final speeches.

And to bring us up to date on those, here's CNN national correspondent Bob Franken joining us now from Capitol Hill with more.

Bob, good to see you again.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thank you.

And these speeches, of course, are the same speeches we've been hearing now for several weeks since the announcement by President George W. Bush that he would -- president-elect at the time -- that he would nominate Senator -- former Sen. John Ashcroft to be the attorney general, causing quite an outcry among the various organizations and politicians in the United States who consider themselves progressives. They say that Ashcroft is so anti-progressive, using their lexicon, that he would oppose many of the laws in the land, that he would be opposed and has been opposed to abortion laws, gun control laws, civil rights, they charge.

On the other side, of course, is the argument that he has had a proven record of enforcing laws, even those he personally opposes.

We're hearing arguments on the Senate floor, as you pointed out. Right now, the arguments are coming from one of his opponents, Democratic Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D), NORTH CAROLINA: When so many Americans believe that when the doors are closed and the lights and the cameras are off, that Sen. Ashcroft will not protect their interests, our responsibility is to do what's best for the country. The people have to believe that the attorney general is, in fact, the people's lawyer, and that he will serve all Americans. Some of Sen. Ashcroft's...

FRANKEN: The senator, Edwards, of course, is repeating the arguments that are made by the opponents of Sen. Ashcroft, that he cannot be counted on to instill confidence in those who believe that the laws should be evenly enforced.

Now, the opponents -- or rather the supporters of Ashcroft make the opposite argument. They say that Ashcroft as a senator, as a legislator, has a responsibility to express his views. He's influencing legislation. But as an administrator, as an executive, this same person can be expected to enthusiastically support the laws -- laws that he might even oppose in a person way.

And Ashcroft made that argument during his hearings, that his ultimate belief was that the law was supreme and if he was in a position where he was administering, as he has been in his past political life, that he would. That is the argument that has been going on back and forth for several weeks. It is the argument that's going on on the Senate.

But of course we know what the ultimate outcome of that argument is going to be: Ashcroft will be confirmed. What we are looking to see is just how many oppose him; that is to say how many Democrats. We are hearing from the leaders that they can expect 42 of their number -- 50 total -- 42 of their number can be expected to oppose Ashcroft. And they will make the point that that is a stinging rebuke of Ashcroft. It would be the largest number to oppose an attorney general nominee ever and would be, in fact, saying that he will be on a very short leash as he takes over the Justice Department and considers just how aggressively he's going to enforce those laws, the ones he says he doesn't believe in but will enforce.

So this is what is going on right now. It is a dynamic where we know the result of the election -- of the confirmation fight, but this is all about what happens when he goes over and takes over the Justice Department -- Stephen.

FRAZIER: Bob Franken reporting from Capitol Hill. Bob, thank you very much.

Bob, of course, will be there for all of the speeches leading up to the actual vote. The Senate vote on the Ashcroft nomination is scheduled for today at 1:45 p.m. Eastern, and we will bring that to you live.

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