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Special Event

Senators Debate Ashcroft Nomination

Aired February 1, 2001 - 12:15 p.m. ET

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

STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: A complicated day for the United States Senate; let's go back now live to the floor of the Senate where senators are speaking in support or in opposition to the nomination of John Ashcroft to be attorney general.

This is Republican Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico speaking now in support of the nomination; let's listen.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SEN. PETE DOMENICI (R), NEW MEXICO: ... he's a real lawyer. He'll be a real attorney general. He'll run that place because he has the intellectual capacity and the organizational ability and the desire to be a great attorney general.

Now, Mr. President, I am very pleased and I congratulate the leadership here on our side and on their side for finally deciding we would vote today, not too long from now, and I'm hoping that he will be confirmed. I don't know what this magical number of whether the Democrats can get 40 or 41 is all about, but I surely wouldn't like to be a senator on the other side who was told, we need your vote so we can get 41 votes against this man.

What does that mean? I mean, is that some reason to vote against this candidate? To me, if I were on that side and somebody told me, we only have 39 against him, we need you to make 40, and then told somebody else 41; I'd say, well, don't you think I ought to decide whether I want to vote for him? What does this 39, 40 or 41 mean? I don't understand it, excepting some think that means that's strength.

I'm finished; I'm finished. I'll yield the floor.

But is strength meaning you can defeat the next person President Bush sends up to be a Supreme Court judge? What's that about? Nobody knows who he's going to send, what his philosophy is going to be; pure speculation, pure speculation. And they're asking senators to vote so that they can have that kind of message to those who are worried about candidates who are conservative like this man.

I don't really think it matters too much if it's 39, 38, 40 or 41, he's going to be attorney general. And I tell you, I really predict he'll be a good one, a very good one. I yield the floor.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: Mr. President, I realize we're now in the time of the distinguished senator of Utah, but I wondered if i might take 30 seconds to respond to what my friend from New Mexico said.

One, I appreciate him commending both sides for the way of managing this; but I would tell my friend from New Mexico, this senator hasn't asked, urged or cajoled any senator to vote one way or the other. I have not lobbied one single senator in this body or told them how I expected them to vote.

The only time I've heard -- tell the senator from New Mexico, if I could have his attention -- the only numbers I have heard expressed was from the Republican leadership, where they stated before the hearings began, before one minute of hearings were held, that all 50 Republican senators were expected to, and would, vote for Senator Ashcroft; and, of course, plus Vice President Cheney, which would make a majority.

I do also appreciate him saying, as we now probably come to vote, I would point out that this matter has come to a vote much quicker than the last contested attorney general, which was in President Reagan's term with a Republican-controlled Senate, where they took, I think, about 10 months to bring it to vote. We've done this -- the nomination papers arrived Monday, we voted in the committee on Tuesday and we're going to have a final vote on Thursday.

FRAZIER: As we're showing you on the bottom of the screen, there, that was Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont speaking there; actually addressing his most recent remarks directly to his friend, as he called him, the senator from New Mexico. The kind of courtly language used on the floor of the Senate -- but that only masks the kind of bitter divisions that this nomination have prompted.

Again, though, the vote on John Ashcroft, nominee for attorney general, is scheduled at 1:45 Eastern time, 10:45 Pacific. We hope you'll stay tuned to CNN at that point; and between now and then for live coverage of the vote.

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