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Special Event

Ashcroft Expected to be Confirmed Attorney General

Aired February 1, 2001 - 1:40 p.m. ET

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

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And the vote will begin now on Capitol Hill for John Ashcroft. Will he be the attorney general of the United States? Many expect that he will, but as you well know by now, his is a controversial nomination.

We are going to be talking with several people as this vote process is carried out. We have CNN's correspondent Jonathan Karl on Capitol Hill; our Kelli Arena is at the Justice Department, we'll be talking about what issues lie ahead for John Ashcroft if and when he becomes attorney general; and Kelly Wallace is at the White House.

Jonathan Karl, let's start with you; what is the process here as this vote goes forward?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Senate getting started on this vote on the Ashcroft nomination even a few minutes ahead of schedule, but the vote's probably going to take more than an hour. And one thing that we know about this vote, is that Ashcroft will be confirmed as attorney general -- more than 50 senators have already come out and said they will vote for him; that includes all 50 Republicans and, so far, six Democrats have said they will vote yes.

But this has been by far the most contentious nomination. You've heard some very strong words on the floor of the U.S. Senate today from Republicans who believe that John Ashcroft was unfairly maligned during this whole process. You just heard from Trent Lott, the majority leader, the top Republican in the Senate, who said that he believes that during this process the rhetoric got too hot, it was unfair and that Ashcroft's record was inaccurately portrayed.

Now, there is some drama here, though -- if not drama over the question of whether or not he will be confirmed, it's the question of how many people will vote against him. The Democrats have set a clear goal here; Democrats are hoping that at least 40 of their own party will vote against the Ashcroft nomination -- this is a goal that was set by the top Democrat in the Senate, Tom Daschle.

He has done this to send a message to President Bush about future nominations, because if there are more than 40 votes against any nomination, that means the Democratic Party could have taken steps to prevent this from coming up to a vote by having what we call a filibuster -- basically, talking a nomination to death. They decided not do that this time but, clearly, the threat is there, that if George W. Bush sends up a nominee for the Supreme Court, for instance, that is like John Ashcroft, Democrats are very clearly implying that they would do anything they could to prevent it from happening and that they would have the votes to do so.

ALLEN: Jonathan, you talk about the controversy surrounding this nominee. Why did the Democrats not think they would have this magic number they would like to see to send this message to Washington -- I mean, to the White House, excuse me?

KARL: Well, at this point, they do believe they have the numbers. As a matter of fact, I've spoken to some democratic vote counters in the Senate who believe there will be 42 votes against Ashcroft, exceeding their goal. But there have been a number of senators for which -- for whom this is a very difficult vote. Keep in mind that George W. Bush carried 60 states -- I mean, 30 states in the election. That means there are 60 members of the United States Senate that are in states where their constituents voted for President Bush, and that includes people from states like North Dakota, South Dakota, Georgia, places where Bush carried their states, not by a small margin, but by a landslide.

So, basically, you have some Democrats that are up here that are under some pressure because their own constituents voted very strongly in favor of President Bush and would be expected to expect that President Bush should be able to name the Cabinet of his choice.

So for some it's been a very tough, politically speaking, vote for Democrats.

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Jonathan, we want to interrupt you here to listen to some of the comments made as the process of the confirmation process went on.

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