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President Pleased at "Bipartisan" Nature of Ashcroft Confirmation

Aired February 1, 2001 - 2:36 p.m. ET

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

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: So this afternoon, the news from Capitol Hill is that John Ashcroft will become attorney general. The United States Senate is waiting for Senator Joe Biden to return from a funeral. He is expected to cast a vote against Ashcroft. That will put the final tally at 58 for, 42 against; eight Democrats voting for John Ashcroft to be attorney general.

While we wait over for final and official word, let's go ahead and take you live to the White House, and Kelly Wallace to hear if they're saying anything yet, Kelly, about how this has come down this afternoon.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi there, Natalie. Yes, there is some reaction. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, when he heard the news that former Senator John Ashcroft had been confirmed, he said the president is very pleased about that, saying that Mr. Bush looks forward to working with Mr. Ashcroft in his Cabinet.

Ari Fleischer also saying that by definition the vote was bipartisan in nature. Clearly, the Bush administration touting the fact that eight Democrats joined the 50 Republicans in deciding that John Ashcroft should be confirmed to be serving as the next attorney general.

Now, with that being said, though, this White House is well aware of the deep divisions over this nomination, the opposition on the part of many Democrats to John Ashcroft based on his views on such issues as abortion, gun control and civil rights. Nevertheless, the White House believes that in time lawmakers and the American people will see that John Ashcroft is a good man, someone who will do a good job, someone who will enforce all the laws on the books.

Here is what Ari Fleischer told reporters a short time ago:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president believes that the United States and all Americans, whether they voted for him or not, whether they support Senator Ashcroft at this moment or not, are going to come to see an attorney general they can be proud of. And he thinks that in time people will recognize that we have a nonpolitical attorney general, an attorney general who will enforce law and an attorney general who you will all be proud of. (END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: And still, there will be a challenge for the president. He'll have to deal with Democrats who have strong feelings about his choice for attorney general. At the same time, he continues to reach out to those Democrats to try to work with them in a bipartisan way on issues he cares about such as education and tax cuts.

That's the latest from here. Back to you, Natalie.

ALLEN: And one question, Kelly. We know this president is so adamant about being a unifier there in Washington, was he expecting -- was it at all a surprise the furor over this nominee by some Democrats and some groups?

WALLACE: Well, you know, he has been asked about that. In some interviews he did during the transition when he was still in Austin, Texas, he said he expected at least one of his nominees to become the center of some controversy, that he did expect at least one of his choices for Cabinet to get a lot of attention and basically be opposed by a lot of people on the other side appear.

Although it does appear that this White House may not have predicted the amount of opposition to John Ashcroft over his views. So, maybe a bit of a surprise, but Mr. Bush thinking at least one of his nominees was going to face a tough battle on Capitol Hill -- Natalie.

ALLEN: And that he did. Thank you, Kelly. Again, as we were reporting, it looks like the final count, when it's made official, will be 58-42. John Ashcroft poised to become attorney general of the United States

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