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Jonathan Karl: The Ashcroft confirmation

Jonathan Karl  

February 1, 2001
Web posted at: 6:15 p.m. EST

Q: Which Democrats changed sides and voted for Ashcroft?

Karl: There were eight Democrats who voted in favor of Ashcroft: Robert Byrd (WV), Kent Conrad (ND), Byron Dorgan (ND), Chris Dodd (CT), Russ Feingold (WI), John Breaux (LA), Zell Miller (GA) and Ben Nelson (NE). They include some of the Senate’s more liberal members, like Feingold and Dodd, who said that they decided to vote for Ashcroft despite the fact that they disagree with him on virtually all of the controversial issues that came up during the confirmation hearing. Despite their disagreements with Ashcroft, they believe a president should have the right to appoint Cabinet secretaries who agree with his agenda.

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    Q: This gives Bush his first victory over Democrats in Congress. Could this set a tone for future proceedings?

    Karl: It’s not really his first victory. Keep in mind, Bush now has an entire Cabinet confirmed (with the exception of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, who is expected to be easily confirmed on Tuesday), and most of his Cabinet secretaries were confirmed unanimously by the Senate. But this battle over Ashcroft does set a tone for future battles between President Bush and Congress -- especially future battles over judicial nominations such as those to the Supreme Court. Democrats sent a very clear message that they would fight any conservative nomination to the Supreme Court using any means necessary to defeat such a nomination.

    Q: Senator Orrin Hatch has accused Democrats of being unfair to Ashcroft during these proceedings. What does this say for the future of bi-partisanship in this Senate?

    Karl: Make no mistake about it. This debate was frequently bitter. Republicans resent what they see as an outright distortion of Ashcroft’s record that bordered on character assassination, in their view. But in a sign that the honeymoon may not yet be over, Senator Kennedy, who led the fight against Ashcroft, is going to the White House Thursday night to watch the movie "13 days" with President Bush. Democrats still believe they can work with this new president on a number of major issues, especially education.

    Q: What about Democrats who voted against Ashcroft?

    Karl: For a number of Democrats who voted against Ashcroft, this was an extremely difficult vote politically because there are 20 Democrats in the U.S. Senate that come from states that George W. Bush won in this last election. This includes people like Tim Johnson of South Dakota who is up for re-election and comes from a state that Bush carried by a margin of more than 30 percent. Senator Johnson will have to explain to his constituents why he voted against Bush’s choice for attorney general. It’s almost certain to be an issue in his re-election campaign. And there are other Democrats in the same situation.



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