- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 1, 2001

John Ashcroft plans to meet quietly with his Democratic critics in the Senate upon his confirmation as attorney general, a vote that should come today after one of the most bitter battles ever over a Cabinet member.

"I believe we will get it done" today, said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mr. Ashcroft's confirmation, predicting he will gain 60 to 70 votes.

Mr. Lott and Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, reached an agreement last night to have a vote at 1:45 p.m. EST today.

Even as Democrats continued to excoriate Mr. Ashcroft on the Senate floor yesterday in nearly 12 hours of debate, there were plentiful signs that they knew the fight was over.

One of Mr. Ashcroft's most vocal opponents, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said he asked Mr. Ashcroft in recent days to meet with congressional leaders "privately, off the record" after he takes over at the Justice Department.

"He assured me that he would," Mr. Leahy said. "He asked me also if I would be willing to help bring members who had voted against him to those meetings, and I assured him I would do that, too."

Said Ashcroft spokeswoman Mindy Tucker, "He'll be the attorney general for those who supported him and those who did not."

Mr. Lott said Republican senators, all 50 of whom are expected to vote for Mr. Ashcroft, agreed to postpone their departure for a retreat in Williamsburg this afternoon to make sure the nomination is approved today.

"We made a decision that we would stay and do whatever is necessary," Mr. Lott told reporters. "It's more important to get an attorney general in place at the Justice Department."

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Mr. Ashcroft's nomination 10-8 on Tuesday. Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, joined all nine Republicans on the panel in favor of Mr. Ashcroft, 58, a former Missouri attorney general, governor and senator.

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut yesterday became the sixth Democrat to announce his support for Mr. Ashcroft. Mr. Dodd said he hoped his vote would help to end "the growing predilection to treat nominations as ideological battlefields."

One of the Senate's most respected Democrats, Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, said Mr. Ashcroft's conservative values and deep religious faith will serve him well when advising President Bush on judicial appointments.

And Mr. Byrd, who announced his support for the nominee two weeks ago, derided liberals who say the opposition to Mr. Ashcroft is a warning to Mr. Bush not to appoint conservatives to the Supreme Court.

"I happen to be a senator who believes that, when it comes to judges, they ought to be conservative," Mr. Byrd said. "As far as my little shot across the bow, I say, 'Mr. President, send us conservative judges.' Judges have no business trying to make the law."

Mr. Byrd also said opponents should not doubt Mr. Ashcroft's oath "before God almighty" that he will uphold all laws, including gun regulations and abortion laws that he opposed as a senator.

"It would be an act of supreme arrogance on my part to doubt his intention to honor such an oath," Mr. Byrd said. "I believe that solemn vow will be taken seriously by him."

Other members of Mr. Byrd's party were not persuaded.

"Mr. Ashcroft has demonstrated real and substantial biases against women, people of color, gays, lesbians and anyone else who does not meet his personal definition of what constitutes a true American," said Sen. Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat and assistant minority leader.

"While President Bush may wish to be a unifier, he is not willing to put unity above a partisan appeal to the most extreme elements in the Republican Party," Mr. Reid said.

Mr. Daschle said Democrats hope to get at least 40 out of their 50 senators to vote against their former colleague, which he said would be "a phenomenal achievement."

"Frankly, we are not there yet," Mr. Daschle said. "But if we get 40-plus, it would be the strongest statement I think we could make."

Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, accused Democrats of hypocrisy for claiming Mr. Ashcroft will ignore the law.

He said Democrats ignored eight years' worth of the Clinton administration's transgressions.

"People who argue about the rule of law would be much more credible if, over the course of the last eight years, they would have been more outspoken about the repeated problems of the immediate past administration," Mr. Kyl said. "But they were defending their administration."

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