The Senate confirmed Alberto Gonzales yesterday as the new attorney general, despite considerable opposition from Democrats.
Just six Democrats crossed the aisle to join Republicans in the 60-36 vote that came late yesterday after several days of acerbic debate over Mr. Gonzales’ tenure as chief White House counsel. He is the first Hispanic U.S. Attorney General.
“His life story is inspiring and another shining example of how the American dream can be reality for all who are willing to work for it,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican. “But more importantly, I’m pleased by today’s confirmation because Judge Gonzales is the right man for the job.”
Vice President Dick Cheney swore in Mr. Gonzales as the nation’s 80th attorney general in a private White House ceremony last night. President Bush congratulated Mr. Gonzales by phone from a trip to North Dakota and Montana.
Mr. Gonzales is the grandson of Mexican migrant workers and served as general counsel to Mr. Bush when he was governor of Texas. Mr. Bush later appointed him to the Texas Supreme Court and tapped him as his chief White House counsel after Mr. Bush was elected president.
For the most part, the Senate debate centered on torture, which some Democrats say the Bush administration has condoned — even encouraged — under the legal guidance of Mr. Gonzales.
Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said Mr. Gonzales’ background is nothing short of inspiring.
“But this debate is not about Mr. Gonzales’ life story,” he said. “This debate is about whether, in the age of terrorism, America will continue to be a nation based on the rule of law or whether we — out of fear — abandon time-tested values.
“Our conduct has been called into question around the world,” Mr. Durbin said. “Our moral standing has been challenged. And now, we are being asked to promote a man who was at the center of the debate over secretive policies that created an environment that led to Abu Ghraib.”
Republicans say Mr. Gonzales can’t be blamed for the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. For instance, they say, he didn’t write the primary memo cited by Democrats as giving the green light to torture.
Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said it has been “a long month” for Mr. Gonzales.
“What is striking to me is how little there has been about the 49 years of this man’s life, contrasted with a few memos where the contents have been grossly distorted,” he said just before the vote yesterday. “This is a man who has an extraordinary record, but it hasn’t been the subject of analysis or discussion here today.”
The debate became quite personal at times.
Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, yesterday read passages from a memoir by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and a Navy pilot during the Vietnam War, who suffered brutal torture at the hands of North Vietnamese as a prisoner of war.
“It’s an awful thing, solitary,” he read from “Faith of My Fathers,” Mr. McCain’s account of his more than five years in captivity. “It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment. Having no one else to rely on to share confidences with, to seek counsel from, you begin to doubt your judgment and your courage.”