Senate Democrats yesterday failed to pass a resolution expressing no confidence in Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, in a vote Republicans decried as a political stunt but without explicitly defending the embattled attorney general.
Democrats fell short of the 60 votes needed to end debate and vote on the no-confidence resolution sponsored by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. The Senate voted 53-38 in favor of "cloture," with seven Republicans joining 45 Democrats and one independent, against 37 Republicans and one independent.
Republicans said Democrats never expected to pass the resolution, but simply wanted to publicly ridicule Mr. Gonzales, a longtime ally of President Bush. "This is a very disappointing spectacle. This is beneath the dignity of the Senate," said Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican.
Democrats said Mr. Gonzales has destroyed the credibility and morale of the Justice Department, and has given conflicting accounts of his role in the firing of eight federal prosecutors. "Mr. Gonzales is responsible for a deeply political environment at the department," Mr. Schumer said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said the Justice Department under Mr. Gonzales has "lost its way" and is "now just another arm of the Karl Rove political machine," referring to the president's political adviser.
Democrats say the U.S. attorney firings were politically motivated and possibly improper, but have no evidence of illegality, despite Mr. Schumer's claim that the issue is a "major scandal."
However, even Republicans who backed the attorney general in this vote expressed little support for Mr. Gonzales, who has irritated some Republicans with what they consider a bumbling response to the furor. Instead, Republicans during floor debate attacked Mr. Schumer for pursuing the U.S. attorneys matter while also heading up the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the chief fundraising arm for Senate Democrats.
"I can't understand why it isn't a conflict of interest for my friend from New York," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, who said, tongue in cheek, that he hoped the DSCC would not run campaign commercials using footage from yesterday's vote.
Mr. Gonzales, speaking to reporters in Miami, said he was "not focusing on what the Senate is doing."
"I am going to be focusing on what the American people expect of the attorney general of the United States and this great Department of Justice," Mr. Gonzales said.
President Bush, speaking to reporters in Bulgaria, dismissed the vote.
"They can have their votes of no confidence, but it's not going to make the determination about who serves in my government," Mr. Bush said.
The seven Republicans who supported proceeding to a vote were Sens. John E. Sununu of New Hampshire, Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, Gordon H. Smith of Oregon, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Norm Coleman of Minnesota. Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican, voted "present." The Senate's two Democrat-leaning independents split, with Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont voting "yes" and Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut "no."