- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 10, 2001

A coalition of liberal groups yesterday vowed to defeat the nomination of conservative former Sen. John Ashcroft for attorney general with the help of new feminist senators such as Hillary Rodham Clinton and Democrats facing re-election.
"We will fight this nomination tooth and nail," said Hilary Shelton, top Washington lobbyist for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
More than 200 organizations, ranging from the Sierra Club to homosexual-rights groups to the gun-control lobby, have banded together to challenge not only Mr. Ashcroft but Interior Secretary-designee Gale A. Norton and Labor Secretary nominee Linda Chavez, who quit yesterday amid questions about her aiding an illegal immigrant years ago.
The early "kill" of one of the three most controversial Bush Cabinet nominees puts blood in the water for Democrats in the Senate hungry to satisfy their labor-union, pro-choice constituents and other left-wing constituencies for more "kills," according to one group of Bush advisers.
Others agreed.
"It clears the road for full attention back on Ashcroft," said David Smith, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, a homosexual-rights group.
At a press conference at the swank Mayflower Hotel yesterday, a parade of leaders of liberal groups berated Mr. Ashcroft as an enemy of blacks, women and "working people." They said as attorney general, Mr. Ashcroft would ignore hate crimes, restrict abortion rights and even allow rat poison in drinking water a reference they said was a past vote to weaken the Clean Water Act.
"John Ashcroft has been an ardent opponent of women's rights for over 20 years," said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority.
Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way, said Mr. Ashcroft "might make an excellent choice to head the Christian Coalition or the [National Rifle Association], but he is not qualified to lead the U.S. Department of Justice."
The interest groups are besieging senators with personal visits, promising to withhold campaign funds from uncooperative senators. They also are poring over Mr. Ashcroft's Senate votes and televised interviews, issuing "action alerts" to their members and encouraging the media to publish and broadcast negative news stories about the nominees.
Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women, said pro-choice groups opposed to Mr. Ashcroft are counting on "some of the five or six feminists" in the Senate, including Mrs. Clinton, who was sworn in last week and has yet to be assigned to any committees. The Senate now has a record 13 women.
Asked if Mrs. Clinton will help her feminist allies fight the Ashcroft nomination, Miss Ireland said, "We're about to find out."
Aides to Mrs. Clinton did not return several phone messages yesterday.
No senator has come out explicitly against Mr. Ashcroft yet. But Democrats who are expected to be especially sympathetic to the coalition's views include Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, temporary chairman of the Judiciary Committee; Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware; Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, whose Capitol Hill office was the site of a coalition strategy session last week.
President-elect George W. Bush's choice of Mr. Ashcroft, a pro-life former governor of Missouri, has reunited many of the same well-funded liberal groups that joined forces in 1987 to defeat President Reagan's nomination of conservative federal judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court.
"The liberal groups are getting their coalitions out of mothballs," said Clint Bolick, executive director of the conservative Institute for Justice in Washington. "Once they get together, they have a very powerful arsenal."
The effort also is showing a grim cost-effectiveness of such hardball politics: By pooling their resources, the liberal groups essentially are trying to take down three nominees for the price of one.
"The cost of talking about one person [with senators] and the cost of talking about two people are about the same," said Damon Silvers, associate general counsel of the AFL-CIO.
Nobody is saying how much the coalition will spend fighting Mr. Ashcroft. The effort to bring down Judge Bork's nomination cost more than an estimated $10 million, but that battle lasted several months.
"We're all going to spend whatever it takes," said Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion Rights Action League. "We're seasoned operatives."
Said one conservative activist who regularly does battle with the Left: "They have a lot of financial resources," "Beyond that, they get a tremendous amount of free media it's hard to put a dollar amount on that."
Miss Ireland said liberal groups like the National Organization for Women are using the Ashcroft nomination to lure back Democratic campaign workers who were dispirited by Vice President Al Gore's loss in the presidential election.
"Gore won the popular vote," Miss Ireland said in an interview. "A lot of people are still feeling really angry about the way that played out in the courts. A lot of these young, first-time activists worked so hard, and now they're saying 'For what?' Those are people I think we can offer a longer-term view: We lost the battle, but [the Ashcroft nomination] is the war."
Miss Ireland also said NOW intends to remind Democratic senators up for re-election in 2002 of the group's previous donations for their campaigns. Asked if that is a form of political blackmail, she replied, "We would call it 'allocating resources.' "
Among Senate Democrats up for re-election in 2002 are Mr. Biden, Mr. Durbin, Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, Sen. Robert G. Torricelli of New Jersey and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.
Even if Ashcroft opponents persuaded all 50 Senate Democrats to oppose him, they would need at least one Republican to defeat him. Among the Republicans running for re-election in 2002 are Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Susan Collins of Maine, Gordon Smith of Oregon, Fred Thompson of Tennessee, Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico and Ted Stevens of Alaska.
Representatives of the coalition say they are urging Senate Democrats to hold Mr. Ashcroft's nomination hearing as soon as possible, while Democrats control the Senate until Jan. 20.


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