- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 11, 2001

Senate Republican leader Trent Lott yesterday said Democrats will help to confirm former Sen. John Ashcroft as attorney general despite a massive lobbying effort by liberal groups to defeat the nominee.
Mr. Lott also said yesterday his power-sharing deal with Democrats may have averted a challenge to George W. Bush's presidential electors from Florida.
"John will be confirmed," Mr. Lott said. "A number of Democrats have already said, 'This is a good man. He's qualified.' I expect there will be a number of Democrats who will vote for him."
"A concerted effort to 'Bork' John Ashcroft would not be well-received," he said, referring to Judge Robert Bork, President Reagan's nominee for the Supreme Court who was defeated by liberals in a nasty 1987 battle.
Liberal groups are mounting a coordinated, well-funded effort with Senate Democrats to reject Mr. Ashcroft, who is pro-life. They have gone so far as to obtain the "opposition research" file on Mr. Ashcroft from the campaign of his opponent, Mel Carnahan, whose wife, Jean, was appointed to the Senate after Mr. Carnahan died in a plane crash and won the November election posthumously.
Bush transition officials said yesterday the sharing of the campaign file with liberal groups, two months after the campaign ended, amounts to a dirty trick.
"It is not sending the signal of bipartisanship, and that's disappointing," said Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer. "Opposition research from a political campaign now is … provided to liberal special interest groups, so they have more ammo to take someone down."
The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a confirmation hearing on Mr. Ashcroft to begin on Tuesday afternoon. It is expected to last at least two days.
Among the witnesses will be Missouri Supreme Court Justice Ronnie White, whom black groups say Mr. Ashcroft blocked from a federal appointment because he is black. Mr. Ashcroft said Justice White had a weak record on crime.
In an hourlong interview with select reporters yesterday at the Capitol, Mr. Lott said his deal with Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle to split evenly the number of Republicans and Democrats on committees likely prevented Democrats from objecting Saturday to the seating of Florida's Republican electors for Mr. Bush.
Several House members did object, but they lacked a senator to join them, clearing the final hurdle to Mr. Bush's victory.
"The fact of the matter is, Saturday there was no Democratic senator who objected to the Florida Electoral College vote," Mr. Lott said. He said Mr. Bush even called him on Saturday and left a "positive-type" message on his voice mail about the power-sharing agreement.
Asked if he thought Democrats would have objected without the power-sharing deal finalized Friday, Mr. Lott said, "Who knows? But there's no question that Tom Daschle and I were discussing that possibility. I was saying in effect, 'Now Tom … are some of your people going to do it? Don't you realize this would be a major problem in our relationship?' There was no quid pro quo. But it was going on at the same time everything else was going on."
Daschle spokesman Ranit Schmelzer said yesterday that Mr. Lott's scenario was "far-fetched."
"There was no Democrat who said they were going to object [to Florida's electors] at any point, at any time," she said. "Those things are not related."
The liberal coalition fighting the Ashcroft nomination got some bad news yesterday when Sen. Peter G. Fitzgerald, Illinois Republican, announced he will support Mr. Ashcroft. A list obtained by The Washington Times from one of the liberal groups had portrayed Mr. Fitzgerald as "leaning" for Mr. Ashcroft but not solidly in the nominee's camp.
Mr. Fitzgerald met with Mr. Ashcroft on Capitol Hill yesterday and said later, "I believe he is the soul of integrity, and I think he will make an outstanding attorney general."
The Senate is split 50-50, and Mr. Ashcroft needs 51 votes to be confirmed. Mr. Lott said yesterday he expects all Republicans to vote for their former colleague.
"I've kind of done some checking around, and I believe the Republicans are unanimously for John," Mr. Lott said. "One of his active supporters is Susan Collins [of Maine]. Jim Jeffords [of Vermont] is for him."
The liberal group's list of senators had portrayed the two Republicans as on the fence.
Mr. Lott suggested that the power-sharing deal should make Democrats look more favorably on all of Mr. Bush's nominees, including Mr. Ashcroft.
"I've made a major effort to try to get this Congress and this administration started off on the right foot, to not have a big battle… . It would really sour a major opportunity we have here to work together on a positive agenda for the American people."
Mr. Lott said liberal groups opposed to Mr. Ashcroft are "the usual suspects" and will not have much influence with the Senate. He dismissed as "ridiculous" liberals' claims that Mr. Ashcroft would ignore polluters, law-breaking militia members and abortion-clinic bombers.
"One of the things they criticize him about is his faith," Mr. Lott said. "He is a man who feels very strongly about his faith. That very faith is one of the reasons he would never be a part of something like that pollute the environment, allow violence, bombings at a clinic. That is so alien to some of his fundamental principles. He is a good man. The very idea that he would not support the law on his own books is ridiculous. He did when he was attorney general of Missouri."
He said Mr. Bush "is a conservative, and he is entitled to have a Cabinet by his choosing."
Said Mr. Fleischer, "The fight against John Ashcroft is being waged entirely on ideological grounds by some people outside the United States Senate, and that would be a new level of partisanship brought to Washington."
That includes the liberal groups that have obtained the "opposition research" file on Mr. Ashcroft from the campaign of his opponent. Marc Farinella ran Mr. Carnahan's Senate campaign and, according to news reports, organized the effort to continue the campaign against Mr. Ashcroft after the governor's death.
According to campaign reports filed with the Federal Election Commission by the Carnahan for Senate Committee, Mr. Farinella, whose address is listed in the reports as Melbourne, Fla., was paid $112,100 for political consulting and expenses from April 1 to Nov. 14, 2000.
Mr. Fleischer said Senate Republicans in the past have approved President Clinton's more liberal nominees. But Democrats controlled the Senate when Mr. Clinton took office in 1993.
"There's a long-standing tradition that says the president gets to put his people in place," Mr. Fleischer said. "Anything else is partisan."
Mr. Lott said he expects the full Senate to confirm Donald H. Rumsfeld as defense secretary, Paul O'Neill for Treasury and Colin Powell as secretary of state on Jan. 20, only hours after Mr. Bush's inauguration. He said the other Cabinet nominees should be confirmed the week of Jan. 22.
George Archibald contributed to this report.


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