- The Washington Times - Friday, January 12, 2001

Conservative groups fought back yesterday against the massive liberal campaign to defeat the nomination of former Sen. John Ashcroft for attorney general, saying he is being ridiculed purely for his conservative values.
"While his views on abortion, support for school vouchers and school prayer may not be popular with liberals, for tens of millions of Americans, they represent deeply held convictions and are hardly outside the mainstream," said Janet Parshall, spokeswoman for the Family Research Council.
President-elect George W. Bush in Washington yesterday defended his nomination of Mr. Ashcroft and urged senators to keep an open mind in the face of a well-financed lobbying onslaught from a coalition of more than 200 liberal interest groups opposing the nominee.
"He's going to make a very good and very strong attorney general," Mr. Bush said. "It doesn't have to be hard, if the senators will tone down their rhetoric."
Victims' rights groups joined women's organizations and the Christian Coalition in publicly supporting Mr. Ashcroft and denouncing what they called a smear campaign by the left against the nominee's religious beliefs.
"Regrettably, the radical left is trumping up false claims of racism," said Beverly LaHaye of Concerned Women for America.
Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson called on Republicans in a letter yesterday to contact Senate Democrats and "tell them that the politics of personal destruction must stop, and urge them to support the nomination."
"Instead of embracing President-elect Bush's call for a new bipartisanship, the extreme left is embracing the politics of personal destruction," Mr. Nicholson wrote.
The popular outcry of support for Mr. Ashcroft came as some Democratic senators showed signs of giving in to the enormous pressure being brought on them by the liberal coalition. Big labor, the gun control lobby, homosexual rights groups and others have been inundating Senate Democrats with appeals to reject Mr. Ashcroft, who is pro-life.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and member of the Judiciary Committee, said yesterday that Mr. Ashcroft's "views are out of the mainstream" and that it was "too soon to tell" if he would vote to confirm.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, already has said she opposes Mr. Ashcroft's nomination. Mrs. Boxer said the nomination is "at odds" with Mr. Bush's pledge to unite the nation.
"I think that it would have been better if Senator Boxer waited until she at least heard what John Ashcroft had to say," said Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, at a news conference yesterday with victims' rights advocates who support Mr. Ashcroft.
Ari Fleischer, Mr. Bush's spokesman, said the public retreat of some Democratic senators who had spoken out in favor of Mr. Ashcroft was "troubling."
"You had senators who took one stand and then, as the pressure mounts, they want to shift their stands," he said.
But Sen. Jean Carnahan, Missouri Democrat, who was appointed to the seat after her husband, Mel, defeated Mr. Ashcroft posthumously in November, said yesterday she wants to give the nominee the benefit of the doubt.
"I want Senator Ashcroft to have the benefit of a full and fair hearing," Mrs. Carnahan said on NBC's "Today" show. "He deserves that. I want him to show us how he intends to approach the job that he has been nominated for."
And Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, whom some liberal groups are hoping will reject Mr. Ashcroft, said yesterday on the CBS "Early Show" that he expects to approve the nomination "unless something extraordinary happens."
Mr. Ashcroft popped in on the victims' rights event yesterday at the Capitol and thanked his supporters but declined to comment to reporters, saying only, "Happy New Year."
Roberta Roper, a registered Democrat in Maryland who is co-chairwoman of the National Victims Constitutional Amendment Network, said partisanship ought not to play a role in the nomination.
"I'm here to say this isn't about politics, this is about doing what's right," Mrs. Roper said. "John Ashcroft cares about crime victims and should be confirmed."
Mr. Kyl said Mr. Ashcroft was instrumental as a senator from Missouri in securing more money for crime victims and giving them more input in the judicial process.
"If you're looking for compassion in an attorney general, I would think the first thing you'd want to know is, 'Is this an individual who not only speaks in favor of victims of crime, but has a history of doing something for victims of crime?' " Mr. Kyl said.
Mr. Bush said he would call senators if needed to make sure Mr. Ashcroft gets a fair confirmation hearing, scheduled to begin Tuesday. The president-elect said he hasn't paid much attention to conservative groups rallying to Mr. Ashcroft.
"To the extent that people want to help his nomination, that's fine," Mr. Bush said. "But I think he can stand on his own."
However, Mr. Bush said he would call on senators if needed to make sure Mr. Ashcroft gets a fair confirmation hearing, scheduled to begin Tuesday.
"I never expected our nominees to sail through without harsh questioning and good confirmation hearings," Mr. Bush said. "I can't wait for John to have a fair hearing so people get to see what he's made out of. I don't expect him to get 100 percent of the vote in the Senate. I'm confident he'll be confirmed."
Some minority groups have accused Mr. Ashcroft of racism for rejecting the nomination of a black Missouri judge, Ronnie White, to the federal bench in 1999. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported yesterday that Mr. Ashcroft rejected only two of the 28 black judges whom he considered in his six years in the Senate.

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