- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 25, 2001

Republican senators are angry that Attorney General-nominee John Ashcroft is not being afforded the same consideration or given the speedy confirmation granted to nominees of former President Clinton.

Democrats yesterday placed a hold on Mr. Ashcroft's nomination for at least one week and demanded that more than 400 questions be answered in writing by the nominee before allowing a vote to go forward.

"I am extremely disappointed that for the first time I can remember since at least as far back as the Carter presidency the president's choice for attorney general is being held over by this committee," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

Every senator on the committee has the authority to place a hold on the nominee. And there's not much other senators can do about it. However, Mr. Hatch urged Mr. Ashcroft to use the additional time to carefully review the questions and his responses.

The committee which was under Democratic control until President Bush was sworn into office Saturday held four days of hearings last week with numerous witnesses called to oppose Mr. Ashcroft's nomination.

Mr. Hatch, Utah Republican, said the process is "a major departure from the way we handled the nomination of Janet Reno," Mr. Clinton's attorney general. He warned Democrats that some of those 400 questions an unprecedented number include inquiries into Mr. Ashcroft's private conversations with fellow senators.

All but a dozen of the 400 questions are from Democrats, said a committee spokeswoman. However, in the course of Miss Reno's 1993 confirmation hearings, she was asked just 35 questions, and all were from Democrats.

"This represents, in my opinion, a dangerous and unprecedented intrusion into senatorial deliberations," Mr. Hatch said. "I have one thing to say, if we go down this path: Beware, senators, in doing your jobs."

Democratic Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, used an obscure Senate rule to place the hold on Mr. Ashcroft's nomination for one week. The rule is normally used to hold legislation over until the next business week when it is not ready to go to the floor for a full vote, said a committee spokeswoman.

Sen. Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican and assistant majority leader, said that in 1993 all of Mr. Clinton's nominees were approved by Jan. 21, with the exception of Miss Reno, whose nomination came after problems of tax liability, domestic help and illegal immigrants sank the prospects of corporate lawyer Zoe Baird and U.S. District Judge Kimba M. Wood.

Miss Reno was confirmed by a 98-0 vote.

During Mr. Ashcroft's confirmation delay, liberal lobbying groups have began waging a public anti-Ashcroft campaign.

On Tuesday, People for the American Way delivered petitions to Capitol Hill with more than 150,000 signatures collected from its anti-Ashcroft Web site. The group plans a $250,000 newspaper advertising campaign this week. Pro-choice groups also are running radio ads and Internet campaigns.

"They have been unfair to Ashcroft," Mr. Nickles said.

"To hold him over another week is ridiculous, and giving him 400 questions is harassment. It is beneath the dignity of the Senate the way they are treating their former colleague. It is not the way we treated their nominee for attorney general," Mr. Nickles said.

Mr. Leahy, who chaired Mr. Ashcroft's hearings, said he wants the answers in writing to establish a record of the former senator's positions.

"His two days of testimony so contradicted his 25 years of positions, I just want to know which is which," Mr. Leahy said.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, said more question time was needed than the hearings provided. He suggested he will filibuster Mr. Ashcroft's nomination when it reaches the Senate floor as early as next Wednesday.

"This is an extremely controversial nominee," Mr. Kennedy said. "And I found, quite frankly, in response to the questions that, in many instances, the nominee was deleterious in answering the questions, filling out time, not being responsive.

Mr. Bush met with congressional leaders yesterday and sounded confident his nominee will be confirmed.

"I think they are making sure that when they confirm him, all questions have been answered," Mr. Bush said.

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