- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 31, 2001

The Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday voted 10-8 to approve the nomination of John Ashcroft as attorney general. One Democrat joined all Republicans on the panel to practically assure confirmation by the full Senate.
"The American people desperately want us to conduct ourselves, where possible, in a bipartisan manner," said Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, as he voted for Mr. Ashcroft. "I am reaching out to the new administration and to my Republican colleagues."
Republicans praised Mr. Ashcroft, the former state attorney general and senator from Missouri, as a law-and-order man of his word.
"John Ashcroft is a man of unquestionable integrity and principle," said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican.
The full Senate began debating Mr. Ashcroft's confirmation last night. Final approval could come tonight or Thursday, as Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts abandoned his threat to block the nomination with a filibuster.
Mr. Kennedy indicated he would not object to fixing a time for a final vote, saying he hoped to focus public attention not on a Senate process, but on Mr. Ashcroft's positions.
Mr. Kennedy said he already had decided against a filibuster when Missouri Sen. Jean Carnahan spoke against it during a Democratic caucus meeting yesterday. Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota had said earlier he would not support a filibuster.
A Cabinet nominee needs 51 votes to be confirmed. At least four Democratic senators have said they intend to vote for Mr. Ashcroft.
The Judiciary Committee's vote was a blow to liberal interest groups that have waged an expensive and intense campaign against the pro-life Missourian.
Their leaders, who were hoping at least for all committee Democrats to vote no, were clearly dejected as they stood in the crowded hearing room and listened to Mr. Feingold voice his support for Mr. Ashcroft.
"His vote is incomprehensible to me," said Ralph Neas, president of the Washington-based People for the American Way, which spent $260,000 yesterday alone on full-page newspaper ads against Mr. Ashcroft.
"I've never been more disappointed in a senator than I am at this moment," Mr. Neas said.
Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, said the liberal coalition had put considerable pressure on Mr. Feingold in his home state to vote against Mr. Ashcroft.
"It is highly disappointing to have Senator Feingold vote the way he did," Miss Michelman said. "He was barraged by phone calls and letters."
Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, lauded Mr. Feingold for standing up to such pressure from liberal groups.
"Russ demonstrated some courage," Mr. Kyl said. "I appreciate it."
Mr. Feingold, who said when the confirmation hearing began two weeks ago that he might vote for Mr. Ashcroft, said yesterday the president is entitled to a Cabinet of his own choosing.
"The Senate has, for the most part, avoided rejecting the president's Cabinet nominations because of their ideology alone," Mr. Feingold said. "We should not begin to do so now."
He said he was encouraged by Mr. Ashcroft's promises under oath to continue a federal study of racial disparities in death-penalty cases and to make a priority of ending the so-called "racial profiling" of suspects by police.
Some of Mr. Ashcroft's opponents have accused him of bias against homosexuals and blacks for rejecting the nominations, while a senator, of a homosexual diplomat and a black judge.
But Mr. Feingold said he could not go along with his Democratic colleagues in putting "the worst possible interpretation on these facts."
"It is certainly tempting to do so, but I am afraid it looks too much like political payback," Mr. Feingold said.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and committee chairman, pointed out that Mr. Ashcroft had served on their committee for four years.
"You have worked with him and know him to be a man of his word," Mr. Hatch told the panel. "We know that he is a man of compassion, faith and devotion to family."
Indeed, several committee Democrats praised Mr. Ashcroft's character even as they voted against him to lead the Justice Department.
"We all respect him," said Sen. Herb Kohl, Wisconsin Democrat, moments before voting no.
"I think this is an honorable and decent man," said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, who added he was "not happy about voting no."
Democrats reiterated their fears that Mr. Ashcroft would not enforce abortion laws, gun regulations and civil rights laws with sufficient enthusiasm.
"We need an attorney general who will strongly enforce and defend our gun control laws, not undermine them," Mr. Kennedy said.
Republicans rejected those arguments as posturing for the interest groups that oppose Mr. Ashcroft.
"I believe you will see a substantial increase in prosecution of gun laws under this attorney general," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican. "John Ashcroft will provide precisely the kind of leadership the Department of Justice needs."
And Republicans said the coalition of big labor, feminist groups, civil rights organizations and the gun-control lobby had clearly failed in its effort.
"They've been unable to make their case," Mr. Grassley said. "Despite their best efforts, accusations of racism and bias just haven't stuck. John Ashcroft's by-the-book approach to governing rises above and beyond the decibel level of his detractors."
Said Mr. Hatch, "He is not the man unfairly painted as an extremist by the left-wing activists who have reportedly threatened senators in their re-election bids if they vote for his confirmation."
Before the committee voted, Mr. Bush said it was "time to end the delays" in the Senate on confirming his appointments.
"It's important for our Cabinet officers to be confirmed so they can start doing their job of organizing their departments," Mr. Bush said. "And one of the things I'll be doing when our Cabinet meets is talking about the need for each Cabinet member to be fiscally sound with the taxpayers' money. It's hard to deliver that message when somebody hasn't been confirmed."
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said Mr. Ashcroft will be "a very thoughtful, very conscientious attorney general of high integrity."


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