The White House yesterday dismissed Senate plans to hold a no-confidence vote on the attorney general and said the outcome will not undermine President Bush’s resolve to keep Alberto R. Gonzales at the Justice Department.
“Not a bit. Purely symbolic vote,” White House spokesman Tony Snow said. He was asked in a broadcast interview whether Mr. Bush might reconsider his decision to support Mr. Gonzales should a sizable number of Republican senators vote for the no-confidence resolution.
“It is perfectly obvious that the president has the right to hire and fire people who serve at his pleasure,” Mr. Snow said.
Today, the Senate planned to debate the one-sentence measure that declares Mr. Gonzales “no longer holds the confidence of the Senate and of the American people.”
It could be Congress’ last effort to force Mr. Gonzales’ ouster after months of investigations and the disclosure of internal Justice Department documents that contradicted Mr. Gonzales’ initial assertions that the firing of federal prosecutors was not politically motivated or directly coordinated with the White House.
Majority Democrats in the Senate acknowledge that the resolution probably will not survive a test vote Monday requiring 60 votes. But many Senate Republicans have not been eager to defend the former White House counsel, with at least five Republican senators calling for his resignation.
In a sign of Mr. Gonzales’ tepid support on Capitol Hill, Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, who previously had been a reliable Gonzales ally on the Senate Judiciary Committee, declined to offer a public statement of support for the attorney general even while contending a no-confidence resolution was wrong.
“I’m not going to comment on the kind of job,” said Mr. Kyl, when asked whether Mr. Gonzales was an effective attorney general. “This isn’t our form of government to have votes of no confidence. And I object to that process.”
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, the Senate’s No. 2 Democratic leader, said that if Mr. Bush was willing to replace Gen. Peter Pace as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff because of concerns about diminished support in Congress, Mr. Bush should do the same and oust Mr. Gonzales.
“Here’s a man who’s been through rough sledding,” said Mr. Durbin, Illinois Democrat. “He’s said some things on Capitol Hill which he’s had to recant, who’s had staff people say, ‘Well, things were being done in the Department of Justice that shouldn’t be done,’ and the president’s willing to stand by his man.”