Sunday, May 20, 2007

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales may step down in advance of a planned congressional vote of “no-confidence” on his job performance, says the Senate Judiciary Committee’s ranking Republican.

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania has not called for Mr. Gonzales to resign, but said the growing pressure from Democratic and Republican lawmakers who are demanding Mr. Gonzales’ departure may force President Bush’s longtime ally from office.

“Votes of no confidence are very rare,” Mr. Specter said during an appearance yesterday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “Historically, that is something which Attorney General Gonzales would like to avoid. I think that if and when he sees that coming, he would prefer to avoid that kind of a historical black mark.”

Mr. Specter said he expects a “sizable number” of Republicans to vote “no-confidence,” a move that could take place as early as this week. Mr. Gonzales is traveling outside of the country and will not return to Washington until Friday — the day members of Congress are expected to leave town for the Memorial Day weekend holiday.

Six Republicans have joined the ranks of leading Democrats who say Mr. Gonzales should step down. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, is heading up a Senate investigation of Mr. Gonzales’ role in the firing of several U.S. attorneys.

A poll released last month by Rasmussen Reports found that 43 percent of voters think Mr. Gonzales should resign and 32 percent said he should not, while 25 percent said they were “not sure” if he should step down.

However, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said there might be additional resolutions offered in the Senate to potentially offset a “no-confidence” vote. “In the Senate, nobody gets a clear shot,” Mr. McConnell of Kentucky said during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week.”

While refusing to express his personal confidence in the attorney general, Mr. McConnell did say “that’s for the president to decide,” when it comes to Mr. Gonzales’ future at the department.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, another influential Republican and longtime military lawyer, said Congress should focus on investigating the firing of U.S. attorneys, rather than playing what he called “gotcha politics.”

“I want to focus on that, rather than pass a resolution, that’s never been done in the history of the Congress, to play ‘gotcha’ politics with the attorney general,” the South Carolina senator said during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.”

Any vote of “no-confidence” in Mr. Gonzales would be nonbinding, but could add even more pressure on the White House to replace him. Most polls show the public favoring a resignation, but also believe the decision should be left to Mr. Bush.

The attorney general’s reputation has been significantly damaged over the past two months after a string of reports have called his judgment into question. Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty has announced he is leaving the department over his role in the firing of the federal prosecutors.

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