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KWAME HOLMAN: 42 days after President George W. Bush nominated John Ashcroft as Attorney General, a deeply- divided Senate finally confirmed him this afternoon. Senators sounded weary, yet confident of better days to come.
SEN. TRENT LOTT: I’ve been disappointed by this nomination process, through the Judiciary Committee and to a degree here, although less so on the floor of the Senate. I did think the rhetoric got too hot. It did get… I thought, into the range of being unfair and inaccurate even. But I don’t think we should let that permanently alter the atmosphere that we’ve tried to set here in the Senate.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER: There are some scars left on the initial days of the Presidency of George Bush, who had campaigned on a campaign of inclusiveness, bringing people together, and this nomination clearly did not do that. But again, the President’s… most of the President’s other moves, this nomination notwithstanding, have been bipartisan moves and hopefully while this is clearly a setback to that bringing people together, to that bipartisanship, it’s not going to be a permanent one.
SPOKESMAN: The clerk will call the roll.
KWAME HOLMAN: The negative reaction to Bush’s nomination of a staunch conservative for the Justice Department was the exception among his cabinet choices. Largely, his selections to help him run the government were well-received as worthy of his long-standing pledge to work toward bipartisanship. Most were approved quickly, even unanimously, by the Senate. President Bush started his first week in office with a nod to conservatives that angered abortion rights advocates. He ended U.S. funding for international aid groups that provide abortion services. After that, he highlighted bipartisan initiatives, including an education plan that downplayed spending public dollars on private schools through vouchers, a provision strongly opposed by Democrats. The education effort also helped inaugurate what’s quickly become a Bush trademark in just two weeks as President, bringing in leaders from both parties who have interest in a particular issue.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I am so honored that the Senators came over and members of the House leadership that’s going to help carry legislation. I believe the best way for the Vice President and I to help the legislative process is to discuss issues in a frank and open way, and that’s the beginning of a process here. So thank you all for coming.
KWAME HOLMAN: One of the Senate’s most liberal voices, Massachusetts’ Edward Kennedy, appeared impressed after the meeting.
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY: As one who participated in there for close to an hour, the areas of which he pointed out where we are in agreement, I thought, were very substantial and are out there and can make a very important difference.
KWAME HOLMAN: Reporter: This week, the President hosted a multiracial group of clergy to promote his plan to help faith-based organizations that want to deliver social services. He also announced his plan to help poor seniors pay for their prescription drug bills, a concept favored by majorities in both parties in Congress and capped off the week with today’s proposal to help the disabled. In just 12 days, President Bush has met with more than 100 members of Congress, about half of them Democrats. Emerging from one such encounter last week, Senate leaders from both parties offered favorable assessments of the Bush approach.
SEN. TRENT LOTT: He really has been reaching out. I believe he noted that this is the sixth meeting in two days that he has had with congressional leaders in one group or another. And while he might not want to continue at that pace, it’s a very positive sign and I think it’s appreciated by members of both Houses and both parties of the Congress.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: I thought it was a very constructive meeting. Obviously, the more we have opportunities like this to talk about issues of mutual concern, the more productive, I think, the relationship between Congress and the President, between Democrats and Republicans will be.
KWAME HOLMAN: However, one of President Bush’s biggest challenges is reaching out to blacks. Last night, the President held a long meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I look forward to a good dialogue on subjects that are on the members’ minds and on my mind as well.
KWAME HOLMAN: Mr. Bush got only a tiny percentage of the African American vote and many still are angry about the disproportionate impact of Florida’s voting problems on blacks.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: One of our main concerns was bringing to him the pain that so many people are feeling about the election and we expressed to him the fact that one of his major concerns early on was to heal the country. And we reminded him that part of the problem was that it did not seem there was a strong commitment with regard to addressing the problem which came up in the election in Florida. And we spent quite a bit of time with regard to Mr. Ashcroft. What was said there was that we are vehemently against Mr. Ashcroft’s appointment, because we believe that his policies in the past, his actions, not only as a Senator, but as an Attorney General and as a Governor, has –have flown in the face of the concerns of our constituents and so many people that the President claims he wants to help bring about this healing. I think we are clear that the jury is still out.
KWAME HOLMAN: Fresh from the Ashcroft confirmations, the President plans to drop in on a retreat of the entire House Democratic Caucus in Democratic Caucus in Pennsylvania this weekend.