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Senate GOP Looks to Block No-Confidence Vote on Gonzales

June 11, 2007 at 6:40 PM EDT

KWAME HOLMAN: The resolution before the Senate this afternoon was only one sentence long and read by the clerk at the outset of the debate.

SENATE CLERK: … the sense of the Senate that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales no longer holds the confidence of the Senate and of the American people.

KWAME HOLMAN: Majority Democrats brought the resolution up in an effort to force their Republican colleagues to go on record as to whether embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales deserves support.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), California: I find this a major abdication of the duty of a leader.

KWAME HOLMAN: Mississippi Republican Trent Lott called the move a “political stunt.”

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R), Mississippi: Is this what the business of the Senate is really all about, a nonbinding, irrelevant resolution proving what? Nothing.

KWAME HOLMAN: Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter agreed, but acknowledged he was one Republican who had lost confidence in the attorney general.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), Pennsylvania: And there is no doubt that the department, at the present time, is in shambles.

Controversy over attorney firings

KWAME HOLMAN: Gonzales has been under siege by Democrats and some Republicans since February, when the controversy surrounding last year's firing of eight U.S. prosecutors exploded into public view.

ALBERTO GONZALES, U.S. Attorney General: I never saw documents. We never had a discussion about where things stood.

KWAME HOLMAN: The attorney general's conflicting answers on his role in the firings have further angered members of both parties.

ALBERTO GONZALES: I don't remember where that conversation took place.

KWAME HOLMAN: And his inability to recall details of department discussions about the firings at an April hearing was criticized almost universally by members. But his most prominent defender during this time has been longtime friend President Bush, who again reiterated his support for Gonzales while traveling in Bulgaria today.

GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: They can try to have their votes of no-confidence, but it's not going to determine -- make the determination who serves in my government.

Republicans call vote political

KWAME HOLMAN: And in the Senate, most Republicans supported the president's contention that Democrats' motives were political. Utah's Orrin Hatch.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), Utah: My Democratic colleagues have to admit that they have no smoking gun. They cannot prove the allegations that they continue to repeat. There are plenty of innuendos, caricatures and characterization, but repeating talking-point sound bites and cliches is no substitute for evidence.

KWAME HOLMAN: Many Senate Democrats in turn argued Gonzales is to blame for more than just the attorney firings. They assailed him for running the traditionally independent Justice Department like an extended political arm of the White House.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), New York: Rule of law in the Gonzales regime, sadly, has apparently been an afterthought rather than a bedrock principle.

No plans for resignation

KWAME HOLMAN: Democrats needed 60 votes to bring up the resolution for a final vote. They failed to reach that number. Meanwhile, traveling in Alabama, Attorney General Gonzales said he had no plans to resign, but admitted the Senate's action was weighing on him.

ALBERTO GONZALES: Obviously, it's been a distraction and -- but I've got to remain disciplined and focused on what I think is important for the American people.

KWAME HOLMAN: Gonzales called his final 18 months in office a "sprint to the finish line."