KWAME HOLMAN: The Senate today moved toward completing debate and taking a final vote on Attorney General Nominee John Ashcroft, the last and most controversial of President Bush's cabinet appointments. Ashcroft has not been seen nor heard from publicly since he completed his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee two weeks ago, but there has been no shortage of Republican surrogates willing to speak out on his behalf.
SEN. JON KYL, (R) Arizona: A man of great integrity, a man of unquestioned intelligence and experience, in fact, the most experienced nominee ever for the position of Attorney General; a man who repeatedly was elected by his constituents in Missouri who had every opportunity to view him as an extremist if that in fact had been the case, but it was not; and a man who served in this body for six years, and during that time was a friend, I suspect, of virtually everybody in the body because they knew him, they liked him, they trusted him, and they worked with him. And therefore, it is perplexing and hurtful to me to see some of the things that have been said about him in connection with this nomination.
SEN. BOB SMITH, (R) New Hampshire: Bipartisanship? I tell you how far it reaches: When we agree with them; that's when we get bipartisanship; they never come to agree with us. And that's what this debate is about. It's about the continuation of the election. The election is over. Hello, the election is over, folks. The President of the United States has picked his cabinet, that is the right thing to do, and every one of you know it. And to get into this character assassination of racism, anti-Catholic, anti-gay, anti-this, anti-that, there is not a shred of evidence about John Ashcroft that would indicate that. And you ought to examine your conscience before you vote.
KWAME HOLMAN: Consequently, opposition to Ashcroft has come solely from Democrats.
SEN. BARBARA MIKULSKI, (D) Maryland: Until the confirmation hearing, I believed him to be a man of great integrity. I had no doubt about the integrity. But all of a sudden there were two John Ashcrofts: the pre-hearing John Ashcroft, who was Attorney General, as Governor of Missouri, and here on the Senate floor, had one set of beliefs. I respect those beliefs. People are entitled to their beliefs. But all of a sudden, in the confirmation hearing, his beliefs no longer mattered to him. If you fundamentally oppose, as he did, in the issues of civil rights, in terms of the access of women to be able to have reproductive services, how is it that you could have so passionate beliefs day, and say they didn't matter and you'll put them on the shelf?
KWAME HOLMAN: One Democrat, Schumer of New York, was almost apologetic about his opposition.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER, (D) New York: And I wanted and strained to give the President his choice. And to have to oppose somebody, no less a colleague, is not easy. It requires some thought and some fortitude, and so it's a sad day for me as Senator.
KWAME HOLMAN: The partisan divide over Ashcroft was evident in yesterday's 10-8 Judiciary Committee vote for the nominee. Only the yes vote of Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold avoided an absolute party line split. Ashcroft's supporters hoped more Democrats would speak out on his behalf on the Senate floor. This afternoon, one did-- Robert Byrd of West Virginia.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD, (D) West Virginia: Although I do not agree with all of his views, as I've already indicated, I have no cause to doubt that Senator Ashcroft's word or his concern regarding his fealty to an oath that he took before God and man. And as far as I'm personally concerned, it would be an act of supreme arrogance on my part to doubt his intentions to honor that oath. Given Senator Ashcroft's background and positions of which he has been nominated, and his assurances to the Senate that he will faithfully uphold the law of the United States, I shall vote to confirm him. I now yield the floor.
KWAME HOLMAN: Senators from both parties expressed the hope today that a final vote on John Ashcroft can occur tomorrow.