The Senate confirmed President Bush's choice for secretary of state and advanced his nominee for attorney general yesterday, but in the process, Democrats registered discontent with Bush's Iraq war policies to a degree that surprised even some of their party's leaders.
The Senate voted 85 to 13 to confirm Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state, providing the most negative votes cast against a nominee for that post in 180 years. Meanwhile, all eight Democrats on the Judiciary Committee voted against Bush's appointment of Alberto R. Gonzales as attorney general.
Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) told reporters that some Senate Democrats seemed to be venting emotions.
(Dennis Cook -- AP)
_____On the Hill_____Rice Confirmation
The following Senators voted against the confirmation of Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state:
Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii)
Evan Bayh (D-Ind.)
Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)
Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.)
Mark Dayton (D-Minn.)
Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.)
Tom Harkin (D-Iowa)
James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.)
Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.)
John F. Kerry (D-Mass.)
Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.)
Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.)
Jack Reed (D-R.I.)
Because the committee's 10 Republicans voted for Gonzales, his nomination will reach the full Senate, where leaders of both parties predicted he will be confirmed to succeed John D. Ashcroft. Still, some Republicans seemed surprised by the minority party's solidarity, and several Democrats acknowledged that a few weeks ago they had wondered if they could muster even four committee votes against Gonzales.
During a quiet moment yesterday, the Senate confirmed Mike Leavitt as secretary of health and human services by voice vote. Leavitt is the outgoing Environmental Protection Agency chief and a former Utah governor. Yesterday marked the second straight day that Democratic senators used high-profile nominations not to defeat Bush's appointees -- which they lack the votes to do -- but to attack the administration's policies on the torture of terrorism suspects and the execution of the Iraq war and transition. As in Tuesday's day-long debate on Rice's nomination, yesterday's criticisms came not only from liberal Democrats but also from more centrist or independent members who have backed the Bush administration on key issues.
For example, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) voted against Gonzales's confirmation even though he had voted in 2001 to confirm Ashcroft, a staunch conservative and an irritant to many liberal groups. Feingold told his committee colleagues that Gonzales "too often has seen the law as an obstacle to be dodged or cleared away in furtherance of the president's policies."
Republicans defended Rice and Gonzales, sometimes a bit testily, and suggested that Democrats were trying to score political points on sure-to-fail missions. At the Judiciary Committee meeting, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said: "You may not agree with Judge Gonzales, but my gosh, this man is an honorable, decent person who deserves to be confirmed." He said Gonzales "made it very clear that he knows the difference between being attorney general, where he represents all the people, and being White House counsel, where he's basically representing the president."
Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters that some Democrats seemed to be venting emotions in "a forum in which really heartfelt and sincere thoughts . . . could be expressed to a national audience" for the first time since the Nov. 2 elections. In the criticisms of Rice, he said, "my feeling was that there was a certain amount of therapy going on."
Others, however, said Democrats are reflecting the growing dismay that many Americans feel about events in Iraq, including the steady U.S. casualties and scandals, such as the Abu Ghraib prison abuse.
"At some level, the nominations themselves are inside baseball for voters," Democratic pollster Geoff Garin said. "But what's happening in Iraq is not inside baseball. My bet is there are lots of people who are standing up and feeling good about Democrats saying the administration needs to be held accountable." Only 44 percent of Americans think the war is worth fighting, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Some people had predicted that Senate Democrats would be more docile after losing four seats and their longtime party leader in the November elections, Garin noted, but, in fact, "part of the lesson that a lot of Democrats have drawn from the past two elections is that Democrats have to stand up more clearly and solidly for what they believe in."
Not since 1825 -- when 14 of the Senate's 48 members voted against Henry Clay -- have so many senators opposed a secretary of state nominee. Even at the height of the Vietnam War in 1973, Henry A. Kissinger's nomination drew only seven negative votes.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) praised Rice, saying in a statement that she "will apply her long experience and her extraordinary skill to meet the greatest challenges of our time: fighting the war on terror and advancing democracy around the globe."
Yesterday's discussion of Gonzales, currently the White House counsel, again focused on his role in the preparation of two administration memos written in 2002 outlining the permissible limits of harsh interrogations of terrorism suspects in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Although Gonzales testified earlier this month that he renounces torture, senators said he also signaled his belief that the president can override legal constraints if he wishes.
"Under his restrictive redefinition [of torture], such practices as threatening a prisoner with a firearm in a mock execution, 'waterboarding' a person to make him experience the suffocating effects of drowning and . . . perhaps even cutting off a person's fingers one joint at a time would not amount to 'torture,' " said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), the Judiciary Committee's ranking Democrat. "Every one of us in this room would consider these practices torture if they were done to a member of the U.S. military or done to an American citizen."
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he had been inclined to vote in favor of Gonzales but was dismayed by the nominee's unenlightening answers to senators' questions about his role in the shaping of interrogation policies. "He was so circumspect in his answers, so unwilling to leave a micron of space between his views and the president's, that I now have real doubts whether he can perform the job of attorney general," Schumer said. "It's hard to be a straight shooter if you're a blind loyalist."
The committee's GOP members bristled at such comments but said they would defend Gonzales at length when his nomination reaches the Senate floor, perhaps next week.
Research editor Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.