The Senate voted 60 to 36 yesterday to confirm Alberto R. Gonzales as attorney general, but only a handful of Democrats backed him after days of often strident debate over his role in setting controversial interrogation policies for detainees.
Gonzales, 49, becomes the first Hispanic attorney general in U.S. history. Within minutes of the vote, President Bush congratulated Gonzales, a longtime friend, by phone, and Vice President Cheney swore him in as attorney general at a private White House ceremony.
Alberto R. Gonzales applauds last month at hearings in which his role in detainee interrogation policy was attacked.
(Susan Walsh -- AP)
The Senate Vote|
The Senate voted 60 to 36 to confirm Alberto R. Gonzales as attorney general. Voting against confirmation were 35 Democrats and one independent. Three Democrats and one Republican did not vote.
Lincoln (Ark.), Boxer (Calif.), Feinstein (Calif.), Dodd (Conn.), Biden (Del.) , Carper (Del.), Akaka (Hawaii), Durbin (Ill.), Obama (Ill.), Bayh (Ind.) , Harkin (Iowa), Mikulski (Md.), Sarbanes (Md.), Kennedy (Mass.), Kerry (Mass.), Levin (Mich.), Stabenow (Mich.), Dayton (Minn.), Reid (Nev.), Corzine (N.J.), Lautenberg (N.J.), Bingaman (N.M.), Clinton (N.Y.), Schumer (N.Y.), Dorgan (N.D.), Wyden (Ore.), Reed (R.I.), Johnson (S.D.), Leahy (Vt.), Cantwell (Wash.), Murray (Wash.), Byrd (W.Va.), Rockefeller (W.Va.), Feingold (Wis.), Kohl (Wis.).
Landrieu (La.), Lieberman (Conn.), Nelson (Neb.), Nelson (Fla.), Pryor (Ark.) and Salazar (Colo.).
Democrats Not Voting
Baucus (Mont.), Conrad (N.D.), Inouye (Hawaii).
Republican Not Voting
Like Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Gonzales assumes one of the government's most prominent posts trailed by Democratic opposition that stems from the administration's war and terrorism policies. Gonzales could face the same kind of rocky relations with Congress as his predecessor, John D. Ashcroft.
With only six Democrats voting aye -- the smallest level of minority-party support in decades -- the Senate action provided further evidence that tensions between the two parties rival those during the Vietnam War and Watergate eras.
The confirmation culminated weeks of debate -- including three days on the Senate floor -- that focused on Gonzales's role in crafting administration policies that many Democrats say led to the torture and abuse of detainees at U.S. military facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The nominee was, as White House counsel, at the center of internal discussions in 2002 on how aggressively U.S. personnel could interrogate terrorism suspects without violating laws against torture. Gonzales also wrote in a legal opinion that some of the Geneva Conventions' human rights protections were "quaint" and did not apply to alleged al Qaeda or Taliban members.
GOP senators defended Gonzales, sometimes angrily, saying Democrats had distorted his record to attack Bush's Iraq policies. Some Democrats "have gone on at great length about what they misleadingly allege is the Bush administration's torture policy and how Judge Gonzales somehow acted to condone torture," Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said on the floor. "Nothing could be further from the truth."
Hatch said opponents blamed Gonzales "for a memo he did not write, prepared by an office he did not run, in a [Justice] department in which he did not work, that gave advice President Bush did not follow."
Gonzales testified at his confirmation hearing last month that "torture and abuse will not be tolerated by this administration."
Lawmakers from both parties praised Gonzales's remarkable personal history. He grew up poor in a Texas immigrant household but went on to study law at Harvard and, when Bush was Texas governor, to gain a seat on the state Supreme Court.
But a string of Democrats said Gonzales was unconvincing because he claimed not to recall details of his role in the drafting of an Aug. 1, 2002, Justice Department memo that narrowly defined what constituted torture and was disowned by the administration after it became public last year. The memo was requested by Gonzales and addressed to him, and numerous sources have said he chaired meetings that included discussions of simulated drownings and other harsh interrogation techniques.
Gonzales "was at the heart of the Bush administration's notorious decision to authorize our forces to commit flagrant acts of torture in the interrogation of detainees in Afghanistan, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).
Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, predicted that the heavy Democratic opposition to Gonzales will mean that, like Ashcroft, he will have difficult relations on Capitol Hill. Romero, whose organization has successfully obtained thousands of pages of government documents outlining the alleged abuse of U.S. prisoners held overseas, said the vote underscores lingering concerns over the Bush administration's policies.
"The confirmation of Mr. Gonzales will not close the whole discussion around torture; it's clearly only the beginning," Romero said in an interview. "There are just too many clouds hanging over Mr. Gonzales and the Justice Department at this point, and that's why you see this kind of opposition."
The ACLU and other advocacy groups also said the confirmation underscored the need for an independent commission to examine the Bush administration's interrogation and detention policies.
But defenders said Gonzales has been unduly maligned for his role in guiding policy on torture and detentions, and they said his legal experience and close relationship with Bush will serve him well as attorney general.
"He has the right combination of having the confidence of the president and also the ability to tell the president when the law is contrary to a particular policy direction," said Douglas W. Kmiec, a former Justice Department official who teaches constitutional law at Pepperdine University.
Kmiec predicted that Gonzales will avoid the limelight because he believes "decisions are best resolved in study and deliberation, not press release."
Not since 1925, when the Senate twice rejected attorney general nominee Charles B. Warren, has a nominee received as few minority-party votes as Gonzales did, according to Senate historians. Four years ago an evenly divided Senate voted 58 to 42 to confirm Ashcroft, with eight Democrats joining all 50 Republicans in backing the outspoken and often controversial former senator.
Most attorneys general have been confirmed easily, sometimes unanimously.
Aside from Ashcroft, the closest votes in recent decades involved Edwin Meese III (R), confirmed 63 to 31 in 1985, and Griffin B. Bell (D), confirmed 75 to 21 in 1977.