Reporting for his first day as attorney general, Alberto R. Gonzales told Justice Department employees that their priority will remain combating terrorism, but "in a way that's consistent with our values."
Gonzales was opposed by many Democrats because of his work on administration policies that they said led to the abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Speaking to employees yesterday, he alluded to the controversy but emphasized his heritage as the grandson of Mexican immigrants and other up-from-poverty stories among members of President Bush's Cabinet. He said they have lived the American dream.
"It's historically the case that it falls upon the shoulders of the attorney general to ensure that that dream is available," said Gonzales, the nation's first Hispanic in the office.
Gonzales's agenda includes lobbying Congress for the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act, the Justice Department's main anti-terrorism law, parts of which have been criticized by civil liberties advocates, many Democrats and some Republicans, and following through on his promise to the Senate to prosecute anyone who tortured or abused foreign detainees.
He reminded Justice employees that Bush has said their top job is protecting the country from future acts of terrorism. "But we will do so in a way that's consistent with our values, consistent with our legal obligations," said Gonzales, who spoke in an ornate atrium near his new office.
Despite praise for Gonzales's acumen, his life story and his extensive work with Senate Democrats on judicial nominations and other administration issues, he was confirmed on a 60 to 36 vote with 35 of the "no" votes coming from Democrats and the other from Democratic-leaning independent James M. Jeffords of Vermont. Six Democrats voted to confirm him.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said "I like and respect Judge Gonzales as a person and as an inspiration" but "I am unsure Judge Gonzales is the right man for this crucial job."
Critics said they could not look past his participation in administration policies that they said led to the abuse of detainees. They also complained that he had refused to answer questions on how those policies were created inside the White House.