Senators Block Vote on Gonzales
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
The Senate yesterday rejected a bid to conduct a vote of no confidence in Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, as Republicans declined to defend the embattled presidential confidant but rejected the effort as a political stunt.
On a 53 to 38 roll call, Democrats fell seven votes short of the 60 needed to invoke cloture and begin the debate on a resolution condemning Gonzales. Seven Republicans broke with the administration and refused to support the attorney general.
Democrats had hoped their one-sentence, nonbinding resolution would be a step toward forcing Gonzales, under siege for the firings of nine U.S. attorneys last year, to resign.
But Gonzales again vowed to stay in office through the remainder of President Bush's term, despite intense congressional scrutiny of the prosecutor firings and alleged politicization of other divisions in the Justice Department on his watch.
Democrats were aware that victory on the vote was unlikely, but they claimed a symbolic triumph in getting more than a handful of Republicans to join the effort to publicly shame the attorney general.
"We think we made another step forward. . . . He's not immune to persuasion," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), the author of the resolution.
The scandal grew out of the U.S. attorneys' firings and the multiple explanations provided for them, some of which have been contradicted by internal documents, public testimony from former aides and private interviews with current Justice officials.
Four members of Gonzales's inner circle have resigned or have announced their intention to resign. The department's inspector general and Office of Professional Responsibility are examining whether laws were broken in the allegedly politicized hiring of career prosecutors and immigration judges.
While the probes continue on Capitol Hill -- a House panel is set to announce another key hearing today -- Democrats moved yesterday to debate their no-confidence resolution, an effort for which chamber historians could find no parallel in Senate history. While a no-confidence vote, more common in parliamentary systems, is not provided for under congressional rules, Congress has the authority to impeach Cabinet officials.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has no plans to vote on a similar resolution in the House, although such a measure was offered last month by two junior Democrats, according to advisers.
Instead of defending Gonzales, a longtime friend of the president's from Texas, Republicans in the Senate attacked the resolution as political and designed to embarrass Gonzales and GOP senators.
"It'll be a 'gotcha' 30-second commercial," Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, predicted for those Republicans who voted to block cloture.