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Text: Judiciary Committee Debates Ashcroft Nomination
Tuesday, January 30, 2001 Following is the transcript of the Senate Judiciary Committee's meeting to vote on the nomination of former senator John D. Ashcroft for attorney general.
JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN ORRIN G. HATCH (R-UTAH): If we could have order, I'm pleased that we are moving to the committee consideration of John Ashcroft, President Bush's choice for attorney general of the United States.
I also want to express my gratitude and thanks to the ranking member, Senator Leahy, and my other colleagues on this committee for agreeing to move this executive meeting forward one day to expedite his consideration and, hopefully, ultimate confirmation before the end of this week.
Now, I understand that it is the majority leader's intention to begin debating the nomination on the floor of the Senate as soon as possible so that all members who have an interest in speaking on the qualifications of Senator Ashcroft will have a right to do so.
It is important that we confirm Senator Ashcroft as soon as possible so that he may begin enforcing the nation's laws.
Now, Senator Ashcroft is no stranger to this committee. He served on this committee with distinction for over the past four years, working closely with members on both sides of the aisle. As a member of the committee, he proved himself a leader in many areas, including the fight against drugs and violence, the assessment of the proper role of the Justice Department and the protection of victims' rights.
But, having heard the relentless drumbeat of accusation after accusation in recent weeks, I can fairly say, in my view, that there has been an unyielding effort to redefine this man of unlimited integrity. Some have termed the statements made by John Ashcroft at the hearing a, quote, "confirmation conversion," unquote, quote, "a metamorphosis," unquote. On the contrary, the true metamorphosis of John Ashcroft is in the misleading picture painted of him by narrow left-wing interest groups.
As my colleagues are well aware, John Ashcroft has an impressive, almost 30-year record of loyal public service as state attorney general, a two-term governor, and then, of course, as senator for the state of Missouri.
I should also mention that as Missouri's attorney general, he was so well respected, he was elected by his peers across the nation to head the National Association of Attorneys General. And again, as governor, he was elected by the nation's governors to serve as the head of the National Governors Association.
I have said this before, and I will say it again. Of the 67 attorneys general we have had, only a handful even come close to having some of the qualifications that John Ashcroft brings in assuming the position of chief law enforcement officer of this great nation.
The Department of Justice, of course, encompasses a broad jurisdiction. It includes agencies ranging from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States attorneys of this country, to the Bureau of Prisons.
It includes, among other things, enforcement of the law in areas including antitrust, terrorism, fraud, money laundering, organized crime, drugs and immigration.
To effectively prevent and manage crises in these important areas, one thing is certain: We need at the helm a no-nonsense person with the background and experience of John Ashcroft.
Those charged with enforcing the law of the nation must demonstrate both a proper understanding of that law and a determination to uphold that law and the spirit of the law.
This is the standard I have applied to nominees in the past, and this is the standard I am applying to John Ashcroft here today in my full-hearted support of his nomination to be the next attorney general of the United States of America.
Senator Ashcroft appeared before this committee for two days and answered all of the questions completely honestly and with the utmost humility. After the inaugural weekend, he received over 400 questions, some of which I read to you last week. He completely answered these follow-up questions that the senators, both on and off this committee, sent to him. He has testified both orally and in writing that he will uphold the laws of the United States regardless of his religious views on a policy which, within his constitutional duties as a senator, he may have advocated changing.
He understands his role as the chief law enforcement officer of this nation. We saw at the four days of hearings that even when he disagreed with their policies he has an undisputed record of enforcing the laws. This was the case with respect to abortion laws, gun laws or laws relating to the separation of church and state, just to mention a few.
As someone who both knows John Ashcroft as a person and who is familiar with his distinguished, almost 30-year record of enforcing and upholding the law, I can tell you that I feel a great sense of comfort and newfound security in his nomination to be our nation's chief law enforcement officer.
My dear colleagues, we have served with John Ashcroft and we know that he is a man of integrity, committed to the rule of law and the Constitution. We know that he is a man of compassion, faith and devotion to family. We know that he is a man of impeccable credentials and many accomplishments.
I am not asking nor advocating that a different standard be applied to his nomination than is applied to other nominees. I am simply saying that you have worked with him and know him to be a man of his word. He is not the man unfairly painted as an extremist by left-wing activists, who have reportedly threatened senators in their reelection bids if they vote for his confirmation.
Now, I ask that we evaluate this man based on his record, his testimony and based on your personal experiences with him. Even the New York Times had an editorial last week saying, "John Ashcroft is no extremist."
Sometimes in life, though, the measure of a person is best seen during times of adversity. So it is with John Ashcroft, who, after a difficult battle for something that meant a great deal to him, re-election to the Senate, resisted calls to challenge the outcome of that election. His own words during that difficult time say it best, quote, "Some things are more important than politics and I believe doing what's right is the most important thing we can do. I think as public officials, we have the opportunity to model values for our culture, responsibility, dignity, decency, integrity and respect. And if we can only model those when it's politically expedient to do so, we've never modeled the values. We've only modeled political expediency," unquote.
Contrary to what a few special interest groups with a narrow political agenda would have us believe--and they have a right to assert their agenda, I'm not disputing that--these are not the words of an extremist or a divisive ideologue. These are the words of a fine public servant who is a man of his word and of faith and who is willing to do the right thing, even when it means putting himself last.
Again, I ask that, in keeping with our promise to work on a bipartisan fashion, we reject the politics of division. If we want to encourage the most qualified citizens to serve in government, we must do everything we can to stop what has been termed the politics of personal destruction.
All of us, both Democrats and Republicans, know the difference between legitimate policy debate and unwarranted personal attacks, promoted and sometimes urged by narrow interest groups on both ends of the spectrum. In that regard, when Janet Reno came up, we had two days of hearings only of Janet Reno. Senator Biden was chairman, I was ranking member. And we refused to allow outside groups, and there were many of them who requested the right to come in and testify, except in writing. And we gave her the benefit of the doubt. When she said she would enforce the laws, we gave her the benefit of the doubt.
I am hoping that my colleagues will do the same for our esteemed colleagues. But some of the things that I've seen indicate to me that the benefit of the doubt is given to the other side and not to the esteemed senator who served with us.
Now, I was deeply saddened to read a New York Times report the day following the release of the Bob Jones University transcript that, quote, "The leader of a major liberal group opposing Mr. Ashcroft's nomination expressed disappointment that the comments were not much different from those many politicians offer in religious settings," unquote. They quoted this, quote, "leader," unquote, as saying, quote, "This clearly will not do it," unquote. They quoted this leader as saying, quote, "'This clearly will not do it,' this person said of hopes that the speech might help defeat the nomination," unquote, but, of course, found out that it was a reasonable speech.
Also, let me note that some opponents have changed that Senator Ashcroft's answers at the hearing and his written answers to the approximately 400 questions--now, this was without precedent as far as I know--by committee members were evasive. Wrong. Throughout, Senator Ashcroft has consistently and persuasively responded that he will enforce the law irrespective of his personal views.
And, again, I've seen a failure to give him the benefit of the doubt with regard to his answers to these questions. His long and distinguished record in Missouri supports his commitment to follow and observe the rule of law, but this record is ignored.
Let's face it, for some of those looking to oppose him, he simply cannot do anything right. When he answers questions in detail to attempt to explain his record, he's termed evasive because he simply should have answered, quote, ``yes,'' unquote, if he really meant it. When he answers a question with a simple and straightforward yes, he's accused of not confronting the issue completely.
So let us be clear. John Ashcroft is strongly pro-life. He always has been, as far as I know, and I expect he always will be. He is a deeply religious man. He always has been, as far as I know, and I expect he always will be.
But implied within that is a man of conscience who does what he says he'll do. He is strenuously committed, he has always been strenuously committed to a policy of equal justice and opportunity for all and has a long record which supports this commitment.
But he opposed Mr. Hormel for his ambassadorship, as did a number of his colleagues. He opposed Bill Lann Lee, as did nine other Republicans on this committee, including myself, while at the same time acknowledging that Mr. Lee is a fine person, but believing that he was not committed to the rule of law. And he opposed Justice Ronnie White. Now, this is the record upon which many paint John Ashcroft as a right-wing extremist, and I certainly disagree.
Let me simply conclude by repeating the words of John Ashcroft, which I cited earlier. Quote, "Some things are more important than politics, and I believe doing what's right is the most important thing we can do," unquote.
I only hope my colleagues will heed these words as they consider their vote, and I urge my colleagues to vote yes on this nomination, and I hope that we can finish this within an expeditious time today.
JUDICIARY COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER PATRICK J. LEAHY (D-VT.): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And welcome back.
When you speak of expeditious matters, I think we've moved very expeditiously, especially because we have not followed the example set on the other side during the past six years with President Clinton's nominations. In fact, for that matter, even the other side when their own president, I think the nomination of Attorney General Meese took 13 months. The noncontroversial nomination of Attorney General Reno took a month. And we're talking about a nomination where the White House, for their own reasons, did not send the nomination the Hill until yesterday.
So actually this nomination has been here, the actual nomination has been here for 24 hours. And we moved ahead of that time, we moved even before the president's inaugural to have the hearings.
As you know, under our rules, this committee meeting would normally be held tomorrow. I said we'd hold it today. I knew you were going to be back in Washington, and we'd hold it, literally, within hours of your return. I've tried to be fair and I'm trying to be thorough, but I've tried to be expeditious in my handling of this nomination.
I oppose the nomination based on the record. I take no pleasure in having reached this decision. I called both Senator Ashcroft yesterday and the White House to let them know. I voted or will be voting to confirm nearly all the president's Cabinet nominees, as I did the last two or last three Republican presidents I've served here with.
I'm going to be working with the new attorney general on a very regular basis as ranking member of this committee, so nobody here would want more to be able to vote for him for those reasons, if none alone. And I've had the privilege of working with John Ashcroft during the six years he served as a United States senator. Most of us know him and like him. I admire his devotion, both to his family and to his religion. I think these are wonderful characteristics. So I'm not always in agreement with him on some of his political issues, but I respect his commitment to the principles he firmly holds and I respect the right of any senator to act on those principles.
But the president spoke that he recognized the deep differences divide us, he pledged to work to build a single nation of justice and opportunity. I applaud him for those remarks. And the day of the inauguration, I made a point to tell President Bush how much those remarks meant to me.
But these are the crucial weeks and months after a very divisive election. They're a sensitive time. We should have hope and healing allowed to emerge. That hope and healing are very fragile. It's like the first buds of the sugar maple back home.
You appoint the top law enforcement officer, this is where you should start bringing people together. Remember, the attorney general is not the president's counsel; he has a counsel for that. The attorney general is there for every one of us, Democrats, Republicans, rich, poor, white, black, no matter who you are. So the Senate can mend the divisions we see in this country only if we follow our constitutional responsibilities.
I wish the president sent an attorney general who would unite us, instead of dividing us. The national polls show this did not happen. We have the most divisive nomination for attorney general that I can remember in the 26 years I've been here in the Senate. I think it was a crucial miscalculation.
Now, the distinguished chairman has said he is concerned about political pressure groups. Well, frankly, the only political pressure group that have had a decisive role in this domination are the far right-wing elements of the Republican Party who insisted on this particular nominee and bragged that they had vetoed other more moderate candidates for this job.
We have, in one paper, "GOP conservatives derailed Racicot for attorney general, and then bragged about it." Again, in the New York Times an editorial laying out very clearly the single-issue groups, they came to the press and said, "We decided who was going to be attorney general." I have not heard any group, left or right, say, "We've decided we're not going to have John Ashcroft." We've had one group of special interest lobbyists who've said, "We will have John Ashcroft."
Now, I don't think this is a nomination that speaks to those who doubt American justice. I think that the attorney general is the most important person in the Cabinet, because unlike other members of the Cabinet, this is somebody who represents all of us, not there just to represent administration policy. You should have evenhanded law enforcement, protection of our basic constitutional rights, including the freedom of speech, the right to privacy, a woman's right to choose, freedom from government oppression, and equal protection of the laws.
I'm not opposing this nomination because I disagree with the nominee on ideological grounds. I'm not applying the Ashcroft standard that he applied to Bill Lann Lee and a number of other presidential nominations over the past six years. My conclusion is based on his record as attorney general, and then governor of Missouri, as a United States senator, and his testimony here.
He took the same oath of office as attorney general of Missouri that he'd take as attorney general of the United States, but he now tells us he'll act differently this time than he did then.
Can you think of any position in our government that can affect us in more ways--everybody in this room, everybody outside, all 280 million Americans--anything that affects us more than that of attorney general? No position in the Cabinet is more vulnerable to politicization by one who puts ideology and politics above the law.
We have, as I said, 280 million Americans, yet only 100 of us get a chance to vote on this nomination, only 100 of us. I've served here with President Ford, President Carter, President Reagan, President Bush, President Clinton and now President George W. Bush. I believe very strongly in giving a lot of credibility and a lot of flexibility to the president of the United States. But to me advise and consent does not advise and rubber-stamp, and I'm not going to do that here.
I cherish the friendships of the hundreds of senators with whom I've served, but I do not believe in some kind of a senatorial courtesy on any issue as important as the attorney general. We need somebody who'd give confidence in the Justice Department. The American people are not united in that confidence.
Now, you know, we are prepared to go forward, as I've told you before, Mr. Chairman, and we have no objection to moving up this meeting. I am glad the White House has now sent the nomination up here, and I'd hope we'd go. But I notice, though, we have a situation--what do you want to do? Do you want to recess?
HATCH: Well, why don't we do this. We have a vote on. We have about three minutes to get there, plus they'll reserve another five. Why don't we all go over, vote? But I hope everybody'll be here, because I intend to let everybody have their say, and then we're going to vote on this. And I hope it won't be too late tonight...
LEAHY: ... have the votes back to back.
HATCH: Well, they'll have them back to back. I'd suggest we wait for the second vote, and vote, and then immediately come back here.
LEAHY: I will urge everybody to get back.
HATCH: So if you'll urge your side, I certainly hope our side will...
LEAHY: No question.
HATCH: We need to be here for this debate, and we'll finish as soon as we get through these two votes. So we'll recess until then.
HATCH: OK, if we could have order. We're going to proceed. Senator Grassley is not here and Senator Specter would like to make his statement at this time. And hopefully we can get the rest of our senators here, but I'd like to move this along, because otherwise we're going to be here for a long time.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA.): Mr. Chairman, can I say at the start...
HATCH: Senator Specter?
SPECTER: ... that if we can, bring some more people in from the outside. There are a lot of people...
HATCH: Yes, I would like--officers, please move that line over on the back row, all the way over to the wall, and then allow as many people to come in as you can. There are groups that are both opposed and for Senator Ashcroft, and I think as many of them as we can get in, we ought to do that, and we ought to show courtesy to both sides. And I intend to do that.
HATCH: All right, Senator Specter, we'll turn to you now and then we'll turn to Senator Kennedy next.
SPECTER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
At the outset, I think it is important to focus on the standard for a Cabinet nomination, which is fundamentally different from a judicial appointment, which is a lifetime appointment, and focus on the latitude which is customarily accorded the president in making a selection on a Cabinet nominee.
I do support former Senator Ashcroft for attorney general. And I do so, in substantial measure, because of the record he has compiled as an elected official in Missouri and because of my personal knowledge of him. He was twice elected attorney general of Missouri, he was twice elected governor of Missouri, he was elected senator of Missouri. And Missouri is a moderate state, I think very much like my own state, Pennsylvania: two big cities, lot of farmland. And the characteristics of the electorate in Missouri, who have elected him five times to major offices, I think, speaks well of Senator Ashcroft in rejecting the notion that he is an extremist.
The John Ashcroft whom I have known for six years in the United States Senate is not an extremist. He sat a couple of seats down on the Judiciary Committee. And, although, we did not agree on many items, I always felt he was exercising his honest judgment.
He was a candidate for president, and it may be that in the course of that candidacy, expressed some views, as candidates sometimes do, which try to appeal a constituency. But from what I have seen, on this committee and in the Senate, he is not an extremist.
He and I had a very sharp disagreement on a judicial nominee, Philadelphia Common Police Judge Massiah-Jackson. And she was, in effect, rejected by the committee, formerly withdrew her nomination. And she was challenged as being soft on crime because of her record on sentences. And at the end of a very long and difficult and contentious proceeding, including a hearing before this committee, as I say, she did withdraw. But at the end of the process, it was my view that John Ashcroft had expressed his own judgment about it which differed from mine. And I bring in the Judge Massiah-Jackson case because of some similarities which it would to the case involving Missouri Supreme Court Justice White.
I said in the hearing that I thought that we did not accord Judge White the kind of consideration that should have been accorded, because our practices are to rely principally on staff, the ABA recommendation, the FBI investigation, without individual senators paying as much attention to the district court nominees as we might. And I intent to propose a rule change that in the event someone is going to speak adversely about a nominee, that there be an opportunity for the nominee to respond, and the committee should focus specifically on any charges which are brought.
But I do think that, at the conclusion, Senator Ashcroft expressed his own honest views. And I think it is important to note that when Judge White appeared before the committee, he did not ask that Senator Ashcroft be rejected, he raised the question as to whether Senator Ashcroft had the qualities to be an attorney general and left it up to the committee to decide.
Senator Ashcroft made a number of important commitments to the committee.
We questioned him at great length on the difference between a legislator and a member of the executive branch who enforces the law. He said categorically that he would not choose to change Roe v. Wade but would be bound to enforce the law as it stood. He spoke emphatically about his commitment to enforce access to abortion clinics. And it was worth noting that, while in the Senate, on a vote on whether someone who had a judgment against them for blocking an abortion clinic--and there was one case where there was an enormous judgment in excess of $100 million--that that individual ought not to be dischargeable in bankruptcy, which I think is an indication as to his sentiments on that important subject.
Senator Ashcroft also made very firm commitments on recognizing the distinction between church and state and committed that, to the extent he was involved, there would be no litmus test on the selection of Supreme Court nominees.
There were challenges made to what Senator Ashcroft had done as attorney general on the segregation cases. Former Senator Danforth appeared--Former Senator Danforth, himself, had been a Missouri attorney general and spoke about his evaluation of John Ashcroft as being a vigorous advocate.
There was a question raised as to whether Attorney General Ashcroft--state Attorney General Ashcroft had used the litigation process inappropriately. He was not held in contempt. He was not sanctioned under the federal rules, which he could have been. So that on the basis of that issue and the other objections which have been raised, it seems to me that this is a nomination and a nominee where we ought to accord the traditional latitude to the president.
And very briefly stated, Mr. Chairman, I intend to vote for his confirmation.
HATCH: Thank you so much, Senator Specter.
Senator Kennedy, we'll turn to you. And I hope we can all make short statements. And we've reached a point where we need to vote. And I want no one to cut anybody off, but I do want to make sure that we get through this in an expeditious time.
LEAHY: And Mr. Chairman, I would note, again, we had no objection to beginning debate as though in morning business as of right now on the floor. But I would also note that those who could speak best to this issue are right here in this room on both sides of the aisle.
HATCH: That's why I want to be expeditious.
LEAHY: So I don't want people to think that there's not an interest that they don't see them on the floor. They're here. But we are trying to help you out. We've agreed to just about every unanimous consent request that's been asked.
HATCH: Well, we appreciate it. And I appreciate the cooperation because of--let's move along.
SEN. EDWARD M. KENNEDY (D-MASS.): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
And I want to, at the outset, thank our chairman for the hearings on the Ashcroft, Senator Leahy, for the way that the hearings were conducted and the fairness, as always, that he reflected during the course of those hearings.
Two weeks ago, our committee began four days of hearings on the nomination of Senator Ashcroft to be attorney general. In addition to Senator Ashcroft's testimony, the committee heard from over a dozen witnesses, both supporters and opponents, about his record as a senator, as a governor of Missouri and as attorney general of Missouri.
In those hearings, the nominee engaged in a remarkable revisionist remaking of his record. The relentless opponent of voluntary desegregation in St. Louis said he was now committed to the cause of equal opportunity for all Americans. The supporter of Southern Partisan Magazine and the recipient of an honorary degree from Bob Jones University said he was now an advocate of inclusiveness and tolerance. The past architect of an intensive legal strategy to dismantle Roe v. Wade became the defender and protector of a woman's right to choice. The outspoken advocate of unfettered Second Amendment rights said he was committed to enforcing the nation's gun control laws. The leading opponent of the nominations of David Satcher, Bill Lann Lee, James Hormel and Ronnie White said he opposed ideological litmus tests and the politics of personal destruction.
But actions speak louder than words. And in the case of Senator Ashcroft, his 30-year record of intense opposition on so many critical issues involving civil rights, women's rights, gun control and nominations speak volumes and demonstrate clearly and convincingly that he is the wrong person to be attorney general of the United States.
Among the most troubling aspect of Senator Ashcroft's record was his unremitting hostility to voluntary desegregation by the city of St. Louis. For 16 years, eight as attorney general and eight as governor, Senator Ashcroft opposed these efforts. Instead of devoting his influence and ability to helping solve the problem, he became part of the problem.
Also disturbing was Senator Ashcroft's misrepresentations of key facts when asked by members of the committee about his opposition to the voluntary desegregation efforts in St. Louis. More than once, Senator Ashcroft stated to the committee that the state of Missouri was not responsible for the segregation in St. Louis schools and was not a party to the lawsuit. Yet multiple rulings by the federal district court and the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals demonstrate that both of these statements were wrong.
As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch commented in an editorial just last week, "The most disturbing part of Mr. Ashcroft's testimony was the way in which he misstated important parts of his record. Mr. Ashcroft said the state had not been guilty of segregating the St. Louis schools. The state was the main wrongdoer. The nation deserves more than distortions and denials from a potential attorney general."
For decades, Senator Ashcroft also has been a staunch opponent of gun control legislation. From the Brady bill to the assault weapons ban to child safety locks to background checks on gun purchasers, Senator Ashcroft has been on the forefront of the battle against bipartisan efforts to reduce gun violence in America. His extreme reading of the Second Amendment makes him an intransigent opponent of our efforts to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and children. We need an attorney general who will strongly enforce and defend our gun control laws, not undermine them. Senator Ashcroft is not that person.
In addition, Senator Ashcroft's record in opposing judicial and nonjudicial nomination reveals a disturbing pattern and practice of distortions. In case after case--Ronnie White, James Hormel, David Satcher, Bill Lann Lee--Senator Ashcroft's vehement criticism cannot be reconciled with the facts.
Ashcroft told the Senate in 1999 and stated in his testimony before the committee this month that Ronnie White was soft on the death penalty, had a tremendous bent towards criminality and was opposed by law enforcement. Yet the facts prove that Judge White voted to uphold the death penalty more often than the Ashcroft-appointed judge he replaced on the Missouri Supreme Court, and had the support of several law enforcement organizations, including one of Missouri's largest, the Fraternal Order of Police.
Senator Ashcroft testified that he opposed Ambassador Hormel's nomination based on the totality of the record and not Hormel's sexual orientation. Yet two years ago, when asked about that nomination, Senator Ashcroft stated that homosexuality was a sin and that a person's sexual conduct is within what could be considered and what is eligible for consideration.
The person who serves as attorney general must inspire the trust and respect of all Americans. Inscribed in stone over the center entrance to the Department of Justice is this phrase: "The place of justice is a hallowed place."
All Americans deserve to have confidence that when the next attorney general walks through the doors of justice and into that hallowed place, he will be serving them, too. On the basis of his record, tens of millions of Americans can have no such confidence. I therefore oppose this nomination.
HATCH: Thank you, Senator Kennedy.
SEN. JON KYL (R-ARIZ.): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
In view of the brevity of Senator Kennedy's statement just now, and I know he feels very strongly in opposition to this, I'll be even more brief rather than trying to refute point by point a number of points which I believe can and should be refuted, but we can do that in written statements on the floor.
I simply disagree with my colleagues, Senator Leahy and Senator Kennedy, when they characterize John Ashcroft's positions as they sometimes have done. I think in some cases they go too far and it is unfair and not supported by the record. In other cases, it's simply a matter of subjective difference of opinion.
But even when it's just a matter of subjective difference of opinion, I think there is an element of--well, let me put it a different way.
Senator Leahy once stated, I think quite eloquently, the standard that ordinarily would be applied in the case of a Justice Department nominee, in connection with Walter Dellinger's nomination. I think that was a fine statement of the standard that we should be applying. And if we do that in the case of John Ashcroft, I think he would be confirmed.
I think that some of the statements made about our former colleague here, do not give to him the benefit of the doubt that ordinarily would be conferred upon a nominee for this position. And I find that troubling, not just because everyone here knows John Ashcroft personally, but because he is the selection of President Bush. So that, to me, is troubling.
Without getting into the specifics, as I said, because I'll do that on the floor, I just want to conclude with this comment, because I think that everybody's mind, probably on this committee, is made up. But I've made mistakes in votes that I've cast before. Probably the ones that I feel worst about are cases in which I voted against a nominee for one position or another. In the heat of the moment, you can work yourself up to opposing someone, especially someone you don't know very well. In fact, especially someone that you don't know very much about.
What I found is that with the passage of time, I've regretted some of the negative votes that I've cast. I don't think I've regretted any affirmative votes that I've cast, even though in the case of many of the Clinton administration nominees, I don't much like what they stood for, I don't much like what they did. And I knew in advance, in a couple of cases, that I wasn't going to like what they did. And yet, in retrospect, I don't regret those votes, but I do regret a couple of votes in which I voted against people.
And I just ask my colleagues to think carefully about that. In a year, in two years, in four years, while John Ashcroft is still the attorney general and after that point in time, will you feel good about a negative vote? And even if you feel OK about that negative vote, will you look back--and I don't make this comment to any senator in particular, I'm using a general "you" here--but will you look back on the things that were said about the nominee with some regret? I know my colleagues on this committee are all very thoughtful people and they'll consider these views very carefully before they cast their vote.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
HATCH: Thank you, Senator Kyl.
SEN. JOSEPH R. BIDEN (D-DEL.): Mr. Chairman, I ask unanimous...
LEAHY: I don't get to respond?
HATCH: If you want to.
LEAHY: I just, very briefly--because the senator does bring up the Dellinger comment often, that, as he knows, is comparing apples with oranges. This was not for attorney general, this was for somebody who had worked for the attorney general. This was somebody, also, who had passed out unanimously, unanimously from the Senate Judiciary Committee--and we're not suggesting that Senator Ashcroft will. He'd been held up by secret holds on the Republican side for six months. He was then subjected to a filibuster. And only after the filibuster did he get to be voted on. I was saying we ought to give him a vote up or down.
I do believe the president should be given the benefit of the doubt. I've supported 13 of the 15 nominations so far of President Bush, and I expect that I'll probably be supporting hundreds more.
HATCH: Thank you.
BIDEN: Mr. Chairman, I'd ask unanimous consent that my whole statement be placed in the record.
HATCH: Without objection. We'll place all statements in the record if not fully given, and we hope you can summarize.
BIDEN: Mr. Chairman, this is for me, as I suspect all of us, at once a very simple and extremely difficult vote. It's a simple vote, because if I apply the standard I've applied the last 28 years I've been a senator, it's clear how I should vote. It's difficult because I don't like voting no on any nominee, particularly one that I know and one with whom I've had a good relation, a personal relationship.
But as I indicated at the outset, the opening statement, I read a statement that everyone thought was my opening statement for the Ashcroft hearing, when, in fact, I was just rereading my statement that I had delivered in 1984, I believe it was, that was the Meese statement.
I started off indicating that I think that this Cabinet position is the single most unique position of any Cabinet office. For it's the only one where the nominee or the Cabinet officer has an equally strong and stronger, quite frankly, responsibility to the American people as he does to the person who nominates him.
Secretary of state does not have that problem, the secretary of defense, the secretary of commerce, et cetera. Obviously, they all must uphold the Constitution.
But the attorney general of the United States is both the president's lawyer and the people's lawyer. And I indicated almost 16 years ago, what I reiterated 16 days ago, and I reiterate now that for the office of attorney general, first, the question is whether the attorney general is willing to vigorously enforce all the laws in the Constitution, even though he might have philosophical disagreements; and then second, whether he possessed the standing and temperament that will permit the vast majority of the American people to believe that you can and will protect and enforce their individual rights.
I realize there's a lot of people who have disagreements with Senator Ashcroft's views as he voted on the floor of the United States Senate and as his performance as governor. I came here for one reason and I focus my concern on one area, and that is civil rights.
The fact of the matter is that, in my view, Senator Ashcroft has demonstrated repeatedly bad judgment, at a minimum, on matters relating to enforcement of civil rights and the attitude he has towards minorities, particularly African Americans, an insensitivity in the extreme.
You know, if you look at 10 percent of the American population, particularly--and I realize that it's not just African Americans, but I want to focus on that for just a moment. They've had, basically, two places to go to redress the imbalance that exists in society against them over the past couple hundred years. And in this century, it has been the courts and the Justice Department.
Whether it's right or wrong, there is great doubt in their mind whether the court is still the vehicle made available to them it was in the past. And John Ashcroft's appointment as attorney general makes them wonder, in my view, wonder whether or not the Justice Department will be a place where they can redress the imbalances.
Some of the members of this committee have been prosecutors. I have not been. I was a public defender. I was a trial lawyer, but I was a public defender. I was on the other side of the equation. Whether you're a defender and/or prosecutor, you understand the wide discretion that an attorney general has at a state or a federal level. And you understand, as you do if you served on this committee as long as I have, and Senator Kennedy served on it longer than I have, the way the civil rights laws--the civil provisions of the civil rights laws, not the criminal provisions--they provide for a method by which you can prove discrimination that is very much opposed by the vast bulk of conservative intellectuals and conservative politicians.
They insist that, as John has in the past, that you have to prove a specific intent on the part of the person violating the civil rights law that you were discriminating because that person was black. We have set in motion, without boring the committee with what with they already know, a series of laws and civil rights laws, beginning in the '60s, that allow you to establish the reality of discrimination through patterns and practice of behavior. That requires an attorney general to be aggressive in his or her application of the law.
I don't have any doubt, as some of my colleagues do, that if John Ashcroft is presented with a set of facts, criminal or civil, that make it absolutely clear that there has been a violation of the law, that he will not pursue it. He will pursue it. I believe--and I'm getting in trouble for saying this--but I believe if there were any violation of the law relating to abortion clinics, that John Ashcroft would enforce the law. The facts made known to him, he would enforce the law. I believe he'd enforce every criminal law on the books.
I don't believe his heart or his intellect is in it to aggressively enforce the civil rights legislation as it exists. And it matters. You must be proactive in order to give those laws life and meaning. And even if he does--and I hope he does. I hope I'm wrong about this. I hope--as Jon Kyl says, I truly hope I regret this no vote because the extent that I regret this no vote, it means John Ashcroft will have aggressively enforced the civil rights laws and other laws that are on the books. And that would be a good outcome. And I will be prepared to stand up and publicly apologize for my mistake in judgment.
I listed--and I'll end with this, Mr. Chairman--I listed close to a dozen instances where, had any nominee engaged in bad judgment in one or two or three of them, it would not be that big of deal. There's people have gone to Bob Jones University who serve in this United States Senate. There are people who have spoken at Bob Jones University. There are people who have received degrees, at least one--John Ashcroft, from Bob Jones University. There are people who all my Republican colleagues in this committee changed their vote--not all, but most of them--on Ronnie White and voted no on Ronnie White on the floor of the United States Senate. They were attributed the facts. They knew the same facts John Ashcroft knew in the hearing.
So, OK, I forgive people for being political on occasion. I understand that. I'm a big boy. As one of Senator Kennedy's close friends and mine who used to serve with us said one time when I said, "You can't do that," and he looked at me and said, "What do you think this is, boys state?" Well, you know, this isn't boys state. I understand that. I understand.
But what I don't understand is when I laid out for John in the hearing, and I told him I was going to do it ahead of time, I listed one, in my view, insensitive comment, remark and activity after another, and I asked him whether or not he would condemn what these organizations stood for. He said, "I will condemn that which is able to be condemned or condemnable." And I said, "But how about condemning the organization? How can you give an interview with a magazine that says their primary goal is to repeal the 14th Amendment and say you applaud them for standing up for what is good and right"--I'm paraphrasing. I won't take the time to read the whole statement. And John wouldn't just say, "It's wrong, they're wrong, I condemn what they stand for and I condemn their activities."
And again, I think this is an honorable and decent man. A lot of us here feel very strongly about our religions. Some of us feel differently how we express it. I, facetiously, as my mother would say, I'm Irish Catholic, so we don't talk about it much, we just do it or don't do it. I never talk about religion. So I respect people who deeply believe in their religion.
This has nothing to do with that. It has to do with what at a minimum is a successive series of events--I'm being redundant--successive utterances that show demonstrably bad judgment in terms of communicating to 10 percent of the American population that he cares about them.
So, Mr. Chairman, I'm going to vote no. I am not happy about voting no. I don't feel good about voting no. I wish I could vote yes. I wish John had given different answers. I would vote for John in a heartbeat if he were going to be nominated for secretary of defense or secretary of commerce or secretary of energy. There his views on these issues don't matter, except in his own as a person. They don't matter from a public standpoint. They matter. Words matter.
And John, I believe, is going to have a hard time convincing people that he means it. I hope that I'm wrong. I hope that he vigorously enforces the civil rights laws and other laws which rely upon the discretion and affirmative actions on the part of the attorney general to root out what is wrong. I will be the happiest person on this committee if that is the case. I don't believe that will be the case.
And applying the same standard I've applied before, I voted against Bradford Reynolds, one of the leading families in Delaware, which is one of the most difficult votes I ever cast, to be the head of the Civil Rights Division because of his long-held views on civil rights, and I'm going to vote no on John Ashcroft.
I thank the chair for their indulgence.
HATCH: Thank you, Senator.
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-ALA.): Well, Joe, I think the attorney general is important. But in many ways the attorney general, as a law enforcer, I think has less discretion to do his work than an education secretary or others. I think you'll find that he'll have no problem whatsoever, as a good lawyer, recognizing his duties, which are to enforce the laws as written.
And he also made quite clear in his testimony, that all of us know to be true, that when you're here in the Senate voting on bills you vote your conscience, it's your duty to vote your conscience, but when you're a law enforcer you enforce the law. That's what I did as a prosecutor in federal courts for 15 years, and I'm confident that he will, and I don't think there will be any problem for him in that regard.
And they say, "Well, he's divisive." How did all this occur? In my view, this occurred because a sophisticated group came together and created a caricature of who John was; it's not an accurate picture of who he is, and they've asked us now to vote against him because of this inaccurate picture.
But we heard his testimony for almost two days, and the testimony of many others, and the allegations against John Ashcroft, frankly, collapsed. There were none of those that were sustained as being, in my view, anything other than good acts of conscience as he believed he should act at the time. And we should understand that.
All of us have gone through careers making many decisions over quite a number of years, had that been something can appear out of context later, to be an unwise decision.
I would defend John on another point that I think, were he here, it would hurt him more than almost any other, and that is that he has somehow renounced his views about certain matters. Obviously, he remains pro-life. He, on the question of abortion, simply said, which I think a solicitor general who studied the matter clearly would agree, that the Supreme Court is firm on maintaining the essence of Roe v. Wade. And that he was not going to go and conduct a hopeless attempt to attack Roe v. Wade. That was what he committed to us to do. A significant commitment, I think. But that did not in any way recommend--suggest, I believe, that he had renounced his views and somehow was a craven and normal politician striving to be confirmed, because we know John and we know that's not John Ashcroft.
And on the gun laws, it is a misrepresentation to say that he opposed all gun laws. In fact, he offered bills that would restrict illegal use of guns and, in fact, voted for the Lautenberg amendment in this last flurry of debate over gun control. That's not an extremist position on guns, in my view. And, in fact, I shared with him this: I believe you will see a substantial increase in the prosecutions of illegal gun crimes under this attorney general over the previous attorney general.
It's suggested he opposed desegregation. He opposed a certain plan of desegregation that was massive. It was opposed by his predecessor, the former distinguished senator from Missouri. It was opposed by his two successors, including my colleague, Attorney General J. Nixon, a democratic who was supported in his race in the middle of that by Senator Kennedy and Senator Harkin--they had a fund-raiser for him. And so did Speaker Gephardt oppose this plan.
In fact, this plan was one of the most extreme desegregation plans in the history of the United States, calling for a $1.7 billion court ordered expenditure for an eight-lane 50-meter swimming pool, a 300-seat Greek amphitheater with a staged framed with white columns, planetariums, greenhouses, dust-free diesel machine shop, a broadcast cable radio TV studio, school animal rooms--those apparently were indoor petting zoos--private nature trails, overseas trips for students and model United Nations with foreign language translation. Those were a part of one of those court decrees.
And, as attorney general, an attorney general represents a state. That is his client. A court, when they order those kind of things, when a court orders those it is impinging on the freedom, the independence, the autonomy of the state. An attorney general is, by duty, required to defend his state. And he did so aggressively. As Senator Specter pointed out, not once was he found to be in contempt of court, and his position was followed by his two successors on that case.
I do not believe it is fair to say that he opposed desegregation. In fact, he testified with strong emphasis that he favored integration, he supported it, he simply opposed the nature of this court order.
I won't take, Mr. Chairman, much more time on these matters. I just think that John Ashcroft deserves to be given a fair hearing. He deserves to have his day in court.
I will mention on the Ronnie White case that, couple of things. First, he voted for every single African American nominee, 27 of 28, that got to the floor of the United States Senate for a vote. And he voted for over 95 percent of all Clinton nominees. He voted for every single Cabinet member submitted by President Clinton. He showed deference to the executive branch.
With Ronnie White, he had a number of problems there. As an attorney general, he knows the sheriffs in his state. Seventy-seven sheriffs opposed and raised questions about him. We know that he personally studied Judge White's opinions and found them to be very troubling, as I did as a prosecutor of 15 years; I've reviewed those, and I was very troubled by those opinions. I don't consider them just to be in error, but as to a major opening of two critical areas of dispute in law today, the extent of which ineffective assistant of counsel can be used to reverse a case, even when guilt is overwhelming, and the nature of the insanity defense, both of which are dangerous areas of the law, both of which, in one opinion, Judge White opened the door, I believe, substantially.
It was said about Judge White that an Ashcroft nominee dissented as much or more than Judge White. That was his predecessor, comparing apples to oranges. The predecessor may have voted on a different set of cases, may have dissented more often, but while Judge White was on the bench he dissented four times as often as any other judge on the court--comparing apples to apples.
So I believe that John Ashcroft will provide precisely the kind of leadership this Department of Justice needs at this point in time. He is a man of integrity, a man of maturity, a man of commitment to justice and equal justice under law. He will, I believe, be recognized as a great attorney general, and I am pleased to support our colleague, a man we know to be honest above all else, John Ashcroft.
HATCH: Thank you, Senator.
SEN. HERB KOHL (D-WIS.): Mr. Chairman, we all started this process prepared to defer to the president's choice for attorney general. The president should be able to surround himself with people he trusts.
But deference does not mean blind acceptance of the president's nominee. Not only must the president trust his attorney general, the nation must also trust him, for, after all, the attorney general is America's lawyer.
As Senator Ashcroft's record has become better known, my belief in deference has been truly tested, though not because of his conservative views. He should not be condemned nor rejected for that. Nevertheless, I believe that he will not be the people's lawyer. I believe that he will push and prod the law to conform to his own strongly held beliefs. And because I believe that his views are far out of the mainstream of American life, my vote will be no.
His record is out of the mainstream on central issues to the Department of Justice, issues like women's rights, civil rights, voting rights, gun control, as well as the nomination of judges. He has spent his entire public life devoted to reversing some of the very laws that he will be asked to administer. And there are indications that when he was responsible for enforcing Missouri's laws, he often chose to use the resources at his disposal to undermine them.
Based on his record, he had the burden of persuading the committee that he would enforce all of the laws, even the ones with which he strongly disagreed. During his testimony, the nominee responded to many questions with the pat answer that he would enforce the law regardless of his feelings.
He wanted us to accept that he could do his job almost like a robot without involving his personal views. But we all know that the law is subject to interpretation, to manipulation and priorities. The law is not a simple mathematical formula and the attorney general, I'm sure we would all agree, is not a machine.
Senator Ashcroft's appearance before the committee and his record in public life stretches the presumption of deference to its breaking point and in my judgment snaps it. We need an attorney general who is in the mainstream of public life. We need an attorney general who will help people who need help the most.
In the case of civil rights, Senator Ashcroft has a poor record. His conduct during the St. Louis school desegregation case was out of the mainstream; it demonstrated a disrespect for the law and the people it was designed to protect.
His opposition to a woman's right to choose, in fact, is extreme. He has devoted his public life to taking this right away from women. And to now put him in charge of protecting it would be a mistake and, frankly, beyond believability.
His radical view on gun safety issues repeatedly put politics above the safety of America's children. So, then, how can we ask him to guard those children now?
Fewer incidents stand out more sharply than the treatment of Ronnie White and James Hormel. Both of these eminently respectable men were deliberately injured for political and, in my judgment, personal purposes. It is a frightening preview of what the Ashcroft Department of Justice might do to the many people over whom it will have power. And let us hope it is not an accurate preview. Unfortunately, hope is not a sufficient basis for voting to confirm Senator Ashcroft.
We've heard many times from Senator Ashcroft and his supporters that he should be confirmed if he promises to enforce the law. But the Justice Department and its mission are too central to our democracy to be entrusted to someone about whom we have such genuine skepticism. The balance of his past record and his current statements leave too much doubt about the future of the Justice Department under his jurisdiction.
For me, this has not been an easy decision to reach. We all know Senator Ashcroft, and we all respect him. In the event, which is likely, that he will, in fact, become the next attorney general, then we will do all in our power to work effectively and cooperatively with him.
HATCH: Thank you, Senator.
SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R-KAN.): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I think this has been an exhaustive review that we've had of this candidate--too much so, too far. I think he's answered every question multiple times. And I think he deserves to be approved by this committee and approved by this Congress and approved by this Senate.
He is highly qualified. People have gone through all of those recommendations at a lengthy period of time.
I bring a personal note to this. I live in a neighboring state. I grew up within 20 miles of Missouri. I've watched John Ashcroft for a number of years before I was in public life. I've served with him in this body. I've known him since. And I've stayed in his home.
This is a good, wise, prudent man that we should desire to have these types of individuals in roles like this as attorney general. He will uphold the law. When he swears and takes an oath that he is going to uphold the law of the land, this man will do it. He has told us that in committee. He has lived that in his public life. He is going to do that. And I think he will serve us well and serve us proud.
Now, you get differing viewpoints of the issue of abortion. Some view it as a woman's right to choose. Others view it as a life yet to be born but deserving to be able to achieve the point of life and deserving of every right as a human being at whatever stage they are, from conception until a natural death.
John Ashcroft believes that that child, once conceived, is entitled to life. And so, in that sense, he has given much of his public life and his time in public office to protecting the weakest and most vulnerable amongst us. And isn't that a laudable goal whether you may look at it differently as a choice rather than as a separate human being or not? But that is his viewpoint, and he has given his life to that.
And he has also stated to this committee that, "I will uphold the law as the law is." And he has sworn to that. And he will do that.
I think his efforts to protect the most innocent and vulnerable should be lauded, even though people look at these from different viewpoints and different vantage points. He will uphold the law. He has done that his entire life.
And people can question records. I think anybody's record can be questioned. But when he reads the Constitution, in Article II, Section 3, provides that the president shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed, that to him, as attorney general, means that he will faithfully execute those laws as the laws are enacted and passed and signed into law and that he will do that. Whether he agrees with them or not, he will uphold those laws of this land.
I think, Mr. Chairman, we've done some grave disservice to an honorable man with a lengthy career of extraordinary public service. And I would hope that we would look at that overall record and say, "Well, OK, I disagree with him on policy issues, but I recognize that he is qualified and that he will uphold the law as the law is enacted."
For those reasons, I will vote for John Ashcroft. I will support him. I know him. He's a friend of mine and I think he's going to do a great job as attorney general.
HATCH: Thank you, Senator Brownback.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CALIF.): Thanks very much, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Chairman, I made my statement last week and I know members are eager to get on with it and I don't want to belabor it. I announced last week that I would vote against this nominee.
I just want to summarize what's happened since then. Let me just respond to Senator Brownback for a minute, because something he said really caught my attention and that is that Senator Ashcroft has given his life to his point of view.
That's really true; he has in the strongest possible way. And I think that's what creates the enormous conflict for many of us, because, I, for one, have been unable to reconcile that clear record of that point of view with his statements at the hearing, and despite the advocacy, despite the intense commitment, the fights that he will now turn around, and in many cases, do exactly the opposite.
I was struck in that desegregation case by the statement of the judge, and I quote, "that as a matter of deliberate policy, he decided to defy the authority of this court," end quote. Now, that's someone that's going to be the attorney general of the United States and expected to live within the confines of the court.
For me, and I think I mentioned this, and this is the other dimension to it. Judge White is a judge of the Supreme Court of the state. He was a man who deserved the benefit of the doubt. He was a man whose appointment could have been handled in this committee and in a different way, but rather he was subject to the humiliation of a majority vote to oppose his nomination on the floor, when none of us had any forewarning that that was going to happen.
That, to me, said it was done from a political point of view. And that caused me to really rethink what I heard, in terms of the answers to the questions in the hearings that we conducted. And that, to me, created the kind of cipher that presents itself as John Ashcroft as attorney general.
Now, this is a very close election. We have a president who is president, who has not won the popular vote. And this is a key and critical appointment. It is going to determine, I think, how this nation goes in many different respects. This appointment has not united, it has divided. This nominee is extraordinarily controversial.
Let me just give you a couple of numbers to date. Through the end of last week, I have received 59,998 letters against this nominee, and 4,476 in favor. And these were passionate letters. This is not some objective remote figure. I mean people feel that this is the history of 200 years coming down to a given appointment. And until this morning, my office received 14,338 calls against the nomination and 7,502 for the nominee.
Let me just put to rest what was a dominant theme in many of the people supporting the nominee, and that was the feeling that this was some kind of reaction to his religious commitment.
And I want to say categorically, in the time I sat in the hearings, which was virtually all of the time, the question of Senator Ashcroft's religious beliefs never entered any of our consideration. And I want to say that with specificity and I want to say it absolutely. That is clearly not an issue. And why so many people in their calls in support of his nomination have come to believe that is deeply puzzling to me, unless others have suggested that that's the case. And clearly it is not.
I think the civil rights and the desegregation dominate. And I think Senator Kennedy, in his comments, and Senator Kohl, in his comments, really put the doubt that is inherent in this nomination as to whether the law in its full force can, in fact, be carried out.
There are many subtle points. It's who an attorney general appoints to do certain things. It's when an attorney general may demure. It's when he may go forcefully forward. And I think all of these, in view of the closeness of the election and the dominant feeling of the American people, place this nomination really out of the mainstream.
I'd like my points of last week to stand for my views. And I want to thank the chair.
HATCH: Without objection.
We'll turn to Senator Grassley, who...
LEAHY: Mr. Chairman, I just wanted also at this point, just because of a couple of the comments made, a letter that you and I received yesterday, a further letter from James Hormel, also be included in the record.
HATCH: Without objection, we'll put it in the record. I think we ought to also put in the record the letter from Tim Hutchinson making it very clear that he was the one who put the hold on Mr. Hormel's nomination and that Senator Ashcroft had declined doing that. And I think it's important to have both those letters in the record.
We'll turn to Senator Grassley at this time.
SEN. CHARLES E. GRASSLEY (R-IOWA): I support John Ashcroft to be the next attorney general of the United States. Despite well-publicized, well-financed attempts orchestrated by outside groups to smear what I think is a very good name, a very good person, I'm confident that Senator Ashcroft will survive this reckless campaign that has snowballed into an avalanche of innuendo, rumor and spin.
The president's nominee for the nation's top law enforcement officer in the country is arguably one of the most highly qualified candidates this body has ever had the privilege to cast its advice and consent upon for United States attorney general. As a twice-elected governor of Missouri, John Ashcroft has also served as the state's attorney general and for six years as our colleague in the United States Senate.
In addition to his exemplary professional credentials, there's another issue that his supporters and detractors alike must agree on, that is, our former colleague, Senator John Ashcroft, is a man of unquestionable integrity and principle. He's a man of his word.
Just as the people of Missouri, who do not once but time and time again place their trust in him for statewide elected office, it seems to me we can as well, that he'll serve well as attorney general.
So when I asked John Ashcroft at the Judiciary Committee hearing whether he would pay attention to the areas of special concern to me and my Iowa constituents, I believe that he will. As a fellow Midwesterner, John and I come from states where agricultural issues are key components of our economy, our culture and our heritage. He shares my concern about the challenges confronting family farmers in the new century. I believe John Ashcroft understands the importance of fostering competition, markets and level playing fields for farmers and independent producers, all within the purview of a lot of the things that he does to enforce antitrust laws, as an example. I believe that John Ashcroft understands the importance of these things.
I believe that he understands that airline competition is crucial for economic viability of Americans in small and rural communities.
So I look forward to keeping the lines of communication wide open between my office and his when it comes to fighting for the interests of rural America.
Senator Ashcroft's opponents have sought to paint him as a racist tainted by his principles and unfit to lead the Department of Justice. In my view, they have been unable to make their case despite their best efforts. Accusations of racism and bias just haven't stuck; John Ashcroft's by-the-book approach to governing rises above and beyond the decibel level of these detractors.
In the six years that I've had the privilege of working with John Ashcroft in the Senate, I can unequivocally say that he has a sharp command of the law. Most importantly in any government position but being the chief law enforcement of our country, being a man of his word ought to be a key essential element, and he is.
So when John Ashcroft testified before us under oath that he will enforce the law of this land for all Americans, I am fully confident that he will do so.
More importantly, having filled the shoes of senator, governor and attorney general, John Ashcroft understands the difference between legislating and enforcing.
Remember, both the National Association of Attorneys General and the National Governors Association picked John Ashcroft to represent their organizations, respectively.
And I think it's been hard for people outside of this committee and even some people on the committee maybe to be confused about John Ashcroft as senator, a policy-maker, a person who wants to pass laws, a person who wants to change laws he doesn't believe in, from the role that he will be as attorney general where he will be an enforcer of the law and taking an oath to uphold it. And he will then be a John Ashcroft, enforcer of the law, not putting his own individual predilection into his work compared to his right and duty to do it as a United States senator.
And blur those lines between being a policy-maker or legislator and an enforcer of the law might be good to make a good man look bad, but it's not right. It's not moral. And it's not ethical. And those people who have done it know better, both people within the Congress and people outside of the Congress.
In recent years, misrepresentation and bald-faced lies coming out of Washington have eroded the electorate's faith and trust in government. Thankfully, that's not the way a majority of us operate. And that's certainly not the way my friend and my neighbor, John Ashcroft, has built an impressive record of public service.
As I said at the Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination, John's integrity will bring a breath of fresh air to the executive branch of the federal government. Everyone in this institution comes to the Senate with a set of ideals and principles that serve as their guiding compass, whether it's based in conservatism, liberalism or something somewhere in between. Each of us in this chamber has a privilege and a responsibility to cast a vote of conscience.
So I ask my colleagues on this committee to join me in supporting John Ashcroft for attorney general of the United States and to vote for him out of this committee. And when the presiding officer calls for the yeas and nays on this nomination on the floor, let the yeas put the avalanche of distortions and unwarranted criticism of this good man to rest. Let the yeas confirm John Ashcroft as our next attorney general.
HATCH: Thank you, Senator.
Senator Feingold, we'll turn to you.
SEN. RUSSELL FEINGOLD (D-WIS.): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
My colleagues, when we vote today, I'm going to do what I sincerely believe is the right thing to do, vote for the confirmation of John Ashcroft as attorney general of the United States.
The allegation is that Senator Ashcroft actually asked him about his sexual orientation at the beginning of a job interview many years ago. I do find it curious that no one else has said that former Senator Ashcroft has asked these kinds of questions after he's conducted decades of interviews. But the Offner account does bother me.
And while I will vote for Senator Ashcroft in committee today, I reserve the right to review any further information in this area that may come forward in the days or hours prior to the final confirmation vote on the floor. After all, Senator Ashcroft, in sworn testimony, told me that he had not used such an approach in hiring.
In the end, however, all of this, much of it troubling, has to be put in the context of the standard that I believe should be used when voting on the confirmation of a Cabinet position, and I do find somewhat persuasive the argument that many of my friends on this side of the aisle have used that the position of attorney general is particularly significant, although it does not rise to the level of a high, lifetime judicial appointment.
As a matter of practice, the Senate has, for the most part, avoided rejecting the president's Cabinet nominations because of their ideology alone. The Senate may examine and has examined whether the extremity of nominees' views might prevent them from carrying out the duties of the office they seek to occupy, and I can imagine such a scenario. But the Senate has nearly uniformly sought to avoid disapproving nominations because of their philosophy alone, and I believe that we should not begin to do so now.
As my colleagues know, in the practices and precedents of the Senate, the Senate considers and approves the overwhelming majority of nominations as a matter of routine. Over the history of the Senate, the Senate has considered and approved literally millions of nominations. The Senate's voting to reject a nominee has been an exceedingly rare event. Of the 1.7 million nominees received by the Senate in the last 30 years, the Senate has voted to reject just four, or one in every 425,000. Of course, presidents often withdraw without a vote some nominations who are likely to face defeat.
Now, Mr. Chairman, the Senate's voting to reject a nominee to the Cabinet has been an even more exceedingly rare event. Over the entire history of the Senate, the Senate has voted to reject only nine nominations by the president's Cabinet. The Senate rejected six in the 19th century and three in the 20th century. Four of the nine Cabinet nominations rejected were during the presidency of President Tyler alone.
Several other rejections may have said to flowed from larger battles between the Senate and the president, as when the Senate rejected President Jackson's nominee to be the secretary of treasury in the wake of a dispute over the Bank of the United States. Similarly, bad feelings after the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson led to the Senate's rejection of President Johnson's nomination of his counsel in the impeachment trial to be attorney general.
In the 20th century, the Senate rejected half as many Cabinet nominees as it did in the 19th century. In the wake of the Teapot Dome scandal, the Senate voted down President Coolidge's nomination of Charles Warren (ph) because of ties to trusts. Most recently, in 1989, the Senate rejected the nomination of Senator John Tower, an event which many in the Senate will recall from their own memories.
This examination of the history demonstrates that it has been nearly a continuous custom of the Senate to confirm a president's nominees to the Cabinet in all but the very rarest of circumstances. These practices and precedents thus support the principle that the Senate owes the president substantial deference in the selection of the Cabinet.
I should also note, as some members of the committee have done, that all of President Clinton's Cabinet appointments were confirmed overwhelmingly, and usually unanimously, despite the fact that many Republicans strongly disagreed with their views. This included the view of former Attorney General Janet Reno in opposition to the death penalty, a view I strongly share with her, but which has enlisted the support of very, very few of my colleagues.
Now, a number of opponents of this nomination, for whom I have very high regard, have sought to go beyond the traditional standards for Cabinet nominations. I think the most interesting approach that the opponents have laid out, especially in light of the serious problems with Senator Ashcroft's record that I've already identified, is the question of whether Senator Ashcroft will actually enforce the law.
I think my colleague, Senator Schumer, set up the question well when he said words to this effect: "Given Senator's Ashcroft's entire record of passionate advocacy for very conservative causes, can he switch it off?"
I think this is a useful standard, but it must be applied with caution. All of us have observed many talented people taking very different roles in their careers, sometimes having to oppose either people or groups for whom they used to advocate.
Now, in my own career, over 18 years in public life, I've certainly been called unreasonable, unyielding and too persistent on occasion. But I remember being a defense attorney for large corporations at a law firm and then, subsequently, when I went to the Wisconsin State Senate, voting against those interests almost every time.
I went into the state Senate representing a largely rural district. And I remember constantly speaking of the need for rural property tax release and not letting the city of Milwaukee run off with the entire budget. Yet, when I a United States senator, I understood my role to have changed and that I needed to zealously advocate for the very real needs of the people of the largest city in my state.
So it seems to me that I've been asked to switch it off on several occasions. I feel that I have done so when appropriate and that this is fairly common in the careers of many public men and women. And I think we were all struck by the strength of John Ashcroft's commitments and answers to our tough questions, which were given under oath. His specific commitments to enforce the law in several areas were not tepid. This is especially true with regard to his responses on choice and abortion-related matters, an area where as a policy matter, I disagree with him virtually completely.
Given Senator Ashcroft's strident record in this area, it is completely understandable to me that critics would regard this as a confirmation conversion and that some would even see this as cynical by the use of carefully chosen words concerning Roe v. Wade that actually leave the door open for a very different reality in the new attorney general's office.
Chairman, I, for one, will not stand by and simply allow such a departure from the clear impression that Senator Ashcroft offered as an assurance. In fact, one area I will closely scrutinize is his choices for the top-level positions in the Justice Department that will have direct responsibility for carrying out the promises he made to this committee and to the country.
But I do take a bit of umbrage at the notion that giving John Ashcroft's sworn testimony the benefit of the doubt is somehow because of Senate collegiality. No, it is because it is sworn testimony.
But I do understand the very strong skepticism concerning Senator Ashcroft's promises given the incidents I've already reviewed, especially as they relate to the blocking of nominations, a process in which John Ashcroft too often participated.
I cannot question anyone for opposing this nomination or for coming to an opposite conclusion on this record. It simply depends on one's view of the Cabinet nomination process. It is a judgment call.
I feel obligated, under the traditional understanding of how Cabinet appointments are handled, to not put the worst possible interpretation on these facts. And I specifically cannot justify constructing the worst-case scenario solely because Senator Ashcroft seemed to do the same with regard to a number of very worthy nominees. It is certainly tempting and almost compelling, but I am afraid it looks too much like political payback.
A lesson that would not be lost in future Cabinet confirmation considerations, including those involving the choices of a Democratic president. And colleagues, I don't want to be a part of taking the United States Senate and this country farther down that road; a road, which John Ashcroft and others in this party, paved in recent years.
Having said that, I want to hasten to add that I'm not at all sure that this kind of deference should be given any more on lifetime federal judicial appointments, given what appears to be an open assault in recent years by the United States Senate on the federal judiciary. As I said in my opening statement, although Democrats are being asked to follow the political golden rule in this nomination, I certainly agree that the line must be drawn at some point concerning the politicization of appointments.
My judgment is that this not the place and this nomination for this office is not the place as terribly important as it is.
And yes, I believe this as it progressive, this is about our future credibility and ability to move our agenda in future administrations that better reflect our voting records and beliefs, which, in most cases, are just the opposite of John Ashcroft.
Now, I know this may seem futile or naive, in light of the unbending other side. That might be right, but I believe the American people desperately want us to conduct ourselves where possible in a bipartisan manner with civility and with give and take and act as if those terms have real meaning and are not just empty rhetoric.
So when I vote for John Ashcroft in committee, I'm reaching out to the new administration, to my Republican colleagues and especially those on the opposite side of this committee. I believe we share mutual respect. So I am extending to you, at the beginning of a new Republican administration, an olive branch.
But it is not a white flag, I assure you. This is about the department of Justice. And it is justice I want to see for the wrong done to Judge Ronnie White. And it is justice I want to see done in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, where the largest African American population lives and has never had an African American judge until the recess appointment of Roger Gregory. And it is justice I want for a number of other very worthy nominees for the court of appeals, who were left hanging for years in this committee without ever getting a hearing. And it is justice I want for the future James Hormels and Bill Lann Lees, who most assuredly were treated unfairly. And it is justice I want for the victims of racial profiling in America. And I will press this administration, the attorney general and this committee to prevent it from happening to others in the future.
So, Mr. Chairman, I am genuinely appealing to you and the committee and the new administration to show in concrete ways in the near future that you are concerned about the obviously heartfelt and legitimate feelings of many Americans that the Senate's role in the nomination's process has been abused and overly politicized. There are real fault lines emerging in our culture and in our political system, and repairs must be made. And some who have been harmed must be made whole.
In fact, one of the most eloquent statements to this effect came just this month in President George W. Bush's inaugural address. He said, "Sometimes our differences run so deep it seems we share a continent, but not a country." I think he's right and I think this committee is the place to begin to repair the breach. That means for me, the very difficult decision to vote to confirm John Ashcroft, but it also means immediate concrete efforts by the president and his party to mend the wounds that lead to such fierce opposition to the Ashcroft nomination.
It, of course, also means that the new attorney general must vigorously enforce the law and be the attorney general of all the people, regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. If he does that, he will earn the support of the America people. If he does not, I will seek to be the first to call him on it and demand that he be held accountable.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
HATCH: Thank you, Senator.
LEAHY: Mr. Chairman?
HATCH: Yes, Senator Leahy?
LEAHY: I note that there was reference to Paul Offner, who said that he was asked about his sexual preference by then-Governor Ashcroft. And I would ask to put in the record a letter which I sent on the 25th to Senator Ashcroft referring to that. I realized he's talked to the press, but we've not heard a response, but I do want in the record at this point.
HATCH: Thank you, Senator.
Senator McConnell? Or, excuse me, I'm afraid, Senator DeWine.
HATCH: We'll go to you, Senator DeWine, then we'll go to Senator McConnell after Senator...
SEN. MIKE DEWINE (R-OHIO): Mr. Chairman, thank you very much.
When the confirmation hearing process started on January 16, I said in my opening statement that I intended to listen, to listen to my colleagues, listen to their concerns, to listen to the nominee, listen to his position and ideas about how he would conduct himself as attorney general of the United States.
Mr. Chairman, during this confirmation hearing process that's what I've done. I've listened. And today, quite candidly, my opinion of John Ashcroft is no different than it was a year ago or two years ago or six years ago. I believe that John Ashcroft is an extremely well-qualified nominee. He's a man of integrity. Confirmation hearings have only served to reaffirm that belief.
The John Ashcroft that we have known for six years in the United States Senate certainly has the experience for the job. He was assistant attorney general of Missouri. We know that he spent eight years as Missouri attorney general, eight years as governor, six years as U.S. senator and, of course, a member of this Judiciary Committee.
We also know that with that kind of experience comes the responsibility to take positions on many difficult and controversial issues. And over the course of his career in public service, he has taken positions and he's made decisions and cast thousands and thousands of votes on many tough and important issues.
Candidly, he and I have not always agreed on every single issue. We would disagree on some things, we agreed on other things. But I do know this. With every decision that he makes, John Ashcroft is honest, methodical and, I believe, courageous.
As I have listened to Senator Ashcroft discuss his beliefs and positions on the issues that he is certainly sure to face if he is confirmed, I was once again reminded of what I've known for the last six years, and what I personally observed during that period of time, that John Ashcroft is a man of his word, and when he tell us he is going to enforce the law, I think we have six years of experience in knowing him to understand that that is exactly what he will do.
Ultimately, though, as I said in my opening statement, the tenure of John Ashcroft or the tenure of any attorney general will be judged not on any one particular decision that he will make, not any one particular policy or action that he will take. Ultimately, this attorney general, or any attorney general, will be judged on whether he was a person of integrity, whether or not he was a person of honesty, whether or not he had the courage to tell the president when it was right to tell him yes, but also to tell the president no when it was time to tell him no.
This attorney general will be judged not on the day-to-day decisions. He'll be judged how most of us are judged, and that is based upon the big issues, the big decisions that he ultimately makes. I am convinced, based on my knowledge of John Ashcroft, that after he has been attorney general, people will be able to look up and say, "Yes, we have confidence in this man. We may not agree with him on every decision. He may be right sometimes, he may be wrong sometimes. But he is a man of integrity. He is someone who has brought honor and justice and integrity to this office."
Mr. Chairman, I do appreciate the time. I appreciate the debate we have had and I will yield the floor.
HATCH: Thank you, Senator.
SEN. CHARLES E. SCHUMER (D-N.Y.): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And first let me thank you and Senator Leahy for conducting these hearings in a full and open and fair way and I think all of us appreciate that very much.
Mr. Chairman, I will vote no on the nomination of John Ashcroft to be attorney general of the United States. Senator Feingold has appropriately called this nomination painful. It is painful to many in our country, it is painful to many in the Senate, and it is painful to me.
It is frustrating that during a period where we all hoped for reconciliation and healing after the elections, we received a nomination that threw salt on the country's wounds.
Virtually all of President Bush's other Cabinet choices have now been confirmed with remarkable speed and consensus. I believe we should give the president the benefit of the doubt on his Cabinet choices, and I have voted for many I have disagreed with on significant issues. But the deference we owe to the president's choices cannot be a blank check that would eviscerate our constitutional duty to advise and consent.
I will vote for all but two of the new Cabinet nominees. But after wrestling with this nomination over the past few weeks, I have concluded it's not one that I can support.
At the start of the hearings two weeks ago, Mr. Chairman, I asked whether John Ashcroft's passionate advocacy of his deeply held convictions over the last 25 years would limit his capacity to have the balanced world-view necessary for an attorney general. I asked him directly how he could turn off his zealous and impassioned advocacy that had driven him for so long.
Senator Ashcroft's answer in his two days of testimony was unequivocal. In essence, he said the job of attorney general would require him to enforce, follow and uphold the law whether he agreed to it or not. As a senator, it had been appropriate for him to try to change the law, to be an advocate for causes. But as attorney general, he would set those roles aside.
Mr. Chairman, as much as I would like to believe that, I remain unconvinced that Attorney General Ashcroft can stop being Senator Ashcroft. If this committee were faced with a nominee who had, for the previous 25 years, argued that drug dealing should be legal but assured us that he would now prosecute drug dealers regardless of his personal prior advocacy, we would proceed to vote 18 to nothing against him.
As Senator Leahy eloquently stated on the floor yesterday and Senator Feinstein persuasively argued last week and Senators Kennedy, Biden and Kohl argued earlier today, John Ashcroft's view and histories of zealous advocacy on issues like civil rights, gun control and choice put him so far outside the mainstream that I am unconvinced, even after the hearings, that he will be the impartial, balanced decision-maker we need and deserve as our attorney general.
In my opinion, John Ashcroft's unique past will indelibly mark his future, making his nomination a source of anger and fear to many in our country. And that anger runs so deep that even if he can turn away from his prior divisive advocacy, it could severely hamper his effectiveness as an attorney general for all the people.
But now, Mr. Chairman, I'd like to make a different point that has also been a deciding factor for me. It is a point that I address to my Senate colleagues who have not yet made up their minds, who are not on this committee and those who may wish to take Senator Ashcroft at his word that he will completely enforce the law.
In response to many tough questions at the hearings concerning positions he had advocated in the past, Senator Ashcroft distanced himself from that past with the following mantra, "I will be law-oriented and not results-oriented." Frankly, it's an appealing argument. It's intended to draw a distinction between the role of senator as advocate for certain results and the role of attorney general as mere enforcer of the law.
But it leaves out something very basic about the role of the attorney general, and it leaves, therefore, a gaping hole in the argument in favor of his nomination. Just saying that Senator Ashcroft will enforce and respect existing law ignores the reality that the attorney general has vast power and discretion to shape legal policy in the federal judiciary unhindered by any devotion to existing law.
For example, he'll decide what cases will or will not be pursued in the Supreme Court. He will help draft new legislation and give influential commentary on proposals circulating in Congress. He will be perhaps the most significant voice in the country when it comes to filling vacancies, particularly on our federal courts of appeal. These are enormous powers, and none of them will be hindered at all by a Senator Ashcroft's newfound devotion to existing law.
The one that concerns me most of all of these, Mr. Chairman, is the selection of federal judges who will serve for decades and who will often have the last word on some of the most significant issues our society faces. When it comes to the attorney general's power to select, vet and influence the selection of judges, the demarcation Senator Ashcroft has sought to draw between being resulted-oriented and law-oriented collapses. In other words, it's safe to expect that the principles that have guided his views on judicial nominations in the Senate will be the exact same principles that will guide him as attorney general. If anything, he'll have significantly more power and the same largely unbounded discretion in influencing who becomes a federal judge as he did as senator.
As senator, we all know the record, he was willing to fully flex his power over nominations in a disturbing and divisive way. Heartfelt, he believed it, but it was and ended up being very divisive.
The Ronnie White nomination was extensively reviewed at hearings and we'll certainly review it on the floor of the Senate. In my two years in the Senate, it was the bleakest, most divisive and destructive moment I've experienced here. It was a moment utterly lacking in civility, courage, compassion and character.
But senators who are still undecided, should also be aware that the Ronnie White nomination was just the most visible attempt by Senator Ashcroft to kill a nomination. The list goes on and on: Fletcher, Satcher, Lann Lee, Morrow, Sotamayor (ph), Piaz, Dyk, Lynch, Hormel, and there are others. In just one term in the Senate, Senator Ashcroft devoted himself to opposing and when possible scuttling or derailing any nominee, no matter how well-qualified and respected, who was in some way objectionable to his world view.
And this is not an issue of tit for tat; this is an issue of how the attorney general, who was a senator, will select those judges. It seems a far too likely conclusion that with the new and vast power he will have over the selection of judges, Senator Ashcroft will seek out those who agree with his passionate views on choice, civil rights, separation of church and state, and gun control when he reviews judges.
I urge my colleagues to read the short article called "Judicial Despotism" that Senator Ashcroft wrote a few years ago. In it, he vows to stop any judicial nominee who would uphold Roe v. Wade; nothing, nothing could be more results-oriented than that. He may believe that Roe is settled law. It is hard to believe he will appoint many judges who share that belief.
If he's confirmed, I pray that the more moderate souls prevail in the selection of judges. But as it now stands, this nomination poses a large threat to the future of the federal judiciary, and I would oppose that nomination for this reason alone.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
HATCH: Thank you, Senator.
Now, as I understand it, Senator McConnell is going to take three or four minutes? Is that fair?
And then, as I understand it, Senator Durbin, you'd like at least 10 minutes, and Senator Cantwell, about seven?
SEN. MARIA CANTWELL (D-WA.): Five to seven, yes.
HATCH: Five to seven minutes.
Well, then we're going to set a vote. We should be able to encompass all that. We'll set the vote at 5:30. So I hope everybody will be here, because we all have to be here to vote. So send the message out to your senators that sharply at 5:30 we hope we can have this vote.
LEAHY: Mr. Chairman, I would also, though, rely on your usual good grace that if somebody's down to their last paragraph at 5:30 that you're not going to cut them off. I mean, nobody's going to try to...
HATCH: No, no. You can count on my usual good grace.
LEAHY: Thank you.
HATCH: How's that?
LEAHY: I think it's Senator Cantwell might be the last one, that's why.
HATCH: You'd be the last person I want to cut off is all I can say, so I certainly won't do that. But if we could live within those time constraints, it would help us to meet that 5:30 deadline.
LEAHY: Thank you.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY.): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
We've all had an opportunity to witness John's extraordinary integrity and character over the six years he was in the Senate. I had a unique perspective last year in two roles that I played: one, as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, trying to help him get reelected; and second, as chairman of the Rules Committee, had there been an election contest after his most unusual experience on Election Day in Missouri.
As we all know, John lost a heartbreakingly close reelection bid last fall under unorthodox and, some would say, unlawful circumstances. After the election, my office was flooded with phone calls and petitions urging John to challenge the election, and lawyers lined up to offer their services.
Some argued that John should bring a constitutional challenge on the ground that it was patently unconstitutional to elect a deceased person to the United States Senate. Others wanted him to bring an election contest because of improprieties in the voting itself, such as the fact that heavily Democratic precincts remained open after the polls were supposed to be closed.
Either of these challenges may very well have proved successful, and John might be sitting with us here today as a member of this committee. But at a minimum, a challenge would have put Missourians and the entire Senate through a divisive ordeal, and it might well have the good people of Missouri without full representation here in the United States Senate.
Always the public servant, that is something John Ashcroft simply would not do. As particularly painful as this loss was, John never once considered challenging the election. He would not put his fellow Missourians through what the nation had to endure in Florida for 35 days.
Moreover, he made it abundantly clear, both in public and in private, that he did not want others to do so either. Rather than cling to power in the hope of an eventual victory, John graciously conceded the election and wished our new colleague well.
This selfless action was that of a statesman, and it reminds me of the famous words of another statesman, Henry Clay, who said, "I'd rather be right than president." John Ashcroft's response to this truly unique and difficult loss in November was, essentially, I'd rather be right than be senator.
And because of the principled actions such as this that John is one of the most respected former members of this body. And because Democratic members know of John's character and integrity, they've spoken with confidence about the outstanding job he would do as attorney general. For example, our former colleague Senator Moynihan stated that John, quote, "will be a superb attorney general," end quote. And our current colleague, Senator Torricelli, who knew of John's skill and character from their service together on this committee, stated that, quote, "While I have obvious philosophical differences with John, his ability and integrity simply can't be questioned."
Now, despite John's experience and dedication to duty, I've heard a lot of people say that he's unfit to be attorney general because of his strong and abiding faith in God, his firm belief in law and order, and his commitment to the Constitution, even when that commitment is at odds with those unbiased legal scholars on the editorial board of the New York Times.
Far from disqualifying him from public service, however, these qualities only reinforce my belief that he will ably serve as the nation's chief law enforcement officer.
This committee would serve the nation by recommending his confirmation, and I certainly hope that's what it will do.
HATCH: Thank you, Senator McConnell, we appreciate it.
Senator Durbin, we'll turn to you.
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-ILL.): Thank you, Chairman Hatch and Senator Leahy. And thank you for the good, fair, and complete hearing. I think both sides had all of the witnesses that they asked for, and all of the witnesses were treated with respect. And I think that's quite a credit to this committee which changed leaders in the midst of this consideration.
Mr. Chairman, I speak, today, in opposition to the nomination of Senator John Ashcroft for attorney general of the United States. I will vote no because the only compass I have is what John Ashcroft has done in the past.
I cannot base my vote on what he has claimed he will do in the future when he public record is so clear and so inconsistent with his promises to this committee.
We've all driven down Pennsylvania Avenue, past the National Archives, just a few buildings down from the U.S. Department of Justice. It's a familiar site, so familiar we may not even see what's etched in stone at the top of this national monument.
It says: "What is past is prologue."
If we look at John Ashcroft's past, we have our prologue to his service as attorney general.
During his testimony, Senator Ashcroft did a masterful job of painting a portrait of his vision of the job of an attorney general. He described himself as a man would evenhandedly enforce and defend the laws of the land, no matter how strong his personal disagreement with those laws.
But Senator Ashcroft's public career paints a very different picture. When I look at his public record and compare it point for point with his recent testimony, I find I'm looking at two completely different pictures, two completely different men.
During the hearing, Senator Ashcroft promised fairness in setting the agenda for the Department of Justice, and vowed to protect vulnerable people whose causes he has seldom, if ever, championed in his public life. Which picture tells the story?
If John Ashcroft were to become attorney general, would it be John Ashcroft the defender of a woman's constitutional right to chose, or John Ashcroft, passionate opponent of Roe v. Wade?
John Ashcroft, the defender of sensible gun safety laws, or John Ashcroft, who opposed every significant gun safety measure that came before the Senate during his tenure?
John Ashcroft, the defender of civil rights, or John Ashcroft, who, as governor of Missouri, opposed a voluntary school desegregation plan and efforts to register minorities to vote?
We have all heard Senator Ashcroft's testimony before the committee, but his public record speaks with more clarity and consistency to me.
Consider whether those with a different sexual orientation, who are victims of hate crimes, could expect the protection of John Ashcroft's Department of Justice.
Recently, a Georgetown University professor, Paul Offner, stated that in a 1985 job interview, then Governor John Ashcroft asked him point-blank about his sexual orientation. Senator Ashcroft's spokespersons have denied this incident. Perhaps the story would be nothing more than a typical Washington exchange of, quote, "Yes, you did." "No, I didn't," close quote, were it not for the matter of Senator Ashcroft's public record on the issue of tolerance for people of different sexual orientation.
Senator Ashcroft opposed the nomination of James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg because Mr. Hormel, quote, "has been a leader in promoting a lifestyle, and the kind of leadership he has exhibited there is likely to be offensive to individuals in the setting to which he will be assigned," end of quote. Mr. Hormel's lifestyle? He is an openly gay man.
Before this committee, Senator Ashcroft said he opposed Mr. Hormel's nomination based on the totality of the record. When asked by Senator Leahy if he opposed Mr. Hormel because he was gay, Senator Ashcroft replied, "I did not." However, Senator Ashcroft, who had very little contact with Mr. Hormel before his nomination, and refused to meet with Mr. Hormel after he was nominated, despite Mr. Hormel's request, gave us no reason as to why he opposed this qualified individual.
At a recent press conference, Mr. Hormel had this to say, quote, "I can only conclude that Mr. Ashcroft chose to vote against me solely because I am a gay man," end of quote. Could we expect Attorney General Ashcroft to defend tomorrow's Matthew Shepard if he cannot show tolerance for today's James Hormel?
When Bill Lann Lee was being considered as an assistant attorney general for civil rights, Senator Ashcroft joined in blocking his nomination. I was a member of this committee at that time. I still recall the life story of Bill Lann Lee, a son of Chinese immigrants who came to this country. His parents started a small laundry to make a living. His mother, who joined him at the confirmation hearing, talked of sitting in the window of that laundry every day of her life at a sewing machine, and a father who volunteered to serve in World War II when he could have avoided the draft because of his age.
Bill Lann Lee, their son, won a scholarship and graduated with honors from law school, dedicating his professional life not to making money, but to fighting for tolerance and against discrimination.
Senator Ashcroft opposed Bill Lann Lee's nomination, rejecting Lee's sworn promise to uphold the law. And his reason? Well, he felt Mr. Lee had a history as a, quote, "advocate," close quote, and was, quote, "willing to pursue an objective with the kind of intensity that belongs to advocacy, but not with the kind of balance that belongs to administration," end of quote.
He held Judge Margaret Morrow of California to the same standard. He blocked her nomination to the federal bench with a secret hold. Why? Ms. Morrow's outstanding record notwithstanding, Senator Ashcroft believed she would use her appointment for advocacy.
Should I accept that John Ashcroft, himself an impassioned advocate for all of his political life, will surrender his advocacy in the role of attorney general?
He didn't accept that from Bill Lann Lee, Margaret Morrow or others whom he opposed. If we apply the Ashcroft standard to his own nominee, would he be confirmed?
Fairness requires more than a simple test as to whether a nominee has advocated views with which we disagree. Fairness requires that we judge on balance whether that nominee can credibly set aside those views and be even-handed.
At this moment in our nation's history, our need for such leadership is compelling. A politically divided nation, with landmark civil rights and human rights in the balance, needs an attorney general who will be fair and impartial in the administration of justice.
No issue is more divisive in America than civil rights or more in need of enlightened leadership. Yet, throughout his career, Senator John Ashcroft has repeatedly turned down opportunities to reach out across the racial divide.
Instead of avoiding an affiliation with the racially and religiously intolerant policies at Bob Jones University, he embraced the school by speaking there and accepting an honorary degree. President Bush was so troubled by the public reaction to his appearance at Bob Jones University he sent a letter to Cardinal O'Connor in New York assuring the late cardinal he did not agree with the prejudicial sentiments reflected by the university and regretting he didn't disassociate himself from them. During his hearing, Senator Ashcroft offered no apologies for this appearance at Bob Jones and refused to rule out returning there as our nation's attorney general.
Instead of accepting voluntary school desegregation plans designed to end a long history of racially divided schools in the state of Missouri, he fought vigorously against them. He labeled the efforts of the federal courts to desegregate the schools a, quote, "testament to tyranny." Again, Governor Ashcroft missed an opportunity to bridge the racial divide.
Instead of enacting two bipartisan bills to facilitate voter registration of minorities in St. Louis, Governor Ashcroft vetoed the bills and led the registration unfairness continue.
What possible assurance could we have from this record that Attorney General Ashcroft would dedicate himself to eliminating racial prejudice in America?
Perhaps none of Senator Ashcroft's deeds are more troubling to me than his treatment of Judge Ronnie White. On the day he was nominated by President Bush, Senator Ashcroft called me personally to ask for my vote. I told him that before I could vote for him I would need an explanation of his decision to defeat the judicial nomination of Judge Ronnie White. Senator Ashcroft asked if he could come by to explain it, and I agreed to meet with him. He never called for a meeting.
After listening to Senator Ashcroft's response to my questions on the White nomination and listening carefully to the testimony of Judge White, I understand why. I've concluded that Senator Ashcroft's floor statement concerning Judge White's record and beliefs was misleading and unfair. A good man's name and reputation were impugned for reasons that could not be supported with fact.
When I consider the power given to an attorney general and the discretionary decisions he will make every day when lives and careers are hanging in the balance, I cannot forget or ignore the fate of Judge Ronnie White at the hands of Senator Ashcroft.
We know the rules of the Senate in this committee. Senator Ashcroft could have dispatched Judge White quietly, bloodlessly. Instead, he chose this public condemnation of a man whose life was a model of hard work, character and achievement for many.
I am so troubled by John Ashcroft's willingness to distort the good judge's record beyond all recognition, to attack his character and integrity, and to deliver this unjust condemnation on the floor of the Senate without ever giving Judge White an opportunity to respond and defend his name. When Judge White appeared before this committee, it was clear to many of us that he deserved an apology for what happened.
At this hearing, Senator Ashcroft reaffirmed his strong opposition to abortion, but said, "I accept Roe and Casey as the settled law of the land." But does he? We know he's been a passionate opponent of Roe v. Wade for over 25 years, and we recall as attorney general of Missouri Senator Ashcroft attempted to block nurses in one of the poorest, medically underserved areas of Missouri from providing basic gynecological services, including oral contraceptives, condoms and IUDs, Pap smears and testing for venereal disease. He joined in suing these nurses to stop them from providing vital reproductive health services to low-income women in his own state.
As governor, in 1986, he signed the bill that defined life as beginning at fertilization, providing a legal basis to ban some of the most common and effective methods of contraception. In 1998 and 1999, Senator Ashcroft wrote letters to Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, opposing a Senate amendment to require the FEHBP, the federal health insurance plan, to cover the cost of FDA-approved contraceptives, citing concerns that funding certain contraceptives was equivalent to funding abortifacients.
Literally, 40 million women in America use some form of contraception. Would Attorney General John Ashcroft work to protect their right of privacy and their right to choose the medical services best for them and their families?
Senator Ashcroft repeatedly told us with clarity he would enforce the settled law of the land of Roe and Casey, but when I asked him about the Supreme Court case in Carhart voiding the Nebraska partial birth abortion ban for failing to protect a woman's health, and it made it clear that the Santorum bill, which he had supported, was inconsistent with that settled law, John Ashcroft's clarity disappeared. His answer was tentative and unfortunately, very unsettling.
The attorney general must diligently protect women's rights in America, rights repeatedly confirmed by the Supreme Court. Senator Ashcroft's public record and his testimony before this committee leave his commitment to these rights in doubt.
Senator Ashcroft has made troubling, at times shocking, statements regarding the linchpin of our American system of justice, the judicial branch of government. He speaks of, quote, "judicial tyranny" and vows to, quote, "fight the judicial despotism that stands like a behemoth over our nation." He tells us that, quote, "people's lives and fortunes have been relinquished to renegade judges," judges he labeled, "a robed contemptuous, intellectual elite."
He speaks of American courts as, quote, "out of control." And the Court, "home to a let-them-eat-cake elite who hold the people in the deepest disdain." Is this a person with a deep mistrust of the character of justice in our great land who should be attorney general of the United States?
Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy, who, as attorney general, created the Civil Liberties Unit to prosecute local officials who abused and even murdered blacks and union organizers, summed up his constitutional philosophy in one sentence, and I quote, "Only by zealously guarding the rights of the most humble, the most unorthodox and the most despised among us, can freedom flourish and endure in our land."
Could Senator Ashcroft rise to this awesome and often unpopular standard as our attorney general? The attorney general, more than any other Cabinet officer, is entrusted with protecting the civil rights of Americans. We know from our history that defending those rights can often be controversial and unpopular. I find no evidence in the public career or voting record of Senator Ashcroft that he has ever risked any political capital to defend the rights of those who suffer in our society from prejudice and discrimination.
It is a difficult duty to set in public judgment of a former colleague, but our nation and our constitution ask no less of each member of the United States Senate. I will vote no on the nomination of John Ashcroft.
HATCH: Thank you.
We have six minutes left, but whatever time you need, Senator Cantwell. I would suggest that staffers get their senators here, because approximately 5:30 we're going to vote. And everybody needs to be here. So, Senator Cantwell, we'll turn to you and take whatever time you need.
CANTWELL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
On December 23, when President, at that time elect, Bush stated his intention to nominate John Ashcroft to be attorney general, I had grave doubts that he made the right choice. I was determined, however, not to prejudge Senator Ashcroft, and thus have listened to these hearings with great care and awaited the full testimony of the nominee before arriving at my judgment.
As I stated previously, I have sought to provide the president the traditional deference in appointing his Cabinet, while abiding by my constitutional duty of advise and consent. With this in mind, I have supported every Cabinet nominee this president has proposed.
But I cannot support Senator Ashcroft.
After a thorough examination of his record, my initial doubts have grown into a conviction that he is, in fact, the wrong choice for attorney general and the wrong choice for our country.
Our symbol of justice is a woman, blindfolded, holding a balance in her hand.
As a senator, I believe that Senator Ashcroft will have a hard time having a blind eye or a balanced hand for a fair and impartial administration of justice.
Senator Ashcroft's record of making inflammatory statements regarding reproductive rights and desegregation, his apparent disregard for protecting the individual liberties of all Americans, his affiliation and unwillingness to disavow extremist organizations and publications, and his penchant for supporting legislation to roll back our nation's environmental laws I find disturbing.
But I believe that a senator's ideology and voting record are not enough to impede the president from having the Cabinet of his choice. Rather, as I stated in the commencement of these hearings, I am interested in knowing if the nominee will faithfully and zealously enforce the law of the land.
As attorney general of Missouri, Senator Ashcroft used the power of his office to fight court orders on desegregation in the St. Louis school system. Although the federal court of appeals and Supreme Court repeatedly denied his attempts to thwart the implementation of desegregation, he continued to seek new challenges to this order.
The federal district court criticized his legal actions, stating that, quote, "The court can draw only one conclusion: The state has, as a matter of deliberate policy, decided to defy the authority of the court," end quote. And in a later court order, the court characterized Attorney General Ashcroft on appeals as, quote, "feckless," end quote.
Dr. Martin Luther King said, in 1963, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in a moment of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at a time of challenge and controversy." And I find it disturbing that, more than 20 years after Dr. King spoke these words, that Attorney General Ashcroft risked a contempt of court and threat from a judge to continue his stubborn opposition to desegregation.
In Senator Ashcroft's records on nominations that so many of my colleagues have spoke about, I have found more evidence of individual applying arbitrary justice that appears to have served his own political and ideological objectives rather than the best interests of the nation.
Many are well aware now of the highly publicized case of Judge Ronnie White in which Senator Ashcroft's distortion of the judge's record brought the nomination to a halt. But there are other disturbing actions about which my colleagues have also talked about, Bill Lann Lee and James Hormel and, from my state, Margaret McCuen (ph), and numerous women and minorities, simply too many of whom it seems fit the Ashcroft standard, a standard that seemed to be applying opposition to nominations based on ideological reasons.
Many in our nation today, knowing of this record, question whether Senator Ashcroft's intense advocacy and often arbitrary judgment is compatible with the role of attorney general. This position requires someone who understands that justice has a blind eye and a balanced hand, someone who, like Elliot Richardson, is capable of real impartiality and courage in the name of law, no matter whose rights are at stake and whose actions have violated that law.
This brings me to the issue of reproductive rights. Senator Ashcroft has taken positions on this issue, an issue of critical importance to women in this country, that are clearly outside the mainstream of public opinion. His record of pushing legislation limiting the right to a legal abortion and to contraception, as Missouri's attorney general, governor and senator, have caused great anxiety for many in my state.
As Missouri attorney general, he took up numerous cases in his crusade to challenge the Roe v. Wade decision. As my colleague, Senator Leahy, stated previously, quote, "There is no appointed position within the federal government that can affect more lives in more ways than the attorney general. We look to the attorney general to ensure an even-handed law enforcement, equal justice for all and protection of our basic constitutional rights," end quote.
The bottom line is that I am not convinced that Senator Ashcroft will enforce the letter and spirit of the law in the area of a woman's reproductive rights.
I look forward to building a strong and cooperative relationship with the president and the new administration. However, I must appeal to the better judgment of this president to reconsider this nomination. I have grave doubts about Senator Ashcroft's efforts and ability to carry out the full scope of his duties as attorney general, with a blind eye and balanced hand.
Therefore, I cannot support his nomination as attorney general of the United States.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
HATCH: Thank you, Senator Cantwell. I will place the statement of Senator Bob Smith, who was a member of this committee through the hearing process, in the record at this point.
LEAHY: And Mr. Chairman, if I might, because we will not have a committee report, I'd place in the record my full statement of what I placed in the Congressional Record regarding the Ashcroft nomination.
HATCH: Without objection, we will do that.
SESSIONS: Mr. Chairman, I would like to offer into the record a letter from State Senator Ted Polls (ph), I believe, who has written really in support of John Ashcroft. He's a Democrat who details some problems he had with Judge White--the nominee...
HATCH: Without objection, we will place that in the record.
SESSIONS: ... recently printed in the paper.
HATCH: Well, let's make sure we get everybody here who wants to be here personally.
SESSIONS: And Mr. Chairman, I would like to offer a statement by Carl Kruple (ph), regarding the Paul Offner matter, into the record. It's two paragraphs, if I could read it. If not, I would offer it for the record.
HATCH: That will be fine.
SESSIONS: "I attended the meeting between Governor John Ashcroft and Paul Offner. Governor Ashcroft did not ask Paul Offner any questions with regard to his sexual preference. At that time we were interviewing a number of candidates for jobs and that was never a question that he asked any candidate in the interviews I participated in."
Kruple (ph) was director of the transition team at the time of the above-mentioned meeting. He then served as director of economic development for the state of Missouri in Ashcroft's administration. He is now executive vice president with Westin Resources in Kansas.
I would offer that for the record.
HATCH: Without objection, we will put it in the record and we will recess for five minutes while we get everybody here. People are on their way and I want to give everybody a chance to vote in person.
SESSIONS: And if I could offer one more thing, Mr. Chairman...
HATCH: I will withhold my recess. Go ahead.
SESSIONS: All right. With regard to Paul Offner, he is identified clearly as a partisan Democrat. He ran for Congress in '82 and '84 when a state senator. He was supported by quite a number of the groups that are here today opposing this nomination. And although Mr. Offner is not gay, the Republican that he would have unseated at that time, is.
But at any rate according to--that's according to National Review. And he--when he ran for the Senate, he was ideologic--I mean the House--he was ideologically driven. The incumbent congressman said, "It's obvious he's more interested in running against President Reagan than me."
So I think he's just a strong-willed, active Democrat, and I would offer that for the record.
HATCH: Without objection.
LEAHY: Because you said we will vote at 5:30, Mr. Chairman, I won't come back with all of the competing letters to what my friend from Alabama...
SESSIONS: You have had your...
LEAHY: ... has said.
SESSIONS: You've already gone...
LEAHY: Instead, I will just put them in the record. But we do have 10 people, more than 10, Mr. Chairman. We're ready to vote.
HATCH: I understand Senator Thurmond is coming and I'd like to give him that privilege. Here he is, right here.
LEAHY: We will all wait for Senator Thurmond.
HATCH: We will all wait for Senator Thurmond. As soon as he gets here, we will have out vote.
LEAHY: There he is.
HATCH: I am hoping that Senator Specter and Senator Grassley will be here as well.
OK. The clerk will call the roll.
LEAHY: Can we have order?
HATCH: Let's have order. We're going to have a very important roll call vote and I want everybody to hear the vote.
HATCH: OK. Senator Thurmond, aye.
CLERK: Mr. Grassley?
CLERK: Mr. Specter?
HATCH: Aye, by proxy.
CLERK: Mr. Kyl?
CLERK: Mr. DeWine?
CLERK: Mr. Sessions?
CLERK: Mr. Brownback?
CLERK: Mr. McConnell?
CLERK: Mr. Leahy?
CLERK: Mr. Kennedy?
CLERK: Mr. Biden?
LEAHY: No, by proxy.
CLERK: Mr. Kohl?
CLERK: Mrs. Feinstein?
LEAHY: No, by proxy.
CLERK: Mr. Feingold?
CLERK: Mr. Schumer?
CLERK: Mr. Durbin?
CLERK: Ms. Cantwell?
CLERK: Mr. Chairman?
CLERK: Mr. Chairman, the votes are 10 yeas, eight nays.
HATCH: The nomination is reported to the floor. And I'm not sure whether we'll have debate tonight, but we certainly will have it tomorrow. We welcome all of you to come and make your points on the floor, and we're hopeful that we can vote before the end of tomorrow evening. I would like the cooperation of the committee on both sides to be able to do that.
With that, we'll recess until further notice.