Senate debates 'no-confidence' vote on Gonzales

Tuesday, June 12, 2007
U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales responded to a question during a news conference Monday in Miami.
Wilfredo Lee
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats blistered Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Monday with debate on a symbolic "no-confidence" resolution, but Republicans shrugged it all off as a waste of time.

No one predicted that the resolution would survive its test vote late in the day. But neither did Republicans or Democrats rush to defend Bush's longtime friend after he alienated even the White House's staunchest allies on a host of controversies -- from the bungled firings of eight federal prosecutors to the handling of wiretapping authority under the USA Patriot Act.

Many Republican votes against the symbolic resolution apparently sprang from a fear of political retribution, not support of Gonzales.

"There is no confidence in the attorney general on this side of the aisle," said Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, announcing he would vote for the no-confidence resolution.

Republicans complained that the Democratic resolution was an effort to pressure Bush into firing Gonzales -- an unlikely prospect in light of Bush's strong continued support.

"They can have their votes of no confidence, but it's not going to make the determination about who serves in my government," Bush said in Sofia, Bulgaria, the last stop on a weeklong visit to Europe.

"This process has been drug out a long time," Bush added. "It's political."

The attorney general said he was paying no attention to the rhetoric on Capitol Hill.

"I am not focusing on what the Senate is doing," Gonzales said at a nuclear terrorism conference in Miami. "I am going to be focusing on what the American people expect of the attorney general of the United States and this great Department of Justice."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., one of the resolution's sponsors, said any attorney general should uphold the law rather than the president's political priorities.

So-called "no-confidence" votes on members of the executive branch are rare, in part because the Constitution mandates the separation of powers.

Majority Democrats toned down the language in the one-sentence resolution to attract more support from Republicans.

"It is the sense of the Senate that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales no longer holds the confidence of the Senate and of the American people," read the measure, sponsored by Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York and Feinstein.

Sixty votes were required Monday to bring the resolution to a formal debate.

Republicans protested the measure on constitutional grounds. There was scarcely any defense of Gonzales himself.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called the debate a waste of time.

"It will have no impact on the tenure of the attorney general," McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters on a conference call.

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