Senate Democrats fail to pass no confidence vote on Gonzales
Senate Democrats failed to secure 60 votes today in an effort to advance a resolution of 'no confidence' against embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
Only seven Republicans voted with their Democratic colleagues to express their disappointment with the firing of 8 US Attorneys and other controversial matters in Gonzales's administration of the Department of Justice: Norm Coleman (MN) Susan Collins (ME), Chuck Hagel (NE), Gordon Smith (OR), Olympia Snowe (ME), Arlen Specter (PA), and John Sununu (NH).
Senator Joseph Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, voted with the Republicans. The vote tally was 53 in favor of invoking cloture, and 38 voting to continue debate. One senator, Ted Stevens of Alaska, voted 'present.' Six Senators (excluding South Dakota's Tim Johnson who has not returned to his office since a stroke earlier in the year) did not vote: Joe Biden (D-DE), Sam Brownback (R-KS), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Chris Dodd (D-CT), John McCain (R-AZ), and Barack Obama (D-IL)
In the course of the debate, Republican Senators attempted to refocus the debate away from the Attorney General and onto the propriety of Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) for both heading the Democratic political operation in the Senate and helping to lead the Senate Judiciary Committee's investigation of the firing of the 8 US Attorneys.
Senator Schumer worked to make the case that politics was not at the heart of either the probe into the firing of the US Attorneys, or Monday's no confidence motion.
"This vote is not about politics. If this were all about politics, it would be easy to sit back, let the Attorney General remain, cast aspersions on him for the next 18 months and reap the political benefits," he said.
A freshman senator who helped sponsor the motion also invoked the specter of President Richard Nixon in seeking to bring an end to debate about the resolution.
"He has politicized this department to a degree not seen since the Nixon administration," said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) as he outlined cases of alleged White House interference in prosecutions around the nation.
Schumer then argued that the speeches of Republicans seeking to keep the no confidence motion bottled up proved his case that no one on the minority's side supported the Attorney General.
"They have made my case...they failed to utter the words 'we have faith in Attorney General Gonzales,'" he argued.
Senate Republicans allege 'conflict of interest'
The New York Democrat raised the point while responding to an effort by Senate Republicans to argue that Schumer was committing a conflict of interest by investigating the Justice Department in the Judiciary Committee while also leading up the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
"He's repeatedly used material derived from the investigation in partisan political activities," said Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Minority Leader, who then noted that Schumer raised similar objections about Senator Al D'Amato, the New York Senator that Schumer defeated for election in 1998. D'Amato had probed the Clinton White House.
"Given that the Senator from New York has said it is a serious conflict of interest for someone to lead his party's campaign committee while he uses his official position to lead an investigation of the administration of the opposite party...I cannot understand why my good friend should not at least recuse himself from the official investigation of the Justice Department that he himself has been leading," the Senate's Minority Leader added.
Schumer only responded to the charge obliquely, saying that the Republicans were only working to create a diversion from the issue at hand.
Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic Majority Leader, responded to McConnell's allegations more directly.
"Any suggestions that were made to impugn his integrity are unwarranted, untrue, and unfair," he said. "In my opinion, his work on this investigation has been commendable."
And, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, offered a spirited defendse of Schumer's contribution to the investigation.
"He has asked legitimate questions....He has done what one should do in oversight, and he shouldn't be criticized for that," the Vermont Democrat said. "Maybe those who are doing the criticizing should ask why they let a rubber stamp Senate under their watch to continue for six years, and with conduct that certainly borders on the criminal, certainly reflects the unethical going on at the Department of Justice, and they didn't say one word about it."
Republican warns of 'British invasion' of Senate
Senator Trent Lott (R-MS), the Minority Whip and former Republican Majority leader, objected to the constitutionality of the Senate's no confidence motion, suggesting that it resembled the British political tradition, and was not in line with the American political system.
"What are we going to do, bring the president in here for a question period?" he asked.
He then asked, "This is beneath the dignity of the Senate. How low will the Senate go?"
Earlier in the day, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, gave a strongly worded speech on the Senate floor in which he argued that the American people wanted the Congress to move on from the investigation of the Justice Department and the firing of the Attorneys.
"The Attorney General's critics have been pulling out all the stops for six months now," the Utah Republican said, and then pointed to a variety of polls. "Only a little over a third of Americans think he should resign...only about 8% of Americans said they followed that story closely."
Hatch, who helped launch the career of Gonzales's former Chief of Staff, D. Kyle Sampson, also suggested that the Democratic investigators had presented no evidence of wrongdoing.
"My Democratic colleagues have to admit that they have no smoking gun," he said. "Repeating talking points, soundbites, and cliches is no substitute for evidence."
Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), the ranking minority member of the Judiciary Committee, then disagreed, and said that he lacked confidence in the Attorney General and would vote to invoke cloture on the bill.
But in the course of his speech, Specter still questioned whether the no confidence motion would even be effective if it were passed.
"The thrust of the resolution if it really seeks his ouster is going to be a boomerang and is going to be counter-productive," the Pennsylvania Republican warned. "My own sense is there is no confidence in the attorney general on this side of the aisle, but the views will not be expressed in in this format."
Senator Lieberman refused to vote in favor of cloture because he thought the Senate should have other priorities.
"My vote against going ahead with more debate on this no confidence resolution is not an expression of confidence in Attorney General Gonzales. It is an expression of opposition to spending any more time on a resolution that will accomplish nothing, instead of going ahead with the next item of business, which is energy legislation," he said in a statement posted at his website. "It is time for the Senate to move on right now to do something about energy prices supplies and energy prices."
House Democrats unbowed by Senate defeat
While Senate Democrats failed to advance their motion, the sponsors of a similar, but more expansive no confidence measure in the House of Representatives said they would carry on.
"I applaud the Senate’s efforts today and hope the strong showing of support for resolutions of no confidence in both houses will hasten [the Attorney General's] departure," said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA).
Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL), who helped lead the House resolution, which has 118 total co-sponsors, agreed.
"The Senate has taken the right steps today in moving for a vote of no confidence in his leadership, and it is my hope that the House leadership will take similar steps in the near future," he said.