Committee delays vote on Ashcroft

Norton's nomination heads to full Senate

Thompson, Mineta OK'd

January 25, 2001|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - On a day when several of President Bush's Cabinet choices were greeted by a welcoming Senate, his most politically charged selection - attorney general nominee John Ashcroft - generated increased tensions and stepped-up opposition from Democrats.

The Senate unanimously approved Tommy G. Thompson to lead the Department of Health and Human Services and Norman Y. Mineta as transportation secretary. The nomination of Gale A. Norton as interior secretary - opposed by many environmental groups - was sent to the full Senate by an 18-2 committee vote, and labor secretary-designate Elaine Chao received a warm reception from another Senate panel.

But for Ashcroft, there was only more bad news.

Although Republicans said they are confident the former Missouri senator will be confirmed as the nation's top law enforcement official, Democrats declared that they will not give their former colleague a free ride.

Dianne Feinstein, California's senior senator, became the latest Democrat to come out in opposition to Ashcroft, calling him an "ultra right-wing" partisan who cannot be trusted to enforce the nation's laws on behalf of all its citizens.

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee forced the panel to delay for a week its vote on Ashcroft's nomination. They said they need more time to collect and review information on his sometimes contentious 25-year record in public service, including his responses to nearly 350 written questions from Democrats.

Republicans said it was the first time in at least a quarter-century that an attorney general nominee had been subjected to such procedural maneuvering.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said the tactics come "at a time when we need to make certain that our nation has its executive officers in place so that we can have an attorney general who can wage a war on crime and enforce the laws."

But Democrats noted that former Attorney General Janet Reno's top aide, Eric Holder Jr., is acting attorney general. "It's not as though justice goes undone," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

President Bush also downplayed the conflict. "I think they're making sure that, when they confirm him, all questions have been answered," he said of the Democrats' action.

In other developments yesterday, Thompson was approved by the full Senate as secretary of health and human services after a brief debate in which lawmakers praised his record as a four-term governor of Wisconsin and as a leader in welfare reform.

Chao appeared to enjoy broad support during her confirmation hearing to become secretary of labor. A Heritage Foundation scholar, she is a former head of United Way and the Peace Corps and a former deputy secretary of transportation.

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