Up to two-thirds of the 44 Democrats in the Republican-led U.S. Senate prepared on Tuesday to oppose Alberto Gonzales as the next U.S. attorney general because of his role in helping craft policies they blame for contributing to the abuse of foreign detainees.
Yet Gonzales, President Bush’s White House counsel the past four years, appeared certain to win Senate confirmation to the post as debate began in the 100-member chamber.
“I’m confident that Judge Gonzales will be confirmed with bipartisan support,” said Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican.
A vote is expected by Thursday.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, predicted that up to 30 of the 44 Senate Democrats would oppose Gonzales, who rose from poverty to sit on the Texas Supreme Court before serving Bush at the White House.
“There are extremely strong feelings with the Democrats over the Gonzales nomination,” Reid told reporters.
“He has a story that is an American success story. But that doesn’t make up for the problems we have with his being the person who was the legal adviser to the president that signed off on these torture memos,” Reid said.
The battle over Gonzales has focused largely on an Aug. 1, 2002, memo he approved that stated only the most severe types of torture were not permissible under U.S. and international agreements. The memo was withdrawn after a public outcry.
Gonzales has also drawn fire for writing in January 2002 that parts of the half-century-old Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war were “obsolete” and “quaint.”
At his Jan. 6 confirmation hearing, Gonzales denounced torture and vowed to abide by international treaties on the treatment of prisoners.
But he prompted further criticism with responses to follow-up written questions, including his contention that the United States may technically have the right to hold foreigners indefinitely in secret locations overseas and subject them to abusive treatment.
After a number of Democrats criticized Gonzales on Tuesday, Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, rose to his defense, quoting the nominee as having repeatedly testified that the administration condemns torture and so does he.
“I don’t know how much more explicit a witness, a designee can be than Judge Gonzales has been,” Specter said.
Gonzales, 49, would replace John Ashcroft, who submitted his resignation as attorney general after Bush won re-election in November.
Ashcroft had a Senate confirmation battle of his own in February 2001 before prevailing on a 58-42 vote.
Last week, the Senate confirmed Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state on a vote of 85-13. The vote reflected more opposition than any secretary of state in recent history.
Democrats talked about — but rejected — trying to raise a procedural hurdle against Gonzales. They acknowledged they likely lacked the 41 votes needed to succeed.
“The idea that the other side of the aisle is even considering filibustering this manifestation of the American dream that’s represented by Judge Gonzales is simply beyond me,” Frist told reporters.
Democrats have criticized Gonzales for policies drafted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, many blamed for contributing to the abuse of detainees captured in the subsequent fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Democrats also complained Gonzales had been less than fully forthcoming.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, said, “The issues raised by Mr. Gonzales’s nomination go to the heart of what America stands for in the world.”