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Burden of Proof

Ashcroft Consideration Moves to Full Senate

Aired January 31, 2001 - 12:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: The consideration of John Ashcroft as attorney general moves to the full Senate. Despite continued opposition from the Democratic side of the aisle, Ashcroft appears destined to oversee the Justice Department.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), WASHINGTON: How can he vigorously enforce the laws he has vehemently opposed and sought to overturn throughout his public service? His past history shows that he does not believe in, and has fought against, the laws that strengthen gun safety, and protect the woman's right to choose, and civil rights.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: He voted for 26 out of 27 African-American judges that the Clinton administration went forward with, objecting only to the one from his state, where his sheriffs and his chiefs opposed him. And now somehow, he's anti-black?

We are wrong. This is going too far. This is not right, what's happening here. John Ashcroft is a man of the highest integrity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF, with Greta Van Susteren and Roger Cossack.

VAN SUSTEREN: Hello, welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF. Roger is off today.

By a vote of 10 to 8 Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to send John Ashcroft's nomination to the full Senate.

Debate among the 100 U.S. lawmakers began today, amid the growing likelihood that Ashcroft, a former Missouri attorney general, senator, and governor, will be confirmed.

The Republican support for Bush's nominee has been unwavering. And a Democratic threat of a filibuster withered on the vine.

But for today, the debate continues.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: I do feel that the nomination of John Ashcroft to be attorney general does not meet the standard that the president himself has set.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: That he will uphold the laws of the United States, regardless of his religious views on the 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: Joining us today from Capitol Hill: Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California. And from San Francisco, James Hormel, the former ambassador to Luxembourg. And here in Washington: Sarah Kimball (ph), Republican Congressman Kenny Hulshof, and Jessica Schneider (ph). And in the back, Rick Castellano (ph) and Dennis Jessinger (ph). Also joining us from Capitol Hill is CNN national correspondent Bob Franken.

Bob, what can we expect this afternoon on the soon-to-be Ashcroft full-Senate vote?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know that this is a book where we know the ending. But it's the storytelling that probably is most interesting.

We can expect a repeat of the arguments that we've heard now for several weeks. Those who support Ashcroft say that when he has been in a position of administration, he has faithfully executed the laws, even those that he disagreed with.

And we'll hear the arguments on the other side, that he has such extreme positions on many of the issues that are laws of the land, that he cannot be trusted to administer them when he becomes, in effect, the nation's chief law enforcement officer, the attorney general.

We've heard those arguments. We've heard them over and over. We're hearing them for the time that really counts as the Senate gets set in its advise-and-consent role to consent. That's expected to come tomorrow.

The Democrats are trying to accumulate as many as 40 opponents to set down their markers, to say to Ashcroft, we're going to keep on you a short leash, we're not going to allow you to have much latitude when it comes to setting policy at the Justice Department.

And of course, the other issue is to not allow him as much slack as he would probably like in making appointments in the federal judgeships, particularly the Supreme Court.

So for the Democrats, this is a bit of an exercise in futility. But it's for an investment in their future arguments with John Ashcroft, the arguments that they expect to have.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bob, if it's a little bit of an exercise in futility -- we've heard the argument of the Democratic senators in the House Judiciary Committee -- why not -- why are all the debate on the floor? Why not just get to the point and vote?

FRANKEN: This is, after all, the United States Senate.

VAN SUSTEREN: I gave that you one.

FRANKEN: Yes, thank you for that one. But actually, that is part of the answer.

But the other one is to establish a record and to have the ability to say later, I told you so.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you say "establish a record." Are we going to hear from the same United States senators, Democratic ones and House Judiciary Committee, that have, quote, "established a record at least in their committee" -- and we've seen them here on CNN. Are we going to hear some new voices?

FRANKEN: We're going to hear some new voices. But of course, we're going to hear the ones on the committee. They're the ones who lead this debate. As you know, the particular relevant committee always is the one that is most visible on the Senate floor.

What we are not going to hear, by the way, is a filibuster. Senator Edward Kennedy toyed with that idea. That handwriting was on the wall. After a while, that it couldn't be sustained. So all he is doing is laying down as emphatically as he can his arguments against John Ashcroft. And he's being met argument-for-argument by people on the other side.

VAN SUSTEREN: Representative Hulshof, before we start to get to tissues of the nominee itself, I'm curious. This is all being done in the Senate, but you are a member of Congress.

How much does -- does Congress -- do the members of the House of Representatives play any sort of a behind-the-scenes role or have -- in this process?

REP. KENNY HULSHOF (R), MISSOURI: Not really. I mean, I had a unique role in that I was called to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But it wasn't as a sitting member of Congress. It was as in my former role as a special prosecutor for Missouri attorney general.

So, you know, I think being supportive or sounding off with our respective United States senators, which will be interesting in Missouri, with Mrs. Carnahan right our newly appointed U.S. senator. But really, the members of Congress have a very little to do with this process.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bob, let's talk about the new senator from the state of Missouri, Senator Carnahan, the governor's widow and of -- and of course, the deceased governor beat Senator Ashcroft. And then she replaced -- and she was nominated by the governor to succeed her dead husband as senator.

What do we expect? Do we expect to hear anything from her about this nomination, about this vote?

FRANKEN: I would. I would expect to hear from her at some point. Of course, what we did hear from her was that she did participate in the introduction of Senator Ashcroft. That is courtesy. That's the tradition.

She is from his home state. She made that introduction, in spite of the fact that the Carnahans and Ashcroft -- Senator Carnahan and Senator Ashcroft had been long-time adversaries. As a matter of fact, there was some question about whether she would actually do so. But she decided that she would, in fact, do what is the tradition and introduce him.

She made it very clear, at the point, she was not taking a position of support. And everybody will be watching extremely closely, of course, what she finally decides.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. let's go to another part of Capitol Hill, to Senator Barbara Boxer, who's the Democratic senator from the state of California.

Senator Boxer, how do you intend to vote today and why? Assuming that the vote is today. If it's tomorrow, how do you intend to vote tomorrow?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, as you probably know, I was the first senator to speak out against this nomination. This is -- this is a nomination that is divisive. From a president who said he wanted to be a unifier, he picks someone who's off-the-chart, zero on women's right to choose, a three-percent environmental record, a 100 percent for the National Rifle Association, and on and on, and civil rights, human rights, women's rights. It's a -- it's a -- it's a bad pick.

VAN SUSTEREN: What do you make of Senator Feingold, who's the senator from my home state of Wisconsin? He voted to -- he voted in favor of Senator Ashcroft on the House -- on the Senate Judiciary Committee, rather. And he's expected to vote in favor of him when it comes to a full vote.

What sort of happens to him? Or what -- how is he sort of looked upon now within the Democratic senators?

BOXER: I really don't think that we ever hold it against someone or attack someone.

This is -- this is a vote of deep conscience. I listened to him. I mean, he basically said, I'm not going to treat Ashcroft the way he, Ashcroft, treated Ronnie White and Margaret Morrow and Bill Lan Lee and the others that come before him. That's his decision.

My own view is President Bush said, look into the heart of this man; he's a good man. I've looked into John Ashcroft's heart. I've seen him attack good people. They happen to be women, minorities.

Margaret Morrow, a wonderful, mainstream woman, up for judgeship. He had a secret hold on her for a long time. And she twisted in the wind and luckily hung in there. And by the time we voted, she got overwhelmingly confirmed.

So he's done this over and over again. And I -- in my life, I believe what goes around comes around. And there are 1,280 million Americans. Why would you pick someone who is a lightening rod to so many Americans? These wounds run very, very, very deep.

And, you know, again, I would pick up on George Bush's own words after an election where a lot of people feel, frankly, that the wrong man was sworn in, had the votes been counted.

Why would you go to someone so extreme that just brings up all that division?

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, let me go to Representative Hulshof.

I mean, this is -- whether you are for Senator Ashcroft or against him, I think everyone would probably agree that this -- people have very strong feelings.

Why choose someone for any Cabinet position that's likely to create such a huge divide?

HULSHOF: Well, first of all, if you look at John Ashcroft's resume, just the piece of a paper: two-term governor, two-term attorney general, senator...

VAN SUSTEREN: Clearly on paper, qualified. I'll give you that. He meets absolutely.

HULSHOF: ... the only senator that's -- the only nominee, the AG nominee that I'm aware of that's actually served on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

It's only when you begin to examine these political viewpoints that you see this ire that's been really generated by these outside special interest groups.

VAN SUSTEREN: And let me talk to one of the people who has some ire, James Hormel, who was our ambassador to the country of Luxembourg.

Jim, you have some of that ire towards this nominee. Why?

JAMES HORMEL, FMR. U.S. AMB. TO LUXEMBOURG: Well, I wouldn't categorize it as ire.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK, well, then I apologize. That was my word that -- I will plead guilty on that.

How would you characterize it?

HORMEL: I -- I'm -- I'm deeply disturbed. The word which has been used time and again to describe Mr. Ashcroft is "integrity." And in my experience, his integrity has been very severely compromised. And I have done my best to bring that to the attention of members of the Judiciary Committee.

VAN SUSTEREN: In what specific manner, though? I mean, you can -- I mean, it's easy to say that any -- anyone -- let me -- I'm sorry, I will give you a chance.

We're going to go to Kyra Phillips at CNN center in Atlanta.

(INTERRUPTED BY COVERAGE OF A LIVE EVENT)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Welcome back.

We are talking about the expected full Senate vote on the nominee be next attorney general, Senator John Ashcroft from Missouri -- or former Senator John Ashcroft.

Senator -- let's go to Senator Grassley from the state of Iowa, a Republican.

Senator, in terms of the speeches that are likely be given on the floor, either for or against former Senator Ashcroft, what's the strategy? Why does the senator want to get up and speak, instead of just voting at this point?

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: Well, I think for those that are opposed to him, they are part of a big political movement inside the Beltway here, of people who have to demonstrate political muscle at a time when they don't have a president of their persuasion in the White House. They want to show their grassroots people they're still a force in the House -- or I mean, in Washington. They want to make sure that they don't let Democrat senators on too short of a leash, even if they lose this one on future ones.

And for those that support John Ashcroft, it's only because of the illicit opposition to him that would question his integrity, the most honest man probably to be attorney general for a long time.

VAN SUSTEREN: And talking about integrity, let me go back to Jim Hormel.

Jim, I cut you off before, former ambassador to Luxembourg. And I asked you before on the question of integrity.

Do you have specific instances in mind when you say that he does not, in your opinion, have the correct amount of integrity to be attorney general?

HORMEL: Well, indeed, I do. There were -- there were several instances in his written answers to questions, in which senators tried to draw him out on comments that he had made, for example, that he opposed me on the totality of the record. But he never bothered to state one specific example in the record which disturbed him, although he did mention that he didn't think I was fit to represent us in Luxembourg because Luxembourg was heavily Roman Catholic. The only...

VAN SUSTEREN: And what relevance was that? What difference did that make?

HORMEL: Well, the only inference one can draw from that is that it was his belief that a gay person could not effectively represent the United States. Luxembourg had already given its approval to the nomination by the time he voted on it.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Representative Hulshof...

HORMEL: So, and he knew that.

VAN SUSTEREN: .. all right, in 20 seconds, do you think he -- do you think there's a question of him being anti-gay?

HULSHOF: No, I don't. I think -- and nothing against Mr. Hormel -- I think that the totality of the record included perhaps some anti- Catholic sentiments or opinions expressed.

But I think instead of talking about what John Ashcroft is against, I think we should talk about what he is for; that is, he's going to be strong on law and order.

VAN SUSTEREN: And unfortunately, we -- unfortunately, we don't have the time. I'm sorry to all of our guests because we have a shorter show.

Hopefully the senators will to have -- will be able to discuss that both sides of the issue when they speak on the Senate floor.

That's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests, and thank you for watching. Join us again tomorrow for another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We will see you then.

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