Democrats Folding on Ashcroft, But Public Opposition Builds

Right-Wing Pick for Attorney General Dogged by Record on Gay Rights

WASHINGTON, D.C., JANUARY 25—Despite assurances from Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle to President Bush yesterday that John Ashcroft will be confirmed when his nomination for attorney general comes to the floor next Wednesday, the campaign against the former Missouri senator is gaining momentum.

People for the American Way deluged Senate offices with 130,000 anti-Ashcroft petitions yesterday. Claiming the petitions literally weighed a ton, the advocacy group held a press conference yesterday on Capitol Hill to announce the delivery of boxes of petitions, signed over the Internet, to every senator. People for the American Way now has a Web site, www.opposeashcroft.com, where readers can pore over the extensive opposition research on the right-wing nominee. "John Ashcroft's record shows that he has, time and again, set himself against fundamental American freedoms, fairness, and equal opportunity," said Ralph Neas, the nonprofit's president.


Ashcroft looked directly at the applicant, who was then single, and asked: "Mr. Offner, do you have the same sexual preferences as most men?"


This morning The Washington Post reports that Ashcroft made anti-gay remarks during an interview with a prospective employee while he was Missouri governor in 1985. Paul Offner, a Democrat and health care expert, was applying for the job as director of Missouri's Department of Social Services. Offner says that as the job interview began, Ashcroft looked directly at the applicant, who was then single, and asked: "Mr. Offner, do you have the same sexual preferences as most men?" To which Offner replied, "Yes." Offner, who didn't get the job, said he was taken aback by the question. "It was just like, zap," he recalled, and he immediately told friends, who also were shocked.

A spokesperson for Ashcroft said yesterday that the former governor doesn't remember the interview and "cannot imagine starting a meeting with this question." Last week at confirmation hearings Ashcroft, who has said being gay is a sin, insisted "sexual orientation has never been something that I've used in hiring in any of the jobs, in any of the offices, I've held. It will not be a consideration in hiring at the Department of Justice."

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have continued to stress that Ashcroft voted against confirming James Hormel as the Clinton administration's ambassador to Luxembourg because Hormel is openly gay. While he was in the Senate, Ashcroft voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, aimed at protecting gay men and lesbians from being fired because of their sexual orientation. Ashcroft said this legislation gave gay people "special rights" And he has said that sexual orientation "is clearly a choice—a choice that can be made and unmade."


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