WASHINGTON?In an angry exchange in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing room this morning, Massachusetts senator Ted Kennedy came close to promising a filibuster against Bush’s nominee for attorney general, former Missouri governor and senator Jo hn Ashcroft.
The disagreement between Kennedy and Arizona Republican senator Jon Kyl, broke out amid an otherwise soporific hearing as platitude upon platitude was heaped on Ashcroft. As chairman Patrick Leahy went around the room calling on eac h senator to make remarks and ask questions, he came to Kyl, who said Kennedy distorted Ashcroft’s record yesterday. Kennedy had raised questions about Ashcroft’s positionson St. Louis desegregation, guns, and voter registration. Asking for time to respo n d, Kennedy repeated his criticisms, arguing that Ashcroft, in representing the state of Missouri, had fought desegregation and opposed measures to increase voter registration, and that he supports the right of citizens to carry concealed weapons. His v o ice rising in contempt, Kennedy also cited Ashcroft’s attack on Jim Brady as an “enemy” of responsible gun owners. (Brady was seriously injured when he was shot during the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan in 1981.) When Kennedy finished, Kyl repe a te d h is assertion. Kennedy was granted more time to respond: “I will take as much time as is necessary on the Senate floor,” he promised. “And it may take some time.”
So far the Judiciary Committee hearings have scarcely penetrated the surfac e c oncer ns raised about Ashcroft’s nomination. All eight Republicans on the committee have promised to vote for Ashcroft. The Democrats are undeclared, but if their advance statements and line of questioning are any guide, two of these, Russ Feingold a n d Herb Kohl, both of Wisconsin, are open to and maybe even leaning toward confirming Ashcroft.
A filibuster could dramatically change the dynamics of the Ashcroft nomination battle. The Republicans are promising to vote as a bloc, which means 51 vo tes in fav or
As hcroft. Media reports have Ashcroft getting an additional 11 Democratic votes. If true that would put him easily over the top. But once a filibuster is begun, it takes 60 votes to shut it off (or provide “cloture” as the process is calle d). In a clo se fight, holding onto the democratic votes might prove hard for the Republicans.