Democrats, GOP clash on nominations of Ashcroft, Norton
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Democratic and Republican senators clashed Sunday on former Sen.
, President-elect George W. Bush's pick for attorney general, whose confirmation hearing starts Tuesday.
"I think what is troubling is not John Ashcroft as a person," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, on NBC's "Meet the Press." "I mean, we all know Senator Ashcroft. We all like him. But I think there is such a potential for his views to be divisive."
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said on "Fox News Sunday" that confirmation hearings are designed to determine if a nominee's views are too extreme.
"What I've heard here from everybody is, they are going to have an open mind. They will listen to the hearing, and we're all jurors going into this. We should have open minds, Republicans and Democrats," Reid said.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, on the same program, said Ashcroft would enforce the laws, and he dismissed Democratic complaints that the former senator is too conservative.
"His views are more conservative than the majority of the people in the Senate. But Al Gore didn't win the election. I mean, what did they expect to be appointed, a liberal?" McConnell asked.
Sparring over the environment
Bush's nominee for interior secretary, Gale Norton, was also under fire from some Democrats and environmentalists. In a television advertisement, the Sierra Club said Norton supported a right to pollute, a charge her supporters dismissed as ridiculous.
"The politics of character assassination today knows almost no limits," said Gov. Bill Owens of Colorado, where Norton served as state attorney general. Speaking on ABC's "This Week," Owens described Norton as a moderate Republican who would help protect the environment.
But Robert Kennedy Jr., speaking for the Natural Resources Defense Council, faulted Norton for her support of legislation to give private property owners more rights and her belief that companies should be allowed to self-audit their pollution.
"This is not about character assassination," Kennedy said on the same program. "This is about questioning the ideology of a person who has continuously throughout her career made, really, a life's work of eroding and destroying the mission of the department she is now being named to lead."
Racism accusations rejected
But it was Ashcroft who dominated the Sunday talk shows.
Speaking on CNN's "Late Edition," Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee -- which will hold the confirmation hearing -- said a "strong argument" against Ashcroft would be "that he is a man who is taking doctrinary positions, that he would not have the kind of all-encompassing view that the attorney general has to have."
On the other hand, Leahy rejected suggestions that Ashcroft, who has been criticized by some civil rights groups for his 1999 opposition to naming Missouri Judge Ronnie White to the federal bench, is intolerant. At the time, Ashcroft said he objected to White's rulings on some death penalty cases.
"One that would be a bad argument against him, as far as I am concerned, is ... somebody suggesting that he is either anti-religious, or racist, or something like that," Leahy said. "Those of us who know him know that that charge would not stick."
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, told CBS' "Face the Nation" that he would support Ashcroft "on the basis that he has given me the ironclad assurance that he will enforce the laws, rather than test their constitutionality." But he added that he was "not sure that it would have been my nominee if I had been president of the United States."
Will beliefs affect enforcement of law?
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, said he was concerned that anti-abortion beliefs held by Ashcroft, who is a Pentecostal Christian, would interfere with his ability to protect women's clinics.
"How then are you going to protect clinics, where at least according to his beliefs, murder is going on. He's never had that challenge before," Schumer said on "Face the Nation."
Sen. John Kyl, R-Arizona, countered Schumer's concerns by citing instances in which Ashcroft, while serving as attorney general of Missouri, acted opposite his personal beliefs.
"He enforced Missouri's Brady bill, its gun registration bill, even though he wasn't crazy about the law. And with respect to abortion, he rendered opinions as attorney general that were contrary to his personal beliefs but which upheld Missouri law and were in accord with, in fact, the pro-choice position at that time, because it was the law," Kyl said on CBS.