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Democrats mobilize against Gonzales

Page 2 of 2 -- Democrats' efforts to hold up Gonzales's appointment drew a blistering response from Republicans, who trumpeted Gonzales's humble upbringing and lengthy service as a Texas Supreme Court justice and counsel to Bush as governor and president.

''The idea that the other side of the aisle is even considering filibustering this manifestation of the American dream that is Judge Gonzales is simply beyond me," said Senate majority leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, when the Democrats were still holding out the possibility of a filibuster.

Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, said Democrats appeared to be trying to attack Bush through Gonzales, and to send a message that they would oppose Gonzales's elevation to the Supreme Court.

He said that Democrats are opposing a Hispanic appointee for attorney general just a week after many spoke out against Bush's nomination of a Condoleezza Rice -- a black woman -- to become secretary of state.

''From a strictly political standpoint, Democrats are hurting themselves by attacking American success stories like Condoleezza Rice and Alberto Gonzales," said Cornyn, who serves on the Judiciary Committee.

''I had hoped that they had learned something from what happened on Nov. 2," he added, referring to the election, when Republicans picked up four Senate seats, including that of then-Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

Cornyn and Senator Mel Martinez, Republican of Florida, yesterday raised the possibility of banning filibusters of judicial nominees, a notion that is so politically explosive in the Senate that it is commonly referred to as the ''nuclear option." Democrats have warned that they will grind Senate business to a stop if Republicans prevent the minority party's ability to stall nominations.

The delay of the Gonzales nomination comes amid mounting acrimony between Bush and Democratic leaders in the Senate. Bush late this week will travel to the home states of seven Democratic senators who represent states he carried in the election in an effort to drum up support for his plan to remake Social Security. Reid, meanwhile, declared yesterday that no Democrats will support Bush's plan, and said any efforts to privatize the program will die in the Senate.

Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said Democrats are seeking to make political hay out of the Gonzales nomination because they remain bitter about the results of last November's election.

''There's an environment here that's very bitter and very partisan," McCain said. ''In the case of Condi Rice, in the case of Judge Gonzales, we should be celebrating these incredible American success stories."

The Republican National Committee was more pointed in its criticism, accusing Reid and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi of seeking to ''transform the Capitol into an obstruction factory."

''Pledging to obstruct the president's judicial nominees from even coming up for a vote in the Senate may please left-wing extremists, but again shows the Democrat leadership has chosen petty politics over progress," said RNC spokesman Brian Jones.

Democratic leaders ruled out attempting to launch a filibuster of Gonzales's nomination, calculating that it would be difficult to get because it would require 40 senators to stand together, and would probably not be worth the political fallout. He is expected to receive fewer ''no" votes than the 42 cast against the current attorney general, John Ashcroft, in 2001.

Still, Democrats yesterday were harshly critical of Gonzales's conduct as White House counsel. Several expressed the wish that they could ''vote for the story" of Gonzales's life, but said they were too upset with his role in formulating torture policy to vote for him.

Gonzales endorsed a series of memos in 2002 that Democrats believe paved the way for torture in Iraq by American troops, including one in which portions of the Geneva Convention's protections of prisoners of war were referred to as ''obsolete" and ''quaint."

''I believe his judgment was not sound," said Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

''On the contrary, several of this administration's legal policies have been exceedingly harmful to our national interest."

Rick Klein can be reached at 

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