Washington President Bush nominated White House counsel Alberto Gonzales as attorney general Wednesday, choosing his top lawyer and longtime friend to guide the war on terrorism and lead the federal government's largest law enforcement agency.
Confirmation by the Senate, considered likely, would make Gonzales, 49, the first Hispanic attorney general in U.S. history and place the Justice Department in the hands of a loyal Bush confidante who helped craft some of the administration's most controversial anti-terrorism strategies.
The move also means that departing Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft, a darling of the conservative movement, would be replaced with a figure viewed with some suspicion by the Republican right. By choosing loyalty over ideology in the first major personnel decision after his re-election, Bush signaled a desire for calmer and quieter times at Justice, officials said.
"He always gives me his frank opinion," Bush said in announcing Gonzales' nomination. "He is a calm and steady voice in times of crisis. He has an unwavering principle of respect for the law."
Gonzales said that the post required "a special level of trust and integrity."
"The American people expect and deserve a Department of Justice guided by the rule of law, and there should be no question regarding the department's commitment to justice for every American," he said. "On this principle there can be no compromise."
Democrats and Republicans alike predicted a relatively easy confirmation for Gonzales, who came to Washington after serving as a Bush aide and as a state supreme court justice in Texas. Last week's elections gave Republicans a 55-45 seat edge in the next Congress, which convenes in January.
Democrats see Gonzales, the son of migrant farm workers, as a relative moderate.
Republican conservatives -- while uncomfortable with Gonzales because of previous decisions related to abortion and other social issues -- were cheered that his appointment as attorney general would keep him, at least for now, from being nominated to fill a Supreme Court vacancy.