Key Democrats boost nominee’s prospects for attorney general post
Washington ? Michael Mukasey drew closer to becoming attorney general Friday after two key Senate Democrats said they would vote for him despite his refusal to say whether waterboarding is torture.
The decision by Sens. Charles Schumer and Dianne Feinstein to back President Bush’s nominee came shortly after the chairman of the committee, Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., announced he would vote against Mukasey, a former federal judge.
“This is an extremely difficult decision,” Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement, adding that Mukasey “is not my ideal choice.”
In announcing her support for Mukasey, Feinstein, D-Calif., said “first and foremost, Michael Mukasey is not Alberto Gonzales,” referring to the former attorney general who resigned in September after months of questions about his honesty.
Including Leahy, five of the Judiciary Committee’s 10 Democrats had said they would vote against Mukasey’s confirmation after the nominee earlier this week refused to say that waterboarding, an interrogation technique that simulates drowning, is torture and therefore illegal.
But with nine Republicans on the panel, Schumer and Feinstein’s support for Mukasey virtually guarantees that a majority of the committee will recommend his confirmation when it votes on it Tuesday.
Leaders in both parties have said they expect Mukasey to get at least 70 votes when the full, 100-member Senate votes on his confirmation. But Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had said he would not bring it up for a vote without Judiciary Committee action first.
Schumer’s announcement followed a private meeting Friday with Mukasey to discuss waterboarding.
“I deeply oppose it,” Schumer said of waterboarding. “Unfortunately, this nominee, indeed any proposed by President Bush, will not agree with this. I am, however, confident that this nominee would enforce a law that bans waterboarding.”
Schumer, who was Mukasey’s chief Democratic sponsor, said the retired judge told him that if Congress passes a law banning waterboarding “the president would have absolutely no legal authority to ignore such a law.” Schumer said Mukasey said he would enforce any congressional ban on the controversial interrogation method.
Human Rights Watch called Schumer and Feinstein’s support for Mukasey “extremely disappointing.” Jennifer Daskal, the group’s senior counterterrorism counsel, criticized the two senators for “supporting a nominee for the position of America’s chief law enforcement officer who refuses to call waterboarding, which has been prosecuted as torture for over a hundred years, illegal.”