WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist appeared confident Tuesday that Alberto Gonzales (search) would be confirmed as attorney general, even as Democrats huddled over the fate of President Bush's nominee.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said many lawmakers have "extremely strong feelings" on the nominee, and he expected 25 to 30 Democratic senators to oppose Gonzales. But, he said Gonzales would get "an up-or-down vote" and not face a filibuster.
Frist said he expected Gonzales would win bipartisan support from the Senate to replace Attorney General John Ashcroft (search).
"The idea that the other side of the aisle is even considering filibustering this manifestation of the American dream that's represented by Judge Gonzales is simply beyond me," Frist said.
A Senate Democratic aide speaking on condition of anonymity told The Associated Press Tuesday that Sens. Edward Kennedy (search), of Massachusetts, and Richard Durbin (search) of Illinois, were planning to urge the caucus to filibuster Gonzales' nomination because of his role in developing legal findings regarding the Bush administration's policies on foreign detainees.
But Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who attended the policy luncheon where the filibuster was to be discussed, told FOX News that not only were Democrats not planning to filibuster Gonzales, but they had not even discussed the matter during their caucus meeting.
After the AP report, Durbin Press Secretary Bill Burton said, "Claims of any sort of filibuster have been greatly exaggerated. There was no talk of filibuster in the meeting and it is highly unlikely that one would occur."
An aide with Kennedy's office said that the AP wire took them by surprise "because [a filibuster] had never been discussed here."
Durbin also told a group of reporters that the caucus did not discuss filibustering Gonzales, saying that "there was some speculation but it did not materialize in the luncheon today ... if there was a plan to filibuster, someone would have brought it up."
A filibuster (search), a parliamentary tactic for delaying Senate action, would require Republicans, who hold a 55-44 majority in the Senate, to win over at least five Democrats — or four Democrats plus Vermont Sen. James Jeffords, an independent — to put Gonzales in office.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted on party lines last week to confirm Gonzales in the panel and forward his nomination to the entire Senate. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who is a member of the panel, said he plans to oppose Gonzales in the Senate because "it's hard to be a straight shooter if you're a blind loyalist."
The attorney general "has to set a tone which enables the [Department of Justice] to function as a fair and independent voice of the American people as its chief law enforcement officer. I very much regret I must vote no on this nomination," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
Several Democrats, including Schumer, have said that Gonzales is a fine lawyer and a good person who is willing to talk straight with them, but that memos he wrote for the administration, describing the boundaries around the rules of torture, enabled prisoner abuses like those at Abu Ghraib (search) in Iraq, in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay (search), Cuba. Democrats have suggested that allowing his confirmation would be akin to supporting mistreatment.
But Republican supporters of Gonzales said the attempt to besmirch the former Texas state Supreme Court justice, is merely an effort to drag the administration through political mud-slinging and make it impossible for Gonzales to be considered later as a possible Supreme Court justice nominee.
"They want the bully pulpit all the way up to and after that to try to taint this nominee with the perceived sins of the Bush administration," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
Gonzales, who would be the nation's first Hispanic attorney general if confirmed, will not know his fate until at least Thursday, after Bush's State of the Union (search) speech Wednesday night, GOP senators said. They said Democrats are delaying because they don't want to give Bush a success to talk about in his first State of the Union speech of his second term.
FOX News' Brian Wilson and Julie Asher and The Associated Press contributed to this report.