WASHINGTON – With the threat of a Democratic filibuster receding, Attorney General-designate Alberto Gonzales (search) must still wait for Senate confirmation to be the highest ranking law enforcement officer in the land.
Democrats concerned about Gonzales' role in developing Bush administration policy on prisoners taken in the war on terrorism had indicated they might use parliamentary delaying tactics in an attempt to thwart his ascension.
But that talk dissipated Tuesday. Now, Republican senators say a vote on whether to approve Gonzales was not happening Wednesday, in part because Democrats don't want to give President Bush a success to tout in his State of the Union speech.
"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. The Senate won't vote on the nomination until at least Thursday.
The Senate's top Democrat said Tuesday that Democrats won't try to filibuster Gonzales' nomination, but will hold extensive debate over his role in developing the Bush administration's policies on foreign detainees.
"There will be an up-or-down vote" and no blockage, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada told reporters after the Democrats huddled for their weekly planning session.
Democratic opposition to Gonzales derives "from the nominee's involvement in the formulation of a number of policies that have tarnished our country's moral leadership in the world and put American soldiers and American citizens at greater risk," Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said during Senate debate Tuesday.
Gonzales, who served as White House counsel during Bush's first term, would be the nation's first Hispanic attorney general.
"I'm confident that Judge Gonzales will be confirmed with bipartisan support," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said. "And I'm confident that as attorney general, Judge Gonzales will continue to build on the successes of the last four years that we've seen in reducing crime and in fighting corporate fraud and upholding our civil rights laws."
Reid predicted that at least 25 or 30 Democrats would vote against Gonzales but said "there was a decision made not to filibuster."
A filibuster, 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 gain the 60 votes needed to end debate and then confirm Gonzales.
Questions about treatment of foreign prisoners will also be put to the Homeland Security secretary nominee Michael Chertoff (search), who urged the FBI to address legal problems in the detentions of illegal immigrants who were held for months after they were swept up in terrorism investigations.
Chertoff was heading the Justice Department's criminal division when he raised "the issue of the pace of clearance investigations" with FBI Director Robert Mueller and Assistant Director Dale Watson. He said he also "asked others to raise it with the FBI."
"The existence of the delay suggests the importance of developing appropriate procedures to streamline clearances in the future," Chertoff said in documents obtained by The Associated Press.
The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (search) was holding Chertoff's confirmation hearing Wednesday. Chertoff said he had no personal knowledge about allegations of abuse by guards at detention facilities.
Chertoff, who now is a judge on the 3rd U.S. Court of Appeals, is expected to win Senate approval to run the Homeland Security Department.
Even though they are not filibustering Gonzales, Reid said earlier Tuesday that Democrats are "not going to cut and run" from a battle over Bush's judicial nominations.
"If they bring back the same judges we're going to do the same thing," Reid said of the administration.
Bush has threatened to renominate the 10 nominees Democrats blocked last year, and Republicans say they will change long-standing Senate rules to strip Democrats of their ability to filibuster if they try to stop them.
Reid sounded a note of defiance Tuesday. "Well, let them do it," he said.