WASHINGTON – The Senate confirmed Alberto Gonzales (search) on Thursday to be the next attorney general despite strong resistance from Democrats, who argued that the former White House counsel helped contribute to detainee mistreatment at U.S.-guarded prisons abroad.
Gonzales was sworn in by Vice President Dick Cheney after the Senate voted 60-36 to confirm him. Gonzales becomes the 80th attorney general and first Hispanic-American to win the job. Six Democrats supported the nominee.
Though Gonzales' approval seemed certain days ago, Democrats continued to voice strong opposition to him on Thursday. Sen. Chris Dodd (search), D-Conn., who voted against President Bush's nominee and close friend, was among the most vocal critics.
"What is at stake here is whether he has demonstrated to the Senate of the United States that he will discharge the duties of the office to which he's been nominated, specifically whether he will enforce the Constitution and the laws of the United States and uphold the values upon which those laws are based. Regrettably, and disturbingly in my view, Alberto Gonzales has fallen short of meeting this most basic and fundamental standard," Dodd said.
Dodd said that Gonzales "has endorsed, unfortunately, the position that torture can be permissible."
Gonzales has said on several occasions that the memos he wrote, including one written in January 2002 that was often cited by Democrats, did not endorse torture tactics but merely described that terrorists are not signatories to the Geneva Conventions (search), which prohibit certain interrogation techniques.
But Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. tried to make a link between the memos and abuses at prisons run by U.S. troops abroad.
"At the very least Mr. Gonzales helped to create a permissive environment that made it more likely that abuses would take place," Durbin said on Wednesday. "You could connect the dots from the administration's legal memos to the Defense Department's (search) approval of abusive interrogation techniques for Guantanamo Bay to Iraq and Abu Ghraib."
Before the vote, 15 Democrats stated on the Senate floor that they would not vote for Gonzales' confirmation. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (search) said Tuesday that he expected about 25-30 Democrats to vote against Gonzales. But Democrats clearly did not have the backing to mount a filibuster, a parliamentary tactic for delaying Senate action. At least 40 votes are needed to sustain a filibuster.
Two Democrats, Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Ken Salazar of Colorado, said beforehand that they would support Gonzales' confirmation. They were joined by Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Bill Nelson of Florida, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.
Four lawmakers — Democrat Max Baucus and Republican Conrad Burns, both of Montana, Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, and Kent Conrad, D-N.D. — did not vote. Baucus, Burns and Conrad were all traveling with the president on Thursday
Democratic opposition this week stirred Republicans to ask aloud why Democrats were so opposed to Gonzales' nomination.
"Is it prejudice? Is it a belief that a Hispanic-American should never be in a position like this because he will be the first one ever in a position like this?" Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah said. "Or is it because he's constantly mentioned for the Supreme Court of the United States of America? Or is it that they just don't like Judge Gonzales?"
Republicans agree that confirming Gonzales as the new attorney general will resonate throughout the Hispanic community.
"This is a breakthrough of incredible magnitude for Hispanic-Americans and should not be diluted by partisan politics," Florida GOP Sen. Mel Martinez (search), the nation's first Cuban-American senator, said. "Judge Gonzales is a role model for the next generation of Hispanic-Americans in this country."
Martinez delivered his remarks on the Senate floor in Spanish, saying the confirmation would mean a lot to young Hispanics who have never seen one of their own in the top four Cabinet positions: secretary of state, defense secretary, treasury secretary or attorney general.
Democrats were sent scrambling after Martinez's break with Senate tradition. They quickly issued a statement written in Spanish opposing the Gonzales nomination.
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 a Senate debate Tuesday.
Gonzales, who served as a Texas state Supreme Court judge before moving to Washington, D.C., actually ended up winning more votes than his predecessor John Ashcroft, who announced his retirement shortly after the November election. Ashcroft won confirmation in 2001 on a 58-42 vote.
FOX News' Brian Wilson and Julie Asher and The Associated Press contributed to this report.