WASHINGTON – The White House on Sunday dismissed Senate plans to hold a no-confidence vote on the attorney general and said the outcome will not undermine President Bush's resolve to keep Alberto Gonzales at the Justice Department.
"Not a bit. Purely symbolic vote," presidential spokesman Tony Snow said. He was asked in a broadcast interview whether Bush might reconsider his decision to support Gonzales should a sizable number of Republican senators vote for the no-confidence resolution.
"It is perfectly obvious that the president has the right to hire and fire people who serve at his pleasure," Snow said.
On Monday, the Senate planned to debate the one-sentence measure that declares Gonzales "no longer holds the confidence of the Senate and of the American people."
It could be Congress' last effort to force Gonzales ouster after months of investigations and the disclosure of internal Justice Department documents that contradicted Gonzales' initial assertions that the firing of federal prosecutors was not politically motivated or directly coordinated with the White House.
Majority Democrats in the Senate acknowledge that the resolution probably will not survive a test vote Monday requiring 60 votes. But many Senate Republicans have not been eager to defend the former White House counsel, with at least five GOP senators calling for his resignation.
In a sign of Gonzales' tepid support on Capitol Hill, Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., who previously had been a reliable Gonzales ally on the Senate Judiciary Committee, declined to offer a public statement of support for the attorney general even while contending a no-confidence resolution was wrong.
"I'm not going to comment on the kind of job," Gonzales is doing, said Kyl, adding, "This isn't our form of government to have votes of no confidence. And I object to that process."
Sen. Richard Durbin, the Senate's No. 2 Democratic leader, said if Bush was willing to replace Gen. Peter Pace as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff because of concerns about diminished support in Congress, Bush should do the same and oust Gonzales.
"Here's a man who's been through rough sledding," said Durbin, D-Ill. "He's said some things on Capitol Hill he's had to recant. He has a staff who's said there are things being done at the Department of Justice that shouldn't be done, and the president's willing to stand by his man."
But Snow called Monday's Senate debate a waste of time and said it would not affect Gonzales' tenure at the Justice Department.
"Nobody's found anything untoward in terms of what happened," Snow said. "Therefore, as a consequence, there's an attempt to sort of pull this thing like a piece of taffy and looking if there's any political advantage in it. There's not."
"So what we'll end up having is people burning off a day expressing their opinions, and then we'll have an opportunity to move on," he said.
Gonzales planned to spend part of Monday in Florida, speaking at a terrorism law enforcement conference in Miami.
Snow and Durbin appeared on "FOX News Sunday."