WASHINGTON – Republican Sens. Arlen Specter and Susan Collins will vote with Senate Democrats to move beyond a procedural hurdle and get to a final vote of no confidence on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the two announced Monday before the vote.
Specter, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, offered a stinging rebuke of the attorney general, saying the Justice Department is in disarray and Gonzales has made misstatements to Congress about his involvement in the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.
He accused Gonzales of exercising poor leadership not only on the firings but also the Justice Department's handling of wiretapping authority under the USA Patriot Act.
"If you ask Arlen Specter, do I have confidence in Attorney General Gonzales, the answer is a resounding no," Specter said during a news conference in Philadelphia prior to his return to Washington, D.C., for the vote. "I'm going to vote that I have no confidence in Attorney General Gonzales."
Collins, R-Maine, said the "no-confidence motion is a meaningless political gesture." Nevertheless, her loss of confidence in the ability of Gonzales to lead the Justice Department effectively has forced her to acknowledge that in a vote.
The vote is scheduled for early Monday evening, but may never get beyond the procedural vote for cloture, or an end to debate, which requires 60 votes. The roadblock is similar to one that prevented progress on an immigration reform bill last week.
In response to Specter's remarks, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, a senior member of the judiciary panel, was the first Republican to come to the floor to defend the attorney general.
According to Republican sources, Specter is unlikely to find much support elsewhere for his view among his GOP colleagues. Most Republicans, several aides told FOX News, feel the attorney general has performed poorly as head of the Justice Department, but they are expected to focus more on the politics of this vote and its principal author, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Schumer is chairman of the subcommittee that has oversight of the Justice Department and it is in this capacity that he is playing a lead role in the U.S. attorney investigation.
But that distinction is irrelevant to supporters of President Bush, who has said the Senate resolution is strictly symbolic, and not the form of government in the U.S.
Speaking to reporters Monday in Sofia, Bulgaria at the end of a weeklong European trip, Bush, who heads to Capitol Hill Tuesday to discuss the immigration reform bill, said he was disappointed that the Senate turned its attention away from that bill to focus on Gonzales.
"I, frankly, find it interesting that ... a so-called important subject they need to get to would be to pass a political resolution on my attorney general that's going to have no bearing on whether he serves in office, or not," Bush said.
For his part, Gonzales showed no sign of stepping down.
"I am not focusing on what the Senate is doing," the attorney general said at a nuclear terrorism conference in Miami. "I am going to be focusing on what the American people expect of the attorney general of the United States and this great Department of Justice."
Few Republicans are willing to line up in support of Gonzales, and during Senate debate Monday on an energy bill, lawmakers quickly weighed in on the impending Gonzales vote.
Seven Republicans have called for Gonzales' resignation — Sens. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, John Sununu of New Hampshire, Gordon Smith of Oregon, John McCain of Arizona, George Voinovich of Ohio and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
Still, no one was predicting that the symbolic no-confidence resolution would survive the test vote, and Specter and Collins say it's the president's prerogative to ask his friend and legal adviser to step down.
As for the resolution, Democrats say it's only right for senators to go on record, since eight Republicans have called outright for Gonzales' dismissal and many more of the president's party have said in public comments that they have lost confidence in him.
"If all senators who have actually lost confidence in Attorney General Gonzales voted their conscience, this vote would be unanimous," said Schumer, who authored the one-sentence resolution with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. "We will soon see where people's loyalties lie."
The resolution is a quick read: "It is the sense of the Senate that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales no longer holds the confidence of the Senate and of the American people."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who also has been critical of Gonzales, said he could not think of "a bigger waste of time" than the no-confidence vote.
"This resolution takes the country down a road we have never traveled before. If successful, it could start an endless journey of political sniping and sophomoric payback. The Congress is in low standing with the public for a reason. The Democratic leadership's decision to bring up matters such as this — an unprecedented political stunt — reinforces our low standing. For these reasons, I will vote against moving the resolution forward," he said.
FOX News' Trish Turner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.