Friday, January 19, 2001
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Posted on: Friday, January 19, 2001

Ashcroft nomination reflects poorly on Bush

At this point it appears President-elect George W. Bush’s Cabinet designees are on track for Senate confirmation, including former Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft, Bush’s choice for attorney general.

That is as it should be. An incoming president deserves a grace period, including the opportunity to get started with a team of his own choosing.

The single exception, it now appears, could not be helped. Labor secretary nominee Linda Chavez saved Bush a measure of embarrassment by withdrawing after it became clear she hadn’t been entirely forthcoming in her vetting. The flaw in that process probably owed more than anything else to the brevity and haste of Bush’s transition period.

Now Ashcroft appears headed for confirmation, notwithstanding the dismay that must accompany some of the revelations brought out in Senate Judiciary Committee hearings.

Would that the deference now being properly extended to the former Missouri senator by his former colleagues had been shown in 1999 to Judge Ronnie White when he was President Clinton’s nominee for the federal bench.

Ashcroft single-handedly torpedoed that nomination, misrepresenting his opposition as a matter of White’s record as a judge. In truth, Ashcroft was indulging in good old-fashioned payback for White, a longtime political foe from the same state.

It was the first time in four decades that the full Senate had defeated a federal District Court judge’s nomination, and it badly hurt Ashcroft’s reputation for veracity.

What’s been puzzling in the Ashcroft hearings is his solemn pledge to follow the law as written, no matter how badly it conflicts with his deeply held personal beliefs.

Does that mean he intends merely to hinder enforcement of laws allowing, say, abortion rights - as he hindered court orders on desegregation when he was attorney general and governor of Missouri? Or does it mean he’s suppressing his beliefs in order to be U.S. attorney general?

"Quite frankly," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, "I don’t know what to believe." Indeed.

We must hope that Ashcroft’s performance in office will reflect positively on the Bush administration, but at the moment, the chances appear slim.

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