WASHINGTON -- Civil rights groups opposing President-elect Bush's choice for attorney general, John Ashcroft, are demanding that Democratic senators abandon the tradition of supporting former colleagues and vote against the nomination.
The organizations will join with organized labor to confront Democrats at public events in their home states to win commitments of a "no" vote, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said in an interview Monday.
He said the campaign also would target New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman, Bush's nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency.
Jackson said Democratic senators "will be challenged very publicly" at events such as Martin Luther King Day celebrations this month. "Those who are with the civil rights agenda must not choose collegiality over civil rights and social justice," he said.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle signaled a willingness Tuesday to "ask all the tough questions that need to be asked" of Ashcroft.
"The most important question is" whether Ashcroft will enforce laws that "he's acknowledged publicly he disagrees with," said Daschle, appearing on ABC's "Good Morning America." The Democratic senator cited laws on women's rights and civil rights.
Ashcroft is a conservative Republican senator from Missouri who lost re-election on Nov. 7 to Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan, whose name remained on the ballot after he was killed in a plane crash. Carnahan's widow, Jean, was appointed to the seat.
Senators are known for supporting nominations of former colleagues -- and Jackson's comment about collegiality was aimed at that tradition. The new Senate will be split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, although the vice president-to-be, Dick Cheney, will be able to break any tie votes in his role as president of the Senate.
Ashcroft has drawn opposition for his anti-abortion views and for leading a drive to defeat the nomination of a black Missouri Supreme Court judge, Ronnie White, to the federal bench.
Whitman has drawn the ire of blacks because of racial profiling by the New Jersey state police and because of a photograph of the governor personally frisking a black youth.
Ashcroft has countered the criticism by noting he supported 23 of the 26 nominations of black judges that came up for a vote during his Senate tenure.
As Missouri governor from 1985 to 1993, he signed into law a state holiday honoring King; established musician Scott Joplin's house as Missouri's only historic site honoring a black individual; created an award honoring black educator George Washington Carver; named a black woman to a state judgeship; and led a fight to save Lincoln University, which was founded by black soldiers.
Whitman is a moderate Republican who supports abortion rights. Regarding racial profiling, she repeatedly has defended her administration by saying hers was the first to admit to the practice and to take steps to eliminate it. Critics said minorities were involved in a disproportionate number of traffic stops, searches and arrests by state troopers.
Last year, a picture was released showing her frisking a black youth during a police tour in Camden, N.J., in 1996.
"Did I step over a line from being an observer to a participant that I shouldn't have and didn't need to in that instance? Yes," Whitman said in an interview last July. "But, unfortunately, that is my nature. When they said, 'Do you want to do it?' I said 'Sure,' without thinking, and I should have thought."
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