WASHINGTON -- Democrats want written answers to at least 126 questions from attorney general nominee John Ashcroft before the Senate Judiciary Committee votes on recommending him to join President Bush's Cabinet.
The panel's top Democrat, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, notified Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, that he will make use of a rule enabling any senator to postpone voting for one week, Leahy's spokesman, David Carle, said Tuesday.
"In addition to the record not being complete, the committee usually considers it important to have sufficient time to review and understand the record," Carle said.
Bush, in a Wednesday morning meeting with the bipartisan congressional leadership, sounded an unconcerned note when asked about the Democrats' delay. "I think they're making sure that when they confirm him, all questions have been answered," the president said.
Leahy and other Senate Democrats were reluctant to proceed on Ashcroft's nomination because they were awaiting documents and answers to written questions, many of which were not sent to Ashcroft until Monday evening, Carle said.
Hatch had scheduled a meeting for Wednesday with the intent of voting to send Ashcroft's nomination to the full Senate. Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., had hoped to bring the nominations of Ashcroft and Gale Norton -- Bush's choice for secretary of the interior -- to the floor early next week.
Committee votes typically are delayed until White House nominees have answered written questions from the panel's members, Hatch spokeswoman Jeanne Lopatto acknowledged. But she said the number of questions sent to Ashcroft -- more than 260 in all, with 126 of them from Leahy -- is unprecedented, "especially for someone who testified for two days and is a former colleague."
"I also know that Senator Ashcroft is working furiously to get responses back to the committee," she said.
Among the documents are FBI financial reports, several speeches and a complete videotape of Ashcroft's 1999 commencement address at Bob Jones University, a conservative Christian institution whose leaders have labeled the Roman Catholic Church a "satanic cult." Until recently, the school also banned interracial dating.
Numerous liberal interest groups -- including the NAACP, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the civil liberties group People for the American Way -- are pressuring Democrats to oppose Ashcroft's nomination. Critics insist the deeply held convictions of the conservative former Missouri senator, a staunch opponent of abortion and gun control, might prevent him from enforcing laws with which he disagrees.
But even his Democratic opponents predict Ashcroft will be confirmed.
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