WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate was poised Thursday to confirm John Ashcroft to be President Bush's attorney general as the chamber's top Democrat said he hoped to muster enough votes to signal his party would block "far-right" nominees in the future.
"We'll cooperate when they're from the center," Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., told reporters, "But we're going to be very concerned when they come from the far right, and we'll use whatever means necessary."
Divided largely along party lines, senators engaged in the final hours of debate on the most controversial of Bush's Cabinet picks, and the Senate was expected to approve him later Thursday.
All 50 Senate Republicans were solidly behind Ashcroft. The number of declared Democratic opponents to Ashcroft surpassed 30, with Democrats hoping to reach 41 -- the number required to kill a nomination using the procedural delay of a filibuster.
In this case, Daschle said, Democrats abandoned the idea of a filibuster because Ashcroft, a former GOP senator from Missouri, was a colleague, and because many believed a president deserves to choose his own Cabinet members, none of whom are lifetime appointees.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut announced his opposition to Ashcroft, whom he said he has known for 40 years.
Lieberman, who as Democratic vice presidential nominee last year spoke frequently of his religious beliefs, denied conservatives' charges that Democrats' opposition has been sparked by Ashcroft's outspoken commitment to his Christian views.
"On issues ranging from civil rights to privacy rights, Senator Ashcroft has repeatedly taken positions considerably outside the mainstream of American thinking," said Lieberman, adding later, "It is Senator Ashcroft's record, not his religion, we should judge today."
Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles, R-Okla., said he was "bothered by the intensity of opposition" to Ashcroft.
"I have absolute, total, complete confidence that he is going to be one outstanding attorney general of the United States," Nickles said.
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