Despite a grueling pre-recess schedule, Senate Democrats may still press forward with plans to hold an unprecedented no-confidence vote at the end of this week on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
But a crowded legislative calendar, plus likely opposition from Republicans, could thwart their plans and delay a vote until after Memorial Day.
The problem is Democrats are unlikely to get cooperation on the resolution from Republicans, who could throw numerous procedural hurdles in their way as the Senate tries to leave town Friday. So if Democrats want to pursue the nonbinding resolution, they will have to begin the lengthy process of filing cloture resolutions as early as possible for a final vote to occur by the end of this week.
It doesn’t look like Senate Democrats are prepared to take those first steps today, though they insisted they could pursue a vote later in the week.
The Gonzales resolution would be nonbinding on the White House, but it would serve as an effective means of embarrassing the president if it comes to the floor, let alone passes.
On Monday, President Bush continued to defend Gonzales and called the no-confidence vote “pure political theater.”
“He has done nothing wrong,” Bush added.
Despite erosion of support for Gonzales in both parties, one key Senate Republican signaled over the weekend that the no-confidence motion would not be allowed on the floor without a fight.
“We won’t have a no-confidence resolution in the Senate unless there are other resolutions,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”
“In the Senate, nobody gets a clear shot,” McConnell said. “If there’s a resolution on Attorney General Gonzales, there will probably be another kind of resolution. So we’ll see what happens.”
One Senate GOP leadership aide said Democrats would have to torpedo this week’s entire legislative schedule to get the nonbinding Gonzales resolution to the floor.
“Do they want to spend 30 hours of a limited legislative schedule on a political stunt?” the aide said.
The aide added that Republicans would likely retaliate by seeking to introduce their own resolutions on a variety of controversial topics ranging from Iraq to immigration to social issues.
“There are plenty of things that divide the Democratic Party,” he remarked.
Some Republicans believe calls from Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) for a no-confidence vote are simply a way of keeping the heat on Gonzales and the long-running scandal churning.
Democrats have been demanding Gonzales’ ouster since his part in the firings of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006 was revealed.
But support for the embattled attorney general among Republicans also has been waning, especially after the compelling testimony last week of former Deputy Attorney General James Comey. Comey accused then-White House legal counsel Gonzales and former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card of trying to get a hospitalized John Ashcroft to sign off on renewing the warrantless wiretapping program.
Six Republicans have now called on Gonzales to resign. They are Sens. Tom Coburn (Okla.), Norm Coleman (Minn.), Chuck Hagel (Neb.), John McCain (Ariz.), John Sununu (N.H.) and Gordon Smith (Ore.).
And several others — including GOP Sens. Pat Roberts (Kan.) and Jeff Sessions (Ala.) — have been highly critical of the embattled attorney general.
Perhaps most crucially, Senate Judiciary ranking member Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) has predicted that Gonzales’ tenure as attorney general will not survive the investigation. He said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that Gonzales may be forced to step down before a no-confidence vote reaches the floor.
“I have a sense that before the vote is taken that Attorney General Gonzales may step down,” Specter said.
Specter cited the unusual historical nature of such a vote of no-confidence and predicted Gonzales would rather resign than be subjected to such a “historical black mark.”
Senate Associate Historian Don Ritchie said he could not recall another no-confidence vote on a Cabinet member in the Senate’s history.
But there have been other comparable votes censuring or condemning presidents, Senators and Cabinet members. In 1886, for instance, the Senate voted to censure President Grover Cleveland’s attorney general, A.H. Garland, because he did not provide documents about the firing of a federal prosecutor.