Despite White House approval, at least one Republican Senator still intends to object to a plan to limit Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ power to appoint interim prosecutors.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Friday “hotlined,” or put on the fast track, legislation that would reverse an amendment to the USA PATRIOT Act giving the attorney general the power to indefinitely appoint U.S. attorneys. If all 100 Senators sign off, it could then be brought to the floor by unanimous consent. But the strategy also could be a way of ferreting out and dealing with any objections.
“Sen. Reid intends to push for passage of this bill as quickly as possible,” said Jim Manley, Reid’s spokesman.
The bill was sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and would allow the attorney general to appoint an interim prosecutor for 120 days; after that, a district court judge would fill the slot until the department named a permanent replacement.
But at least one GOP leader — Republican Conference Chairman Jon Kyl (Ariz.) — is expected to object to the measure in one form or another. A member of the Judiciary Committee, Kyl has expressed strong objections to the legislation, which would allow district court judges to appoint prosecutors until the Justice Department arrived at a permanent replacement.
In an interview Friday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he was not certain whether he supported the legislation, but that he expected the Senate to approve it now that it has the White House stamp of approval.
“It’s pretty clear that this whole controversy results from a series of not very well-handled personnel issues,” McConnell told Roll Call.
But he added, “I have a philosophical preference for U.S. attorneys being a part of an administration.”
Backing down from an earlier stance, Gonzales last week said he would not object to the legislation after a stinging fight with Senate Democrats over the mass firings of at least seven prosecutors who gave explosive testimony last week before the House and Senate. After a meeting with Senate Judiciary Committee members late Thursday, Gonzales said he would no longer object to limiting his authority to appoint prosecutors and would make five senior Justice Department officials available for questioning by Senators.
McConnell also defended Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), who was accused by one of the fired U.S. attorneys last week of making a threatening phone call regarding a criminal corruption probe.
“Sen. Domenici is an icon,” McConnell said. “I believe he’s going to run for re-election.”
Even though Senate Democrats may ultimately get their way on the legislation, a senior Republican aide said GOP lawmakers are seething about the way the administration dealt with situation.
Specter, Kyl and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) all have publicly criticized how the administration has handled the firings. And Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) decried the way that Nevada U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden was fired.
“Republicans believe that the administration has completely bungled the handling of the situation, and it is unfortunate that Senate Republicans have to come to their rescue,” said the aide.
“It’s obnoxious and frustrating when they’re mistreated in such a way that creates a giant mess,” the aide added.
Rep. Bill Cassidy has his blood drawn by Alesha Barbour during a free hepatitis screening in the Rayburn House Office Building hosted by the Congressional Viral Hepatitis Caucus to recognize "National Viral Hepatitis Testing Day."
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