Yes, the Senate Democrats’ attempt to pass a resolution of no confidence in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was a political stunt and “gotcha” politics, and the Senate did have better things to do with its time.
And having Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic senators’ chief campaigner, lead the charge made the effort look more partisan than it really was. The resolution both failed to pass and failed in its purpose of embarrassing Gonzales into resigning or President Bush into firing him. After the vote, Bush said he would determine who serves in his government and Gonzales vowed to stay for the duration.
Nonetheless, the vote on the nation’s embattled chief legal officer was extremely revealing and a harbinger of tougher times to come for Gonzales.
The resolution failed on a procedural vote, 53 to 38, seven short of the 60 needed to end debate. The seven Republicans who voted yea, including two newly announced in favor of Gonzales’ departure, were a good indication that the resolution would have passed had it come to a vote. One Republican voted “present” and Sen. John McCain, already on record calling for Gonzales to go, was absent.
Republican senators against the resolution conspicuously did not defend the attorney general, but attacked the process.
Gonzales left the White House to become attorney general, having considerable baggage stemming from memos on torture and expansive presidential powers to eavesdrop. He handled the firing of eight U.S. attorneys poorly, claiming 64 times before a Senate inquiry that he didn’t recall the circumstances of those firings. Now he faces additional inquiries about political considerations in the hiring and promotion of career Justice employees and the appointment of immigration judges strong on Republican credentials but weak on immigration law.
While common in parliamentary countries where such resolutions can force a resignation, no-confidence votes are not part of the American political process. It wouldn’t have mattered had it passed. But with senior Republicans like Arlen Specter saying, “There is no confidence in the attorney general on this side of the aisle,” no vote was necessary.