U.S. Senate Republicans blocked a no confidence vote on embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales late Monday, arguing that the measure was aimed at embarrassing Republicans and boosting the political fortunes of Democrats. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.
The Senate voted 53 to 38 to limit debate on the non-binding no-confidence measure, seven votes short of the 60 needed to move the resolution to a floor vote.
Seven Republicans joined majority Democrats in voting to move forward with the resolution - reflecting bipartisan displeasure with the attorney general over his handling of the firings of eight federal prosecutors.
"Have I lost confidence in Attorney General Gonzales? Absolutely, yes," said Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Democrats argue the firings of the prosecutors were politically motivated, but the Justice Department says they were based on poor performance.
"Repeatedly, the attorney general has mislead the Congress, mislead the American people, and given incredible explanations for the U.S. attorney firings," said Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, who sponsored the non-binding resolution. "The attorney general's comments have been a series of shifting reactions and restatements. Is this confidence-inspiring conduct from the nation's chief law enforcement officer?"
Although his resolution did not survive the procedural vote, Schumer says the fact that 53 of 100 senators voted in favor of moving forward with it shows that a majority of the Senate has no confidence in Gonzales.
But many Republicans viewed the resolution as politically motivated, noting that Senator Schumer is chairman of the campaign to reelect Senate Democrats.
"I hope it is not the case that our friend from New York wrote this resolution, pushed the Senate to spend its valuable time on this particular resolution for partisan political purposes," said Senator Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate. "If he did not do that, than I trust we will not see the campaign committee he is chairing using the Senate's vote on this resolution, his own resolution, for campaign purposes."
President Bush, speaking earlier in the day in Bulgaria at the end of his European visit, was much more direct in his criticism of the no-confidence effort.
"This process has been drug-out [dragged out] a long time, which says to me it is political," he said. "There is no wrong doing."
Gonzales has dismissed calls from Democrats and Republicans for him to resign.
Hours before the Senate vote, the attorney general offered this response to the no-confidence measure during a terrorism law enforcement conference in Miami.
"I remain focused on the remaining 18 months of this administration," he said. "In speaking out to people in the department, I have emphasized that I am sprinting to the finish line. The department is not going to stumble, we are not going to crawl over the finish line. The issues that we are going to work on are quite frankly just too darn important. We have to worry about things like nuclear terrorism, protecting our country from terrorist attack. I am focused on that, and that is why I am here today."
President Bush has repeatedly expressed his confidence in Gonzales.