Q: Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle announced he will vote against Ashcroft's nomination. Did his decision catch anyone off guard?
Waller: I don't think anyone was surprised that Daschle came out against Ashcroft opposing this nomination has become a Democratic issue. It won't sink the nomination by any means, because there are enough Democrats who will vote for him. On the Senate Judiciary Committee, two Democrats are still hedging their bets: Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl, both of Wisconsin. Feingold will probably vote for the Ashcroft nomination, and that could mean Kohl, who's really held off making any judgment on Ashcroft, will follow his lead.
Q: But isn't this about presenting a united front to the White House?
Waller: It is every Senate Republican will vote for Ashcroft, and every Democrat will at least express reservations about the nomination, and there could be 40 of them voting against it. At this point, all Democrats want is to keep Ashcroft on a short leash once he's at the Justice Department. They want him to know they'll be keeping an eye out for any movement that betrays Ashcroft's personal ideology.
This vote is also meant as a warning shot to the Bush administration, which Democrats hope the President will remember when he offers his judicial nominations.
Q: So did Ashcroft's opponents gain anything by delaying the committee vote for a week?
Waller: Liberal groups were very happy to have the past weekend to mobilize support against Ashcroft. But they came away with mixed results, because conservative groups were also very active over the last few days rallying support for the nominee.
Q: So there's no reason at this point the vote on the Senate floor would be postponed further?
Waller: Senator Kennedy now says he won't filibuster the nomination, so there will probably be a vote Thursday. This is what Daschle wanted; even though he plans to vote against Ashcroft, Daschle has made it very clear he's not in favor of filibusters on Cabinet nominations in part because he shares some Democrats' worry that if the process is too harrowing, the worm could turn. And a future Democratic president's liberal Cabinet nominee could face the same kind of attacks.