WASHINGTON - Support for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sank further Thursday as Democrats proposed a no-confidence vote, a fifth GOP senator called for his resignation and yet another Republican predicted he won't survive a congressional investigation.
The White House shrugged off the no-confidence idea as merely symbolic, and President Bush continued to stand by his embattled friend.
By any measure, the news was not good for Gonzales.
Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York and Dianne Feinstein of California said they will seek a Senate vote on a nonbinding resolution expressing what senators of both parties have said for weeks: that Gonzales has become too weakened to run the Justice Department.
"It seems the only person who has confidence in the attorney general is President Bush," Schumer told reporters. "The president long ago should have asked the attorney general to step down."
"I think the time has come for the Senate to express its will," Feinstein said. "We lack confidence in the attorney general."
The White House dismissed the Democrats' proposals.
"A ‘no-confidence' vote is nothing more than a meaningless political act, not that that's stopped them before," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said. "The attorney general has the full confidence of the president."
The Justice Department said Gonzales was concentrating on fighting crime and terrorism. "The attorney general remains focused on doing the job that the American people expect," said spokesman Brian Roehrkasse.
For all of the administration's defense, several GOP officials acknowledged privately that Republicans were still reeling from testimony this week that Gonzales, when he was Bush's White House counsel, pressured Attorney General John Ashcroft to certify the legality of Bush's controversial eavesdropping program while Ashcroft lay in intensive care.
Asked twice during a news conference Thursday if he personally ordered Gonzales to Ashcroft's hospital room, Bush refused to answer.
"There's a lot of speculation about what happened and what didn't happen. I'm not going to talk about it," Bush said.
James Comey's account to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Schumer said, turned more lawmakers against Gonzales. New criticism came from Republicans.
One, Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, on Thursday became the fifth Republican senator to demand that Gonzales leave.
"I would hope that the attorney general understands that the department is suffering right now, and he does the right thing, and that is allows the president to provide new leadership," Coleman told reporters on a conference call.
And Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., usually a staunch GOP ally, suggested Thursday that Bush consider ejecting Gonzales.
"The president might decide that the current leadership remaining at DOJ is doing more harm than good," Bond told The Associated Press.
Meanwhile, Sen. Arlen Specter, the Judiciary Committee's top Republican, said the Justice Department cannot properly oversee Bush's eavesdropping program with Gonzales at the helm of the agency.
"I have a sense that when we finish our investigation, we may have the conclusion of the tenure of the attorney general," Specter said during a committee hearing. "It'll be clear even to the attorney general and the president that we're looking at a dysfunctional department which is vital to the national welfare."
Democrats predicted that a no-confidence resolution, which could come to the floor next week, would put more pressure on Bush to scuttle Gonzales, or inspire the attorney general to step down on his own.
For his part, Gonzales will be in Europe next week, visiting his counterparts in Hungary and Switzerland before joining the G-8 conference Thursday in Munich, Germany. He will be back in Washington on Friday - the night before the long Memorial Day weekend.
Democrats had hoped to hold the vote before they leave town for the holiday, in part to capitalize on other bad news for Gonzales that renewed pressure on him.
A no-confidence vote, though symbolic, could sink Gonzales into deeper political trouble. Any attorney general needs to work with Congress on legislation, as well as nominees who require Senate confirmation. Gonzales would need to confirm a new deputy attorney general because his current one, Paul McNulty, is leaving over the firings of federal prosecutors.
Still, no-confidence votes are not often received well in the Senate. The last one, in September 2006, failed when a Republicans, then in the majority, blocked an attempt by Democrats to pass a nonbinding call for the ouster of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
This time, however, the five GOP senators have called for Gonzales' resignation and others have suggested that he leave. Specter has left no doubt that he thinks Gonzales should depart. But he told The Associated Press that he wanted to see Schumer's resolution before saying he would vote for it. Another Judiciary Committee Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, also said he wanted to see Schumer's resolution before deciding. Also surfacing were reports that many more than eight prosecutors were considered for dismissal, as Gonzales has said. The Justice Department, over nearly two years, listed as many as 26 prosecutors after performance concerns were raised, a senior government official familiar with the process said Thursday. The names were first reported by The Washington Post. Democrats sought more testimony from current and former Justice Department officials. House Democrats announced that Gonzales' former White House liaison, Monica Goodling, would testify next week under a grant of immunity.comments powered by Disqus