By Rachel Van Dongen
If Senate Democrats press ahead next week with their plan to hold a no-confidence vote on embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, it is unclear whether any of Gonzales' GOP critics will go along and the Senate Republican leadership is ginning up plans to thwart the measure.
Six GOP Senators have gone on the record essentially demanding Gonzales' resignation, and one of them Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.) already has declared he'll vote against the nonbinding no-confidence resolution.
The five others Sens. John Sununu (N.H.), Chuck Hagel (Neb.), Gordon Smith (Ore.), John McCain (Ariz.) and Norm Coleman (Minn.) were unwilling to tip their hands about how they will vote, despite repeated attempts to contact them last week.
"The Senator has stated his views on the situation," said Smith spokeswoman Lindsay Jackson, pointing to Smith's comments that the Justice Department would be better off without Gonzales at the helm. "He has clearly stated that he is frustrated with the situation."
Supported by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) announced they will bring the resolution to the floor the week of June 11, after the final vote on the Senate immigration package.
Schumer has expressed confidence that Democrats can nab the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster, which would require picking up some Republican votes. But even if that is the case, the resolution which simply states that Gonzales "no longer holds the confidence of the American people" cannot be enforced. President Bush is not obligated to dismiss Gonzales, and in fact, Bush has insisted he will continue to support a loyal Cabinet member.
The vote, whether successful or not, would prove a political headache and embarrassment to the president.
Meanwhile, the internal Justice Department probe into the controversial firings of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006 last week expanded to include whether its civil rights division improperly used political criteria in personnel decisions.
The issue likely will get a thorough airing Tuesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where DOJ's former top civil rights attorney Bradley Schlozman and Todd Graves, the former U.S. prosecutor in Kansas City, Mo., are scheduled to testify. Graves was asked to resign in March 2006 and was replaced as the top federal prosecutor in Kansas City by Schlozman, in what Democrats suspect was unhappiness for not pursuing a voter-fraud investigation. Schlozman was known as a voter-fraud enthusiast while at Justice.
The expanding Justice probe, which seems to reveal a new embarrassment for the administration every week, underlines why a no-confidence vote could put Republicans in a bind. Despite GOP skepticism that Gonzales can remain effective on the job, it is uncertain whether that translates into a vote supporting Democrats' bid to throw him out.
Coburn, for instance, who has been harshly critical of Gonzales, already has chosen sides and plans on opposing the motion.
In a May 22 letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Coburn said he would like to be notified before the Senate enters into any unanimous consent request to consider the Gonzales motion.
Coburn notified McConnell that if the motion comes to the floor, he plans to introduce an amendment "expressing no confidence in Congress's ability to cut wasteful spending or balance the budget."
"It is hypocritical for the Senate to grandstand for political purposes while ignoring its own shortcomings that threaten the solvency of Social Security and Medicare," Coburn wrote.
McConnell has announced that if Democrats insist on bringing the motion to the floor, it will not have a clean shot at passing.
Republicans are likely to tie up the Senate floor with all kinds of procedural mischief and introduce any number of amendments, including perhaps one on whether the Iraq War is actually "lost" as Reid has suggested.
One Senate GOP leadership aide said Democrats would be better off focusing on passing appropriations bills than trying to score political points.
"If they want to spend a whole week on a nonbinding political resolution ... that's a choice they're going to have to make," the aide said.
The aide added that Democrats already have ginned up plenty of media attention on the no-confidence vote, which might be just what they are seeking. "My guess is they don't want to spend a week on that," he said. "They don't have to bring it to the floor to get their purpose" accomplished.
But underlining how awkward the vote could be for Republicans, the other Republican Senators contacted either could not be reached or would not say how they planned to vote.
There is no recent history of the Senate holding a no-confidence vote. But there have been other comparable votes censuring or condemning presidents, Senators and Cabinet members. In 1886, for instance, the Senate voted to censure President Grover Cleveland's attorney general, A.H. Garland, because he refused to hand over documents about the firing of a federal prosecutor.