Mukasey Confirmed as Attorney General, 53-40
Michael Mukasey was confirmed as Attorney General in a late-night vote despite the vehement opposition of key Democrats over his refusal to state unequivocally that waterboarding is a form of torture. Six Democrats plus Joe Lieberman joined all 46 Republicans in the vote. Notably absent were each and every one of the Democratic senators running for president: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Chris Dodd, and Joe Biden.
As Dan Eggen and Paul Kane note in their front page story in today’s WaPo, “The final tally gave Mukasey the lowest number of yes votes for any attorney general since 1952, just weeks after lawmakers of both parties had predicted his easy confirmation.”
Why, though, did he get confirmed? The Democrats have a slim majority in the Senate. The opposition party president is unpopular at historic levels. Several Democratic senators are running for president.
Yet even the liberal Dianne Feinstein voted for him, along with Chuck Schumer, Evan Bayh, Thomas Carper, Mary Landrieu, and Ben Nelson.
Kevin Drum figures, “no Bush nominee would ever have declared waterboarding illegal, so it’s not like we could have done any better. And we really do need someone running the Justice Department, since it’s basically been on autopilot for the past year or so.” True. One Democratic senator (I believe Schumer) said essentially that on NPR this morning.
Still, as Thoreau observes, Democrats could have filibustered.
The lack of a filibuster suggests that there are some serious institutional/leadership issues here. […] I don’t get Leahy. Yes, I know, he voted against Mukasey, but I recall that in the 1990’s the Republican committee chairs and majority leader discovered all sorts of arcane procedures and rules to pretty much block anything that they wanted. But under Democrats the leadership is unable to block, well, anything.
It’s an interesting question. Certainly, in our “24” culture, the Democrats have to be careful about being portrayed as weak on terrorism.
Moreover, Mukasey was essentially parsing words on the issue, refusing to label the practice “torture” but stating that it was “reprehensible.” A practice which, we’re led to believe, has been used exactly twice and that was banned a few years ago. That rendered the fight one over semantics rather than policy.
The most interesting thing that I keep coming back to is that not one of the Democratic presidential wannabes, including vanity candidates Biden and Dodd, thought it worth coming back to Washington to cast a vote — let alone lead a filibuster — on this issue. That leads me to think they don’t think this is a good issue for them.