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Senate Democrats give up on blocking Mukasey nomination
Nick Juliano
Published: Tuesday November 6, 2007
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UPDATE: Judiciary Committee endorses AG nomination on 11-8 vote

Despite the criticism they have heaped onto President Bush's attorney general nominee over the past few weeks, Democrats appear to lack the gumption necessary to do everything possible to prevent Michael Mukasey from becoming the country's top cop.

Two prominent Democrats on the Judiciary Committee surprised colleagues when they announced support for Mukasey late Friday afternoon. The support from Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Charles Schumer, the New York Democrat who recommended Mukasey early on, virtually assured the success of his nomination.

Mukasey passed out of the committee Tuesday on an 11-8 vote. Feinstein and Schumer were the only Democrats voting with every Republican on the panel in favor of the nominee.

The committee's chairman, Patrick Leahy (D-VT), voted against Mukasey's bid to replace long-embattled Alberto Gonzales. But Leahy encouraged other Democrats on the panel not to request delays in a vote on the nomination, which is scheduled for Tuesday, and he let committee Democrats vote as they please.

As you know, Sen. Leahy and Sen. Reid have not made this a caucus vote, and as chairman, Sen. Leahy has not twisted any arms, a Judiciary Committee aide told The Hill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has similarly expressed concerns about Mukasey's refusal to declare that waterboarding -- a controversial interrogation technique that simulates drowning -- constitutes torture and is illegal. Reid has not announced how he will vote, but he is encouraging members not to filibuster the nomination.

"[Reid has] been encouraging people to have a full-throated debate, but ... hes actually been discouraging people from filibustering or slowing down the nomination, one knowledgeable Senate Democratic source told Roll Call.

Democrats appear to be taking a lesser-of-two-evils approach in relenting to Mukasey's nomination. Supporters say he went as far as possible in condemning waterboarding without issuing a precise legal opinion that could have unseen ramifications, and even Mukasey's detractors acknowledge that he is a big step up from Gonzales' mangled tenure atop Justice.

Besides, President Bush has just more than a year before he leads office, and he has stressed the attorney general's role in persecuting the war on terror. Approving an imperfect nominee seems a better choice for some Democrats than leaving the Justice Department rudderless.

If the Judiciary Committee approves Mukasey Tuesday, as expected, it would open the nomination to debate by the full Senate. The chamber's presidential candidates all have announced they will vote against the nominee.

In the following video, Senator Specter says that the legal status of waterboarding is "fuzzy" and Mukasey "went about as far as he could go" in describing its legality under the Constitution. Specter believes that the issue is "now a matter for the Congress."

This video is from, broadcast on November 6, 2007.

In the following video, Senator Ted Kennedy tells the Senate Judiciary Committee that Congress should not have to pass a new law banning waterboarding because "it is already illegal under U.S. law."

This video is from, broadcast on November 6, 2007.