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Political, Legal Factors Surround AG Vote

The Senate fell seven votes short, Monday night, on a measure that would have opened debate on a no-confidence resolution aimed at Attorney General Alberto Gonzales over his handling of the firing of nine U.S. attorneys last year.

The overall vote was 53-38-1, with a large number of absentee senators due to presidential campaigning. While the outcome was expected, two senators, Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), cast particularly interesting votes.

Stevens voted "present", refusing to take a stand on Gonzales. This is presumably because of a Justice Department investigation into Alaska corruption that has already brought indictments of four current and former lawmakers in the state legislature, as well as a pair of energy company executives with close ties to Sen. Stevens. In addition, the senator's son, Ben Stevens, a former state senator, is under investigation for potentially taking no-show consulting work from the energy company.

While Stevens spoke with the Washington Post briefly about the investigation last week -- admitting federal investigators have asked him to preserve records related to it -- he has otherwise said he couldn't comment on the probe, citing legal advice that any statements might be construed as an effort to obstruct the inquiry.

Apparently, that advice extended to the no-confidence vote on Gonzales.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) voted against cutting off debate and moving to consideration of the no-confidence vote -- essentially helping to derail it. This will surely enrage left-wing activists who worked to defeat him in last year's Democratic primary only to see him win re-election as an independent. Lieberman suggested in his official statement that Gonzales should "look into his own heart and soul" to consider resigning, but said the Senate shouldn't be wasting time on a non-binding resolution.

Seven Republicans voted to open debate on the no-confidence resolution. Supporters of the measure needed 60 votes to move it forward, but came up seven votes short. Three Democratic presidential candidates who have all called for Gonzales's resignation -- Joe Biden (Del.), Chris Dodd (Conn.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) -- were campaigning, so if push came to shove, there were 56 potential votes of no-confidence for Gonzales. If they really want to hit Gonzales with a no-confidence motion, Democrats will need to find four more Republican votes and make sure their presidential candidates come home.

Here's a breakdown of the seven Senate Republicans who supported the procedural motion for the no-confidence vote:

• Norm Coleman (Minn.): Facing re-election in 2008 in a state that was brutal to Republicans running for Congress in 2006; Coleman called for Gonzales's resignation after the Washington Post reported last month that the U.S. attorney for Minnesota was once considered for dismissal.
• Susan Collins (Maine): Had not previously called for Gonzales's resignation but had been highly critical of the attorney general; up for reelection in '08.
• Chuck Hagel (Neb.): Potential independent presidential candidate called for resignation after revelations that Gonzales tried to get then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to overrule his subordinates, from his hospital bed, on the constitutionality of unwarranted domestic eavesdropping.
• Gordon Smith (Ore.): Second GOP senator to call for resignation, back in mid-March; up for re-election in '08.
• Arlen Specter (Pa.): Top Republican on Judiciary Committee has been brutally critical of Gonzales but had not officially called for his resignation.
• John Sununu (N.H.): First GOP senator to call for resignation, in early March, longtime critic of Gonzales; up for re-election in '08.

• Olympia Snowe (R-Maine): without formally calling for Gonzales's resignation, Snowe had been highly critical of the attorney general after the revelations about his hospital visit to Ashcroft. (Thanks to the reader for pointing out my initial mistake by leaving Snowe off the list of 'aye' votes among Republicans.)

By Paul Kane  |  June 12, 2007; 6:54 AM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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