Wyden, Smith split on Gonzales nomination

WASHINGTON (AP) – Two more Northwest Democratic senators said Tuesday they will vote against the nomination of Alberto Gonzales as attorney general.

Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Patty Murray of Washington said they were troubled by what they called Gonzales’s documented role in crafting White House policy designed to circumvent laws against torture.

A spokesman for Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., said Tuesday that Smith supports Gonzales’ nomination.

As White House counsel during President Bush’s first term, "Mr. Gonzales approved standards of torture that defy U.S. law, international agreements and the Constitution," Murray said in a statement. "That deeply flawed approach endangered American troops and weakened our standing in the world."

Gonzales’ "unwillingness to say ‘no’ when the law required it does not reflect the independence needed in America’s attorney general," Murray added.

Wyden said Gonzales’ performance as White House counsel did not reflect the commitment to the rule of law he professed during recent confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"Because of Mr. Gonzales’` documented role in crafting policies explicitly designed to circumvent the rule of law with regard to torture, I am forced to oppose his nomination to be Attorney General of the United States," Wyden said.

The statements by Murray and Wyden follow an announcement last week by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., that she was opposing Gonzales because of his legal advice on torture and his refusal to recuse himself from matters involving Enron Corp.

Murray, in her statement, called independence a crucial quality in an attorney general, particularly since there is no longer an independent counsel to investigate possible wrongdoing by the executive branch.

"Time and again, Mr. Gonzales has stood up for government secrecy and blocked accountability to the American people," Murray said. "He drafted several executive orders delaying the release of presidential papers and played a leading role in blocking the release of documents related to Vice President Cheney’s secret energy meetings."

The comments by Murray and Wyden came as Democrats announced they won’t try to filibuster Gonzales’ nomination for attorney general, but will hold extensive debates in the Senate over his role in developing the Bush administration’s policies on treating foreign detainees.

"There will be an up-or-down vote," Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada told reporters after meeting with fellow Democrats.

Reid predicted that as many as 30 Democrats would vote against Gonzales but said "there was a decision made not to filibuster."

A filibuster, a parliamentary tactic for delaying Senate action, would require Republicans, who hold a 55-44 majority in the Senate, to win over at least five Democrats – or four Democrats plus Vermont Sen. James Jeffords, an independent – to put Gonzales in office.