WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee predicted on Sunday Attorney General Alberto Gonzales might step down in the face of a substantial Senate “no-confidence” vote on his performance.
The White House said it was unclear whether there would be such a vote and criticized those Democrats pushing for it, singling out New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer in particular.
“As for no-confidence votes, maybe senators need a refresher course on American civics,” said White House spokesman Tony Fratto, with President George W. Bush in Crawford, Texas. “What I mean is I think you find no-confidence votes in parliamentary systems, not the American system of government.”
Asked on CBS’ “Face the Nation” whether many Republicans would join the majority Democrats in voting against Gonzales possibly as early as this week, Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania said, “I think so.”
“You already have six Republicans calling for his resignation,” he said. “I have a sense ... that before the vote is taken, that Attorney General Gonzales may step down.”
Gonzales has refused to resign under mounting pressure that began after criticism of the Justice Department’s firing of U.S. attorneys, which Democrats claimed was done mainly for political reasons.
But Bush has solidly backed Gonzales so Democrats in the Senate — who have tried to broaden their complaints against the attorney general — scheduled a rare “no-confidence” vote in hopes of pressuring him to leave.
The White House brushed off the vote, which has no binding impact on Bush.
“I think the attorney general is not affected by it. I think the media seems to be focused on it, which I think for some of the members who are instigating these kinds of questions, like Senator Schumer, (this) is exactly what they want,” Fratto said.
Specter had no first-hand knowledge of Gonzales’ intentions but said he expected a “very substantial vote of no confidence” and “if and when he sees that coming, that he would prefer to avoid that kind of an historical black mark.”
Specter did not say how he would vote on the “no-confidence” issue and repeated it was up to Bush and Gonzales to decide what to do. But the senator has been among the most vocal Republicans who have criticized the leadership of the Justice Department.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said on ABC’s “This Week” that if there was a vote on a no-confidence resolution on Gonzales, Republicans would insist on other resolutions too. He did not elaborate.
Many senators have been angered by Gonzales’ testimony before Congress in which they saw him as evasive and forgetful.
The attorney general was not helped by testimony last week by one of his former top aides about a 2004 visit by Gonzales, who was then White House counsel, to the hospital bed of seriously ill John Ashcroft to get the then-attorney general to reauthorize Bush’s domestic spying program.
If the Senate approves the no-confidence resolution, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California told ABC there was talk of the House also voting on a similar measure but she would not commit to that action.