State Journal-Register

Jan 11, 2001

Sen. Fitzgerald supports Ashcroft


WASHINGTON - Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., Wednesday forcefully threw his support behind President-elect Bush's choice for attorney general, John Ashcroft, who is bracing for tough confirmation hearings next week.

"I think he's the soul of integrity and I think he'd make an outstanding attorney general of the United States," Fitzgerald told reporters after a private 35-minute meeting with Ashcroft.

Bush's selection of the former Republican senator from Missouri to be the nation's top cop has drawn fire from civil rights groups, abortion rights 
activists and Democrats, including Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

On Tuesday, Durbin labeled as "disgraceful" Ashcroft's role in blocking Senate confirmation of black Missouri Supreme Court Judge Ronnie White for the federal bench. But Durbin remains undecided on how he'll vote on Ashcroft's confirmation, he said.

Fitzgerald said he expected special interest groups to turn up the pressure on Democrats to oppose Ashcroft. "But I suspect Sen. Ashcroft will be approved primarily because the senators know him, and they do know him as a man of integrity. They know him personally. And they're not going to believe a one-dimensional description of him that they read somewhere," Fitzgerald said.

Ashcroft helped persuade a majority of the Senate to defeat Judge White in October 1999. The GOP-controlled Senate voted 54-45, strictly along party lines, to reject his nomination. Fitzgerald joined Ashcroft in voting to reject White. Durbin voted to confirm White.

Fitzgerald defended Ashcroft after the two met, saying that Ashcroft has an  "outstanding" record of recommending black judicial nominees in Missouri and has voted to confirm 26 of the 28 black nominees before the Senate during his tenure.

"I think the totality of his record will bode well for him," Fitzgerald said.

A day before Fitzgerald met Ashcroft, he got a visit from another Bush Cabinet choice drawing criticism in advance of her confirmation hearings - Gale Norton, chosen to head the Interior Department.

Fitzgerald, who has broken with his party on certain environmental issues, predicted he and Norton would not always see eye to eye. But he said he hadn't yet decided how he would vote on Norton or Agriculture Secretary-designate Ann Veneman.