Senate Vote May Not Dislodge Gonzales

The Senate is preparing to vote on a resolution expressing "no confidence" in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. But the symbolic vote will not necessarily make it more likely that Gonzales will leave office anytime soon.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

As we've just heard, the Republican Party is facing some deep doubts among those rural Americans, and it hasn't gone unnoticed by Republicans in Congress. Joining us now for some analyses is NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams. Good morning, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Let's take a look at what's on the congressional agenda this week, starting with the no-confidence vote in the Senate today on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

WILLIAMS: Well, Tony Snow - the White House press secretary - said yesterday it's a purely symbolic vote. It will have no impact on President Bush. He said Gonzales serves at the president's pleasure, and there's no question about that. What you have, though, Renee, is a situation where five Republican senators have already called for Gonzales to resign. They need about 60 votes today to get beyond a test vote phase and allow a real vote on whether or not, you know, Gonzales would be viewed as having officially no confidence on the part of the U.S. Senate.

This would seem unlikely at this point, but the real question is how many Republicans joined the 49, maybe 50 if you include the Independent Democratic votes in order to get towards that 60. And at this point, it looks like the consequence is more that you have a Justice Department that really can't do much in terms of getting any business done in the U.S. Congress - on conservative judges, on extending any parts of the Patriot Act. That kind of confidence is just lagging.

MONTAGNE: Now we're talking about sort of the prospects for Republicans, and this may not strike directly at that, but it's certainly an issue for them. The case of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, who was convicted of lying before a grand jury and sentenced to jail last week. He's back in court this week for a ruling on whether he must begin serving his prison sentence while his appeal is pending. Is there any chance President Bush might issue a pardon?

WILLIAMS: Yes, there is a chance, and a lot of pressure coming from Vice President Cheney's office, Vice President Cheney himself. This was a very hush-hush conversation that's taking place while the president's been overseas and now back in this country. As you know, vice president's chief of staff Libby was given a two-and-a-half-year sentence for lying before a grand jury. But on Thursday, his lawyers went back to court to ask that Libby be allowed to stay out of jail while his conviction was appealed.

Now you have a situation where he's going to go back in court this week. It's unlikely that Judge Reggie Walton is going to allow him to do it, although an appeals court might say that he could stay out while the appeal goes forward. But what you have over the weekend, Renee, is a real conversation about whether the president might do what some are calling pardon lite, which is to say, commute the sentence - say that the judge was overly harsh in the two-and-a-half-year sentence, and so that Libby would not have to serve any time in jail while the conviction would stand and remain on his record.

The other problem is one that's political, which is that there are a lots of Republicans on Capitol Hill as we were saying, you know what, this is just damaging to the party. It invites this thought of culture of corruption being advanced by Democrats against Republicans, invites the divisions you heard in the piece where some Republicans just don't feel comfortable with the Bush administration.

MONTAGNE: And that's analysis from NPR's Juan Williams. Thanks very much, Juan.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Renee.

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