NPR.org, June 11, 2007 · The Senate is scheduled to hold a no-confidence vote Monday on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. He has come under harsh criticism from members of both parties for his performance in the scandal over fired U.S. attorneys. Here, a look at what it all means:
What exactly is the no-confidence vote?
It is a very short resolution. It reads, "It is the sense of the Senate that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales no longer holds the confidence of the American people." That brevity is partly strategic. The bill's sponsors hope that by keeping the language broad and avoiding mention of specific misdeeds, more senators will vote in favor of the measure.
What could its impact be?
The bill is largely symbolic. Congress cannot force the attorney general to resign. He serves at the pleasure of the president. President Bush underscored that fact at a news conference in Sofia, Bulgaria, where he criticized the vote as political and said, "They can try to have their votes of no confidence, but it's not going to ... make the determination who serves in my government." The president has consistently stood by Gonzales as the U.S. attorney firing scandal unfolds, and he shows no sign of changing his mind.
Still, if the vote is successful, it will be a black mark on the attorney general's historical record, adding a few more blows to the public beating Gonzales has already taken in this scandal.
How are Republican senators likely to vote?
They are in a difficult position. Many have already said, in effect, that they have no confidence in the attorney general. But they are also reluctant to participate in what they see as a Democratic political maneuver.
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) explained to CNN Sunday why he won't support the measure, saying, "I'm not going to comment on the kind of job" Gonzales has done. He added, "The vote is whether we should take a vote to express a lack of confidence by the Senate. That's wrong."
The senator who introduced the resolution, Charles Schumer (D-NY), said, "If all senators who have actually lost confidence in Attorney General Gonzales voted their conscience, this vote would be unanimous."
Does the resolution look likely to pass?
The key question is whether Democrats can gather the 60 votes they need to end debate on the resolution, so that it can move toward a vote. That's a high hurdle, but if they win that preliminary vote, they will have no trouble gathering the simple majority they need to pass the bill.
How is the attorney general responding to this?
He is in Miami on Monday, delivering a speech at a law-enforcement conference. When asked about the vote last week, Gonzales said, "That will be up to Congress to decide what they want to spend their time working on. I'm spending my time focused on what's important to the American people."
It is telling to look at the context of that statement. Gonzales was asked about the no-confidence vote at a news conference announcing a gang indictment. He was asked only a handful of questions about the gang indictment at that news conference, and he repeatedly refused to answer questions about the U.S. attorneys scandal and its fallout.
Earlier last week, at a news conference announcing the high-profile indictment of Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA), the attorney general was nowhere to be seen. Critics say those examples show that the attorney general's credibility and effectiveness have been so damaged by the scandal that he can no longer lead the Justice Department. Gonzales says he continues to focus on anti-terrorism, anti-public corruption and child-safety efforts.