Two key Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sens. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), say they will support Judge Michael Mukasey to be the next attorney general. That makes Mukasey's confirmation almost certain.
His confirmation has been in doubt the past few days, and looked particularly doomed Friday after Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said he'd join some of his Democratic colleagues in voting "no" on Mukasey.
Sens. Schumer and Feinstein announced their support for Mukasey shortly after, saying the Justice Department is in desperate need of effective leadership.
The biggest snag for Mukasey was his refusal to categorically define waterboarding as torture. Waterboarding is an interrogation technique that simulates drowning. Mukasey has said he finds it personally repugnant, but he would not say it's illegal.
That caused Leahy to announce his opposition to the nominee Friday. "No American should need a classified briefing to determine whether waterboarding is torture," Leahy said.
"I like Michael Mukasey. I wish that I could support his nomination. But I cannot," Leahy said. "America needs to be certain and confident of the bedrock principle — deeply embedded in our laws and our values — that no one, not even the president, is above the law."
Leahy's chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee gives him considerable power to influence the outcome of the vote. But with the support of Sens. Schumer and Feinstein, Mukasey's confirmation is almost certain.
The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on Tuesday, after which it will go to the full Senate.
Schumer has taken credit for getting Mukasey's name before President Bush as an acceptable nominee after the troubled tenure of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
But declining support among the panel's Democrats threatened to prevent Mukasey's nomination from making it to the full Senate for a vote. Four other Democrats on Leahy's committee have already said they will not support the former judge.
On Thursday, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), also a member of the Judiciary Committee, said he would vote against Mukasey.
Kennedy said Mukasey's unwillingness to equate the interrogation practice of waterboarding with torture increases the chances that it will be used against U.S. troops.
Meanwhile, President Bush on Friday kept up a spirited defense of Mukasey's nomination.
"He's a good man. He's a fair man. He's an independent man and he's plenty qualified to be attorney general," Bush said of Mukasey, just after landing in Columbia, S.C.
It was the second day in a row that Bush has pleaded with senators to approve the man he chose to succeed Gonzales as the nation's top law enforcement official.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a member of the Judiciary Committee who is backing the embattled judge, joined Bush on the airport tarmac for the president's statement. The president was in South Carolina to help raise money for Graham's re-election and make a speech about the war against terrorism.
A day earlier, Bush warned that the Justice Department would go without a leader in a time of war if Democrats thwarted Mukasey.
Bush said Thursday that if the Judiciary Committee were to block Mukasey because of his noncommittal stance on waterboarding, it would set a new standard for confirmation that could not be met by any responsible nominee for attorney general.
There is a way for Mukasey to get a full Senate vote even if committee Democrats unite in opposing him. The Senate Judiciary Committee could agree to advance the nomination with "no recommendation," allowing Mukasey the chance to be confirmed by a majority of the 100-member Senate. Several vote-counters in each party have said Mukasey probably would get 70 "yes" votes in such a scenario.
From NPR reports and The Associated Press