MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
The future is certainly looking better for the president's nominee for attorney general. Judge Michael Mukasey won some badly needed support from two Senate Democrats today, Charles Schumer of New York and Dianne Feinstein of California. Earlier, the nomination seemed to be unraveling. Now, it appears back on track.
NPR congressional correspondent David Welna has been following the Mukasey story, and he joins us now.
And, David, why did these two Democratic senators decide to back Mukasey?
DAVID WELNA: Well, these two Democrats, I should tell you, are New York's Charles Schumer and California's Dianne Feinstein. And, you know, it's really not that surprising that either one of them did decide to do what five other Democrats on the committee - including the Chairman Patrick Leahy - are on record saying they won't do, and that is to vote on Tuesday to recommend Mukasey's confirmation by the full Senate.
Schumer, after all, is the Democrat who recommended Mukasey to the White House and who's championed his nomination really from the start. He put out a statement this afternoon, saying that while Mukasey is not his ideal choice, he's what Schumer called a lawyer's lawyer; who Schumer said he trusted would enforce all laws banning torture. And Schumer said it was no use hoping to have a nominee under this administration who'd share Democrats' views on torture and wiretapping. But he said he believed Mukasey would be a strong and independent attorney general, and that he's the best nominee the Senate could get.
As for Dianne Feinstein, she'd already broken ranks earlier this year with her party on another controversial judicial nomination. And she also put out a statement this afternoon, saying that first and foremost, Michael Mukasey is not Alberto Gonzales, the former attorney general. She, too, said that Mukasey's the best the Senate will get and warned that voting him down now would only perpetuate either acting or recess appointments at the Justice Department. And Feinstein also called on Congress to specifically ban all waterboarding for the government and not just for the military.
SIEGEL: So let's do the arithmetic right now. If, in fact, Chairman Leahy of Vermont said he'll vote against Judge Mukasey, but with - and Senator Kennedy earlier had said he would vote against - would Schumer and Feinstein say they would vote in favor, does that mean that the Mukasey nomination is likely to go to the floor?
WELNA: I think so. There are nine Republicans on this committee that has 19 members. If all Republicans vote for Mukasey, as they're expected to do, plus the two votes from Schumer and Feinstein, that gives 11 votes, versus eight votes. And I think it pretty much assures that his nomination will go to the Senate floor.
SIEGEL: How important the nomination is this for the White House?
WELNA: Well, President Bush had strongly pushed this nomination. And, you know, this was really the first time that he'd sought a consensus candidate for a key post by consulting with Democrats in the Senate. And I think it would have been very awkward for the president to see that effort end up in rejection of his nominee. And this may also put to rest speculation that Mukasey could get the White House officials in trouble, including the president himself, for the practice of waterboarding.
SIEGEL: The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on Tuesday. What happens after that? How soon would it go to the floor?
WELNA: It could go to the floor quite soon after that. Already, Republicans are talking about that nomination being voted on by the full Senate by the end of the week. And that would mean that there would be an attorney general very soon.
SIEGEL: David, thank you very much.
WELNA: You're welcome.
SIEGEL: It's NPR's David Welna at the Capitol.
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