Austin, Texas... Politex's for ASHCROFT WATCH, II
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Previous Ashcroft Stories, Including Phone Numbers of Senators


There's no doubt in my mind that Ashcroft will be our new Attorney-General, now that,. according to a CNN report, Dem Senate leader Tom Daschele has announced that the Dems will not filibuster any of the Bush nominees. Right now, Ashcroft has all 50 GOP votes and a number of Dem votes, assuring that Cheney's tie-breaking vote won't even be needed. (While the Republicans report that they're all behind Ashcroft, they caution that the Dems will not be doing their duty unless they hear out Ashcroft before making up their minds for or against him. One more example of GOP double-speak.) Now, it's up to the Dem soldiers in the trenches to make the case that Ashcroft won't be as bad on civil rights for blacks and gays, on women's issues such as abortion, on voters' rights, and on being against any new gun controls, even trigger locks, as his record indicates. It's also up to those Dem dreamers to convince themselves that Ashcroft won't recommend others of his ilk to federal judgeships, even to the Supreme Court. (The talk is that Bush will move Ashcroft into the Supreme Court, first chance he gets.) What are such Dem rationalizations based on? Surely not Ashcroft's performance at the Senate hearings.

First, I havn't experienced such fawning posturing, and fake ass-kissing from anyone since watching a Victorian melodrama. Ashcroft's pandering behavior did not convince me of his sincerity. Secondly, the man could seldom give an unscripted answer. Even the follow-up questions by the few Senators asking the hard questions were read from sheets of paper. (Actually, a large number of questions remained unanswered by Ashcroft. He said he had no knowledge of the future, and he had forgotten the past.) Thirdly, the only truly sincere answer to a hard question that I heard in the first two days came about late in the second day of questioning when he explained how he could actively disagree with the laws he said he will promise to uphold. In essence, he said that laws are never totally specified in all details, and he does not feel that it's contradictory to discover holes in the laws he disagrees with and do whatever he can to overturn those laws on that basis. As background to this comment, keep in mind that "an attorney general has wide latitude when it comes to deciding when and how to enforce the law — latitude Ashcroft almost certainly will use to assist those who oppose abortions and affirmative action. Anyone who thinks otherwise is badly mistaken," writes a reporter in USA Today. .

Finally, the clearest indication that Ashcroft plans to do what he dam well pleases when he's the new Bush Attorney-General is that while he mouthed all of the generalizations demanded by the Senators that he would uphold laws that he fought all of his political life to overturn, he uttered nothing, absoultely nothing, to indicate that he had changed his mind about any of his deeply held beliefs that have led him to challenge, block, undercut, dismantel, and lie about whatever laws that contradicted those beliefs. And since Bush believes what Ashcroft believes, although the new Resident will be less outspoken about it, the new A-G will not get any flack from his boss. Although Ashcroft said he would follow Bush's lead on policy, those of us familiar with Bush's past behavior know that once the Resident gets Ashcroft behind the Justice Department's desk, he'll go back to his three hour mid-day jogging and computer games. The Bush spinners call this his administrative "style." Then Ashcroft will do anything he dam well pleases, even though a plurality of Americans believe that Ashcroft is too conservatvie to be Attorney-General, according to a Newsweek poll. Meanwhile, what will the Dems do? On the basis of what they've done thus far? Nothing. --Politex, 1/19/01



LEAHY: Thank you. Now, Dr. Satcher -- David Satcher -- you opposed his nomination to be our surgeon general even though the Senate eventually approved him. In your speech, you said, "Dr. Satcher says he has a mainstream approach; he's going to pursue consensus." But then you went on to say that you didn't believe that. You told the Senate that he was, "a person of incredibly strong medical credentials, in terms of his expertise and his capacity, but you said the United States has participated in confirming nominations or ratifying proposals without looking carefully at the ethics involved of the guys that are being challenged." So the opposition to Dr. Satcher, by your own statement, was not based on his professional qualifications. Indeed, is it fair to say that applying an Ashcroft standard you were articulating as a SEN. that you are going to oppose a nominee who you believed to be out of step with the mainstream of America, to use the words you used in your speech.
ASHCROFT: Mr. Chairman, I'm pleased to have the opportunity to express my concerns here. Dr. David Satcher supported a number of activities that I thought were inconsistent with the ethical obligations of a medical doctor and a physician, particularly the surgeon general, because I think the surgeon general is an individual to whom America must look for guidance in terms of not just technical expertise, but the kind of ethics that ought to accompany people who have life-and-death decision-making in their hands. We all know how important the medical profession is.
LEAHY: And you disagreed with those ethics and values.
ASHCROFT: Yes, for example, he supported an AIDS study on pregnant women in Africa where some patients were given placebos, even though a treatment existed to limit transmission of AIDS from the mother to the child. In my understanding, this would not be an acceptable strategy for a study in the United States, but he was willing to support the study under those terms in Africa. That was a matter of deep concern to me. Let me -- if I might -- he lobbied Congress to continue an anonymous study testing newborn infants' blood for the AIDS virus, without informing the mother if the test was positive. Now, I have real problems with a situation where someone wants to be the surgeon general of the United States, wants to learn about whether or not there's AIDS present in a medical situation, and not tell the people involved about the AIDS virus. This is a matter of deep concern to me. The idea of sending fatally infected babies home with their unwitting mothers, even after a treatment had been identified for AIDS, to me was an idea that was unacceptable for an individual who wanted to be the leader in terms of the medical community and a role model in the United States. It was on those grounds that I made the decision. Now, it's my decision and I'm not trying to duck responsibility for the decision. But those are the facts as I understood them, and that's the reason I made the decision.
LEAHY: So it'd be fair to say you disagreed with his ethical choices and his values, and you felt you should vote against him because of that.
ASHCROFT: I think it's fair to say that I believed he violated the ethical values that are characteristic..
. LEAHY: I'm not trying to parse words, and I just want to make sure I understand, because I'm trying to get this...
ASHCROFT: It was a shortfall in his adherence to ethical values of the American medical community that I think were...
LEAHY: And because you disagreed with what you saw as his ethics and values, you voted against him. I'm not trying to place words in your mouth, I want to make sure I understand.
ASHCROFT: Well, then maybe...
LEAHY: Trying to give you the fairest...
ASHCROFT: Well, maybe if you will let me state my words...
LEAHY: Sure.
ASHCROFT: ... then you don't have to worry about placing words in my mouth.
I believed that his willingness to accept a standard for medical research in Africa, on African women, that would not be acceptable in the United States was an ethical lapse that was very important. I, secondly, believed his willingness to send AIDS-infected babies home with their mothers without telling their mothers about the infection of the children was another ethical problem that was very serious. Based on those standards, which I believe are less than acceptable standards in the medical community in this country, I voted against him.
LEAHY: That's what I was trying to get you to say. Thank you.
ASHCROFT: I'm sorry.
LEAHY: Maybe we were speaking past each other. But thank you.

And from

PRESS: Senator Specter, Senator Ashcroft was also asked today, in addition to Bill Lann Lee, about his opposition to David Satcher as attorney general. I was surprised, he made a very serious charge. He said he voted against him because General Satcher was guilty -- he said, I've got it written down here...
SPECTER: Because he hadn't...
PRESS: ... of sending AIDS infected babies home without telling their mothers. There's the surgeon general there on the screen. Now, I checked today after the hearing. That program was not begun by David Satcher. It was actually done under Ronald Reagan in 1988 to test the spread of AIDS in this country, and it was ended by Doctor Satcher in 1995, two years before he was nominated as surgeon general. Again, wasn't that a bogus, and unfair charge on Ashcroft's part?
SPECTER: Well, Bill, nobody challenged him at the hearing. John Ashcroft...
PRESS: I am now.
SPECTER: Well, where is John Ashcroft? Let's see if he can respond to it. The issue was raised about Doctor Satcher's nomination, and Senator Ashcroft gave very specific reasons, saying that on this testing, if they found the child was infected with AIDS, they did not tell the parents. And he had very specific reasons that what -- at least according to his representation -- and I don't know if he was right, wrong, or indifferent. But I do know Doctor Satcher's nomination was brought up by a questioner, and Ashcroft answered, and that was the end of it.
PRESS: But here's what I find troubling, is -- and by the way, at the time, Bill Frist, the only...
SPECTER: Listen, if you're right Bill, they can come back tomorrow...
PRESS: Well...
SPECTER: ... and...
CHAVEZ: Correct the record.
PRESS: Well, they might...
SPECTER: ... and push him on it...
PRESS: ... but at the time...
SPECTER: ... and that would be fair, if you're correct.
PRESS: At the time, Bill Frist, the only physician in the Senate, and a Republican, said that what Doctor Satcher did was ethically correct, that the charges were bogus, and it was pure politics, had nothing to do with the real issue. And so, you get with David Satcher, and with Ronnie White, and with Bill Lann Lee -- you always get these far-reaching reasons that Ashcroft comes up with for opposing some minority nominee. Doesn't that -- isn't that troubling? 1/17/01


"In March of 1998 a national uproar ensued when Green Bay Packers star Reggie White delivered an infamous speech to the Wisconsin Legislature. White, who is African American, made offensive remarks about blacks, Latinos and Asians, and then railed against homosexuality, which he described as "rampant." "Homosexuality is a decision, it's not a race," White fumed. "People from all different ethnic backgrounds live in this lifestyle. But people from all different ethnic backgrounds also are liars and cheaters and malicious and back-stabbing."The state legislators, who greeted the local celebrity with applause when he first arrived, soon were sitting in silence, some with mouths agape. "This is the first time I've been at a loss for words," Wisconsin Assembly Minority Leader Walter Kunicki commented afterward. "You can still tell from the tension in the room that much of this was offensive." In the weeks and months that followed White was rightly criticized by many politicians and public officials across the country for spewing such bile. One official who cheered him on, however, was Sen. John Ashcroft, R.-Mo., George W. Bush's attorney general nominee, who sent White a cheery note of support. "You are a credit to sports at a time when many 'stars' set the wrong example," Ashcroft wrote....

"Make no mistake: Ashcroft is a hatemonger. Much of the media have focused on Ashcroft's cozy relationship with people and institutions that have supported highly objectionable racial policies, and on his Draconian anti-abortion stances. Ashcroft's virulent homophobia, however, seems to have gotten short shrift. And it's a shame because gays and lesbians are a group about which Ashcroft's hatemongering is most obvious. As his note to Reggie White shows, Ashcroft's hatred of gays is blatant and is something about which he is proud and vocal, garnering much support from those intent on killing the gay civil rights movement. The Rev. James Dobson, head of the anti-gay Focus on the Family—which hosted a celebratory luncheon for Reggie White shortly after his heinous remarks—sent his own note to Ashcroft in 1998, when the senator had received three standing ovations after attacking sexual immorality at the Conservative Political Action Conference. "You are the messenger," Dobson wrote, offering Ashcroft all of his support in Ashcroft's political ambitions. Ashcroft boldly flaunts his relationship with groups such as Dobson's that have condemned gays and lesbians as depraved sinners and gay men as pedophiles. While Ashcroft was considering a run for the presidency in 1998, he took 26 trips that were paid for by private organizations, more than any other senator that year. Most of the trips were connected to speeches he gave sounding out his presidential ambitions, and the groups picking up the tab were mostly anti-gay groups that form the bedrock of his support: Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, Jerry Falwell's Liberty Foundation, Focus on the Family, the Heritage Foundation, Louisiana Baptist University and the Assemblies of God General Council.

"In Oklahoma City that year, Ashcroft even proudly accepted over $16,000 for his political action committee from eight top executives of the LifeLine/Amerivision Long-Distance Telephone Co, which, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, was then using opposition to gay rights as part of its marketing pitch, and which has close ties to the Christian Coalition. As Ashcroft sees it, "the Bible calls (homosexuality) a sin, and that's what defines sin for me," as he said to the National Online Journal. "In terms of public policy," he continued, "the Democratic Party has an agenda of providing a special setting and special rights for homosexuals. I don't believe we should have special rights there. That's the public-policy question. The sin question is: Should there be special rights for homosexuals in our culture and in our society? And I don't believe they should be accorded special rights." Voting against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in 1998, Ashcroft expressed his fear that employers would not be allowed to discriminate against gays in hiring, something he believes is proper and sound public policy. Stooping to base demagoguery and sensationalism, Ashcroft cited a case in Virginia where a boys' gym teacher was discovered to have appeared in gay porn films. "He led a double life," Ashcroft ridiculously wailed on the Senate floor, as if the same couldn't be true of any heterosexual teacher, and as if most gays and lesbians are moonlighting in skin flicks. "On the West Coast a gay porno star, on the East Coast, a gym teacher." ENDA, he concluded, "contains seeds of real instability and inappropriate activity…which could grow way out of hand and send the wrong signals to young people."

"Ashcroft is unquestionably an ideologue who has no tolerance for other Republicans, including the so-called "compassionate conservatives" who have made even the smallest overtures toward gays. He withdrew support of an ambassadorship for former Republican Gov. William Weld of Massachusetts when he found out that Weld had created a commission on gay youth, and he spoke out against the nomination of openly gay James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg, even as some other conservative Republicans, such as Sen. Orrin Hatch, expressed support. It's one of the few anti-gay positions the press has reported, in part because Sen. John Kerry, D.-Mass., made a point of discussing it on Meet the Press. When, Ashcroft believed Hormel's "conduct and the way in which he would represent the United States is probably not up to the standard that I would expect."The Senate must protect the people from abuses of power within the executive branch, and from extremists in the government who would do harm to many of us. Beyond his intention to keep gays and lesbians from attaining any rights in this country, Ashcroft promotes and furthers the myths and distortions that inspire discrimination and violence against gay people every day. --Michelangelo Signorile, 1/17/01

Watch for a confirmation strategy that echoes fellow Danforth protégé Clarence Thomas in 1991, beginning with Ashcroft lobbying individual senators, followed by a confirmation narrative emphasizing Ashcroft's childhood--how his minister father befriended black missionaries--over the substance of Ashcroft's record as segregationist and antichoice absolutist. Once again, leading the Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats will be Joe Biden, whose vanity and strategic incompetence contributed mightily to Thomas's narrow confirmation. Biden, reprising his fatal 1991 indecision, has declared he is "inclined" to support Ashcroft.... Reports have it that Bush's first favorite for AG was the more moderate Governor Marc Racicot of Montana--who, the story goes, was shot down by the far right. That creative spin control allows the administration-elect to play to both its flanks--deferring to the right with the nomination while assuaging moderates with the fiction that this nomination doesn't reflect Bush's deepest convictions. In fact, Ashcroft's nomination embodies one of the fundamental lessons of the first George Bush Administration: that the justice system is the arena that counts for right-wing patronage. The permanent elite of Republican technocrats like Donald Rumsfeld can have the run of the store as long as Justice turns out a steady stream of antiabortion briefs and far-right judge nominees.

So is this a nomination worth fighting? Other Bush Cabinet nominees also pose direct threats to specific constituencies, but there is real urgency to laying down a marker on Ashcroft. The threat his nomination poses cuts across constituencies and issues, and the stakes are every bit as high as in the Clarence Thomas and Robert Bork Supreme Court nomination fights. The Justice Department has expanded its authority as has no other agency in recent years. Through appointments to the federal bench, Supreme Court arguments and priorities, the appointment of US Attorneys and the enforcement of civil rights and antitrust law, any Attorney General can change the country in profound ways. All the more so with Ashcroft: not just because of his regressive constitutional views but because Bush appears likely to vest more power in his advisers than any President in memory.

And this is a fight that is winnable, despite Biden's early bumbling and the irrelevant conventional wisdom that the Senate will defer to one of its own. (Remember John Tower, whose Senate record could not rescue his nomination as Bush Senior's Defense Secretary?) The Clinton impeachment hearings and trial showed repeatedly that most Americans have little patience with moral extremists like Ashcroft, and it shouldn't take much to convince a broad segment of the public that he is out of touch. Civil liberties and corporate regulation have a currency and a constituency they lacked when public-interest groups beat Bork in 1986. With public support for the death penalty falling, with even GOP governors questioning the wisdom of the drug war, with Republican Supreme Court Justices reaffirming Roe v. Wade and a Republican Congress softening the Cuba embargo, Ashcroft looks like a dinosaur, the anachronistic spawn of Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms. Besides, whatever the outcome, a fight against Ashcroft will generate rather than expend political capital for civil rights and civil liberties advocates. Democrats gained from the Bork and Thomas confirmation fights as the public became educated about the real agenda of conservatives and as Beltway-bound liberal lobbies reconnected to grassroots constituencies. There is every reason to think Ashcroft could be defeated--and even if he is not, fighting his confirmation could lay the foundation for a new coalition, a shadow Justice Department that will dog the Bush Administration's every judicial nomination and every reversal of civil rights. This is no time to roll over. --Bruce Shapiro, 1/16/01


"In 1992, the city of Branson--a tourism mecca visited annually by millions who attend the country-music halls there--was burdened by traffic congestion. Thirty thousand cars a day were jamming the town's Country Music Boulevard in peak season. Ashcroft declared the situation in the Ozarks an "economic emergency" in order to build a road. This was the first time this gubernatorial power had been used to facilitate construction of a highway, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Ashcroft's declaration opened the way for the quick approval of a $140 million, eighteen-mile bypass promoted as the solution to Branson's traffic mess--a claim challenged by some locals, who blasted the Ozark Mountain Highroad as an "Ashcroft pork-barrel" project. But there is no question that the new highway was beneficial to several key political contributors to Ashcroft, most notably Peter Herschend, an owner of the Silver Dollar City amusement center. The road--US Highway 465--would skirt Branson and swing by Herschend's Silver Dollar City, making it easier for tourists to reach the site of shops, variety shows and rides. A Post-Dispatch analysis of land records found that the Herschend family stood to gain the most from the project. The proposed road would cross three stretches of Herschend-owned property, and in 1993 the family sold one of them to the state for $2.2 million. Locals called the road "Pete's Pike."

..."One did not have to be a partisan Democrat to wonder if Ashcroft's support for the project was enhanced by his relationship with Herschend. In October 1994, as Ashcroft was campaigning for the Senate, the Post-Dispatch reported that Herschend, his wife and business had donated $12,000 to Ashcroft campaigns in the previous ten years and that Herschend had hosted fundraisers for Ashcroft. According to subsequent federal elections records, Herschend and his family contributed $18,000 to Ashcroft's 1994 Senate effort and $7,000 to the Republican Party that campaign cycle. (Herschend's son, Chris, worked on Ashcroft's campaign staff in 1994.) According to Herschend, the road grew out of conversations he held with Ashcroft and highway officials in 1991 and 1992. And when Ashcroft declared the "economic emergency" at a public meeting in Branson in June 1992--just months before he was to leave office--he was introduced by Herschend. At that time, Ashcroft said the highway would be finished by 1998 and reduce traffic congestion in downtown Branson. (The road is still under construction and years away from completion; two years after the announcement, studies showed the road would draw off only a small amount of Branson's traffic.) Some local businesses favored the highway, environmentalists opposed it (the road would run through the habitat of endangered birds), and other opponents maintained that a costly project of unproven effectiveness was being rushed over their objections. But the US Department of Transportation approved it in February 1993. When the Post-Dispatch asked Herschend about the project a year-and-a-half later--the last time this story received any serious attention--the businessman said that when he was lobbying Ashcroft for the road he didn't know the bypass was going to run through his property. But the newspaper discovered two maps drawn up before the official announcement that showed the proposed road passing through or near Herschend's land. The 117 acres the state purchased from Herschend for $2.2 million was to be used for building an interchange that would handle traffic to Herschend's Silver Dollar City.

"Ashcroft told the paper that he backed the road to assist Missourians not the Herschends. Nevertheless, the Herschends appeared appreciative. After 1994, Herschend, his family, and his business donated $33,000 to Ashcroft and about $40,000 to other Republicans. Perhaps Ashcroft resorted to unusual means to push this road because he truly believed it was in the public interest. But the deep involvement of an Ashcroft donor/fundraiser in the project caused the Post-Dispatch to question Ashcroft's integrity. In an editorial the newspaper asked, "Did the Ozark Mountain Highroad--US Highway 465--get special priority and favorable treatment because at least two of the landowners along the proposed right of way were campaign contributors of then-Gov. John Ashcroft?" The newspaper noted that Ashcroft's designation of the highway as an "economic emergency" had "no meaning under law" and "raises serious questions of public policy." It added that the "apparent connections between contributions to politicians and the priority given this highway at least raises doubts about safeguarding the public interest."...This was all the more reason, the paper said, for campaign finance reform. In general, politicians of unquestionable integrity do not behave in a manner that provides ammunition to advocates of campaign finance reform. But here was one instance when Ashcroft acted in a fashion that led observers to suspect he is not as honest as he is pious. --DAVID CORN & DAN MOLDEA , 1/16/01

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