Ashcroft vs. Holder: A Tale of Two Vote Delays

Double standard? "Democrats...hardening their opposition" to John Ashcroft in 2001, but Senate Republicans are now "denying President Obama the chance to have a key member of his national security team in place as planned."

A tale of two vote delays?

In 2001, during the confirmation of former Sen. John Ashcroft to be attorney general, Senate Democrats on the Judiciary Committee forced a one-week delay in the vote on Ashcroft, apparently to give liberal interest groups time to build up an attack. Over a January 24, 2001 story with the neutral headline "Ashcroft Vote Is Postponed In Maneuver By Democrats," reporters David Johnston and Neil Lewis presented the Ashcroft delay in mild fashion, not as an affront to the new president, George W. Bush:

Senator Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader in the Senate, said today that he would delay for a week a scheduled committee vote on John Ashcroft's nomination as attorney general, the latest signal that Democrats were hardening their opposition to the appointment.

The postponement of the vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was originally scheduled for Wednesday, increases the anxiety about the confirmation in both parties, allowing Mr. Ashcroft's opponents more time to mobilize against him and adding to an already acute political problem for many Democrats, particularly those from heavily Republican states.

Only Ashcroft opponent Daschle was quoted in the 2001 story, no supporters of Ashcroft, Bush's eventual attorney general. Instead the Times dwelled on "several Democratic senators" who "expressed doubt that Mr. Ashcroft will fully honor his pledge, made at his confirmation hearings, to enforce laws he has opposed."

Yesterday, when Senate Republicans forced a similar delay in the vote on Eric Holder, Obama's choice for attorney general, the headline was somewhat stronger: "G.O.P. Forces Delay on Attorney General" read the headline to Eric Lichtblau's Thursday edition story.

Lichtblau also took a sharper opening tone, suggesting the GOP was "denying President Obama" a "key member of his national security team."

Senate Republicans on Wednesday forced a one-week delay in a vote on the nomination of Eric H. Holder Jr. as attorney general, denying President Obama the chance to have a key member of his national security team in place as planned.

Mr. Holder's ultimate confirmation still appears all but assured. But the procedural delay led Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee to accuse each other of souring the spirit of bipartisanship that Mr. Obama's inauguration was supposed to signal.

While the Times in 2001 ignored Ashcroft supporters and quoted only an Ashcroft opponent, Lichtblau reversed that pattern, devoting one paragraph to the issue at hand - Holder's involvement in Bill Clinton's controversial pardon of financier Marc Rich and his positions on counterterrorism - compared to five paragraphs to liberal Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont defending Holder and skewering the GOP for the delay.