But it was enough that President Bush lavished his blessings on his longtime servant once again. One can admire the president’s loyalty to those who have served him with fierce obedience since the beginning of his political career without paying homage to his wisdom.
Democrats on the Judiciary Committee sponsored the resolution expressing no confidence in the attorney general, a gesture that was only symbolic but that was calculated to give the president cover to tell Gonzales that it was time to go for the good of the team. Thirty-seven Republicans and one independent prevented a final vote on the resolution by voting not to shut off debate. Needing 60 votes, it failed 53-38. Four other Democrats would have come off the campaign trail or sick bed to vote for it, but it would still have fallen short.
It was a lame victory for Gonzales and the president, who saw seven Republicans break ranks and cast their lot very publicly with the attorney general’s critics. This is the definition of Pyrrhic victory.
“There is no confidence in the attorney general from this side of the aisle,” said Sen. Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee. A number of the 37 Republicans privately have murmured deep disappointment with Gonzales but did not want to embarrass the president, who has enough problems.
But he has few problems greater than a Justice Department that enjoys no confidence from the legislative branch and not much from its own ranks. The top echelon has been decimated by resignations and recriminations, and morale is miserable.
When the attorney general fired eight U.S. attorneys for what can only be described as partisan reasons, lied to an Arkansas senator about a new appointee for the east Arkansas prosecutor’s job and then claimed to have little to do with major decisions in his department, he had little credibility left.
Here clearly was a man unsuited for an independent and fearless pursuit of the rule of law. He doesn’t help either with another of the president’s image problems, competence. The president should get this problem behind him. It will help with the others, too.