ABC News’ Ed O’Keefe Reports: Two key Democrats crossed party lines and pledged their support to President Bush’s embattled Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey, all but ensuring the retired judge’s confirmation as the nation’s top law enforcement official.
Senator Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement released late on Friday, "I will support Judge Michael Mukasey for Attorney General," later explaining, "Should we reject him, it is almost certain that an acting, caretaker Attorney General will take office without the advice and consent of the Senate."
In a similar statement, released almost simultaneously to the media, Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, said she too would support Bush’s pick.
"Michael Mukasey is not Alberto Gonzales," Feinstein said, referring to the Attorney General who resigned amid brewing controversy in August, "Rather, he has forged an independent path as a practitioner of the law and a federal judge."
Mukasey, who seemed at first blush headed for quick confirmation with bipartisan support, stirred both Republican and Democratic senators with his refusal during confirmation hearings to state that the practice of waterboarding — or simulated drowning — constitutes torture.
The former judge clarified his position in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, set to vote on Mukasey’s nomination on Tuesday, describing the practice as "repugnant" but again did not say he believed it amounted to torture.
President Bush said he may not send another nominee up for confirmation if the Senate failed to confirm Mukasey adding pressure on wavering senators.
Senator Arlen Specter, R-Penn., has expressed reservations and on Friday, prior to the announcement of his two Democratic colleagues in support of the nomination, Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., announced he would oppose Mukasey.
The support of Schumer and Feinstein despite Leahy’s opposition, should be enough to earn Mukasey the Senate Judiciary Committee’s stamp of approval and send his nomination onward for consideration by the full Senate.
Tony Fratto, a White House spokesperson, said of the latest development, "Judge Mukasey is exceptionally qualified and would be an outstanding Attorney General. He deserves a vote from the full Senate where we are confident he would be confirmed."