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The BG News
BG24 Newscast
November 30, 2023

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Bush Cabinet selections face questioning

With 10 of President-elect Bush’s 16 Cabinet nominees facing senators this week. Attorney General-designate John Ashcroft spoke out Monday against the practice of racial profiling by police on the eve of his confirmation hearing that is expected to focus sharply on his civil rights record.

“I certainly would like to find a way to be absent that kind of practice,” Ashcroft said.

“It’s wrong, inappropriate. It shouldn’t be done.” He said Bush “is sensitive to this problem.”

Ashcroft and Gale Norton, as Interior secretary, are meeting opposition not seen since the 1991 Clarence Thomas hearings during the administration of Bush’s father.

Ashcroft, mostly silent while liberal groups have assailed his record, confronted one controversial issue — racial profiling — in a conversation with Bush officials in the presence of reporters.

Ashcroft, who appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee starting Tuesday, also faces questions about other hot-button issues: judicial selections for the Supreme Court and other federal court seats; his unyielding anti-abortion stance; his opposition to confirming a black Missouri judge, Ronnie White, to the federal bench; his comments praising Southern war heroes; and allegations that he improperly used state government employees in his 1984 campaign for governor of Missouri.

The hearings for all nominees will be chaired by Democrats, who control the Senate until Bush is inaugurated on Saturday. The Senate is split 50-50, and after Bush becomes president, Vice President Dick Cheney can break a tie.

Norton, a former Colorado attorney general, faces sharp questions on whether she would weaken environmental protections in her stewardship of public lands. She has advocated more state, local and private involvement in environmental laws. She once suggested that government recognize property owners’ “right to pollute” and that they be compensated for losses when forced to protect the environment.

When she appears Thursday before the Energy and Natural Resources committee, Norton also may be questioned about the $270-per-hour fee for legal work on behalf of the Alaska Legislature, challenging the Interior Department’s fishing regulations.

Others facing hearings this week include Colin L. Powell, the selection for secretary of state; Paul O’Neill, Treasury; Tommy Thompson, Health and Human Services; Spencer Abraham, Energy; Christie Whitman, Environmental Protection Agency; Ann Veneman, Agriculture; Mel Martinez, Housing and Urban Development and Anthony Prinicipi, Veterans Affairs.

Powell faces wide-ranging foreign policy questions, Thompson will be asked about the future of Medicare and Social Security, O’Neill about the nation’s recent economic troubles and Abraham about his past support for abolishing the department he would lead if confirmed. Whitman almost certainly will be questioned about racial profiling, an issue in New Jersey where she has been governor.

Lobbying groups have been pouring through Ashcroft’s record as Missouri attorney general, governor and a term as U.S. senator. Ashcroft lost his Senate re-election bid to the late Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan, who received the majority of votes despite his death in a plane crash. His widow, Jean, was appointed to the seat and agreed to introduce Ashcroft to the Judiciary Committee.

Democrats are scrutinizing allegations that Ashcroft improperly used government employees in 1984 when he was attorney general and running for governor. Bush spokeswoman Mindy Tucker, quoting Ashcroft, said any political work was not done on government time.

Opponents pointed to an Aug. 26, 1982 fund-raising letter from Ashcroft on his official attorney general stationery.

Ashcroft also was deposed in a civil lawsuit in which he declined to answer questions on his fund-raising activities while state attorney general.

He specifically was asked about statements in 1983 by Peter Merrill, a St. Louis businessman. Merrill said in an affidavit that Ashcroft and another man visited him in 1982 and when Ashcroft was called away for a phone call, the second individual said Ashcroft wanted Merrill to raise $10,000 for the gubernatorial campaign.

Ashcroft, in his deposition, said he and a friend did meet with Merrill but refused to answer questions about the discussions on advice of his lawyer.

“Did you indicate to Mr. Merrill that you wanted him to do fund raising on your behalf?” Ashcroft was asked, one of several related questions that he wouldn’t answer.

Ashcroft backers refused to stay silent amid such attacks.

On Monday, Charles Evers, brother of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, sent letters of support for Ashcroft to members of the judiciary committee, saying allegations of racism against him “are not supported by facts.”

Evers, a former mayor of Fayette, Miss., was a Mississippi delegate to the 2000 GOP convention.

Also on Monday, St. Louis attorney and Ashcroft friend Charles Polk defended the former senator in remarks to reporters, saying Ashcroft would make “a fine attorney general” for all Americans, regardless of their race.


olk, who is black, dismissed critics’ allegations that Ashcroft is a racist.

“That’s a joke — it really is a joke and it upsets me,” Polk said.

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