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Senate confirms Rice; judiciary panel OKs Gonzales
by Lawrence M. O'Rourke
McClatchy Newspapers


January 27, 2005

Washington - Sweeping aside charges by a group of Democrats that Condoleezza Rice had lied in building a case for going to war against Iraq, the Senate voted 85-13 on Wednesday to confirm her as U.S. secretary of state.

President Bush ordered that Rice be quickly sworn in at the White House and placed in charge of the State Department as successor to the retiring Colin Powell.

The 50-year-old Rice, who rose from a segregated Alabama childhood to become the most visible U.S. diplomat on the world stage, became the first black woman to head the State Department.

Predicting that Rice would be "a great secretary of state," Bush said, "I'm honored to be working with her. And I look forward to spreading freedom and peace."

The Senate vote came after a group of Democrats contended during two days of floor debate that Rice had lied to Congress and the American public in the months leading to the March 2003 launching of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

The 13 votes against Rice were the most cast against a secretary of state nominee in more than half a century, the Senate historian said. Powell was confirmed four years ago without opposition.

Meanwhile, the Republican-led Senate prepared for a potentially even longer and bitterer fight next week over Bush's nomination of Alberto Gonzales to be attorney general.

The tone was signaled Wednesday in the 10-8, party-line vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee in approving Gonzales.

"I do not believe he has been candid with the Judiciary Committee about his views on torture or its use," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in announcing her opposition to Gonzales.

"By refusing to voice his own values and understanding of the law, he has failed to demonstrate the independent leadership he will need as the nation's chief law enforcement officer," Feinstein said.

As with Rice, Democrats said that Gonzales was too loyal to Bush. Democrats said Gonzales' personal ties to the president damaged his ability to pursue allegations of wrongdoing involving administration officials and their supporters.

The Senate floor debate on Gonzales could erupt into a full-fledged review of U.S. actions in Iraq following the toppling of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Gonzales, as Bush's White House counsel, had a pivotal role in formulation of U.S. policy on the treatment of detained terror suspects.

Senate Democrats contend that Gonzales helped shape policies that led to the sexual and physical abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad and the indeterminate detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

By voice votes, the Senate also confirmed Jim Nicholson as secretary of veterans affairs and Michael Leavitt as health and human services secretary. The Senate is also expected to quickly confirm Samuel Bodman to be energy secretary, perhaps as early as next week.



Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.


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