Republicans speed Olson to confirmation before Democrats take over
WASHINGTON (AP) – Republicans won approval of Theodore Olson as the nation’s solicitor general Thursday, hurrying to confirm him before losing Senate control to Democrats who remember him as the anti-Clinton lawyer who got Al Gore’s recount stopped.
Senators voted 51-47 to make Olson the government’s advocate before the Supreme Court, only hours after Vermont Sen. James Jeffords defected from the GOP. Jeffords’ action will throw control of the Senate to the Democrats.
Most Democrats had opposed Olson’s nomination for weeks, but they agreed to let it come to a vote before the switch. Two Democrats, Zell Miller of Georgia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, voted for confirmation.
”He deserves this job. He deserves not having people play politics with this position, and in my opinion will make a great solicitor general of the United States,” said outgoing Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, in Thursday’s debate.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who sits on the committee, said the Democrats decided not to filibuster the nomination.
”Judges are one thing, but a president’s nominees are different,” he said.
Still, most Democrats voted against Olson.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., – the target of a critical book written by Olson’s wife, former federal prosecutor Barbara Olson – voted against him and criticized Republicans for bringing his nomination up so quickly.
”I think it’s an act of raw political partisanship to save a nomination that clearly is in trouble and should not go through,” she said.
Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., indicated the Republicans would have moved forward with Olson on Thursday regardless of Jeffords’ action.
”It’s not being driven by these other events, but time had lapsed and we were ready to go forward with it,” he said.
Olson has been a Democratic foe for years, but is most recently known as the lawyer who successfully argued the Florida election case in front of the Supreme Court for George W. Bush.
Democrats also point out his ties with The American Spectator, a conservative magazine that conducted an investigation called the ”Arkansas Project” into possible past wrongdoing Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Olson also represented Arkansas figure David Hale, another Clinton critic, in 1996 when Hale was called to testify to the Senate Whitewater Committee, and assisted Paula Jones’ legal team in her sexual harassment suit against Clinton.
Olson works in Washington for the Los Angeles-based law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher where his partners have included President Reagan’s attorney general, William French Smith, and former Solicitor General Kenneth Starr, who as an independent counsel investigated Clinton.
Olson’s nomination has been in limbo since April 5, when Democrats during his confirmation hearing challenged his ability to be objective.
They held up his nomination four times in the Judiciary Committee, first in an effort to get home-state veto power over President Bush’s judicial nominees and then by questioning whether he had been honest in his testimony about his connection to the ”Arkansas Project.”
The Democrats unanimously voted against him to deadlock the committee 9-9 on his nomination.
Lott pulled Olson’s nomination from committee to bring it straight to the Senate floor. Under this year’s power-sharing arrangement in the evenly divided Senate, the majority and minority leaders can do so.
It was the first time – and likely the last – this procedure will be used, now that the Senate is headed to Democratic control.
It took two votes to confirm the nominee under the power-sharing agreement: a vote to consider the nomination – which was done unanimously – and a second vote for confirmation.
The Senate overwhelmingly confirmed two other Justice Department nominations: Viet Dinh and Michael Chertoff as assistant attorneys general. Chertoff will head the department’s criminal division and Dinh will be in charge of legal policy.
Sen. Clinton cast the only vote against Dinh and Chertoff, who were both lawyers for the Senate Whitewater Committee.
Also confirmed Thursday were Army Secretary Thomas White and Air Force Secretary James Roche.
Roche, a 23-year Navy veteran, is corporate vice president of Northrop Grumman Corp. White, who served in the Army for 23 years, is vice chairman of Enron Energy Services.
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