WASHINGTON The Judiciary Committee voted to advance the nomination of Attorney General-designate Michael Mukasey to the Senate floor Tuesday, virtually ensuring his confirmation before Thanksgiving.
The 11-8 vote came after two key Democrats accepted his vow to enforce any law Congress might enact against waterboarding.
However, committee Chairman Patrick Leahy called Mukasey's promise disingenuous. "Unsaid, of course, is the fact that any such prohibition would have to be enacted over the veto of this president," said Leahy, D-Vt..
Sen. Chuck Schumer, who suggested Mukasey to the White House in the first place, countered that the nominee's statements against waterboarding and for purging politics from the Justice Department amount to the best deal Democrats could get from the Bush administration.
"If we block Judge Mukasey's nomination and then learn in six months that waterboarding has continued unabated, that victory will seem much less valuable," he wrote in an op-ed in Tuesday's editions of The New York Times.
Announcements of support for Mukasey by Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., virtually assured the former federal judge the majority vote he needed to be favorably recommended by the committee. He was expected to win confirmation handily in the full Senate, where a vote is likely before Thanksgiving.
In tightly choreographed statements of support last week, Feinstein and Schumer essentially eliminated the chance that Democrats could kill the nomination in committee.
Many Democrats came out in opposition to Mukasey after he refused to say unequivocably that so-called waterboarding an interrogation technique that simulates drowning is tantamount to torture and thus illegal under domestic and international law.
Mukasey rankled Democrats during his confirmation hearing by saying he was not familiar with the waterboarding technique and could not say whether it was torture.
Mukasey later sought to allay those concerns with a letter calling waterboarding "repugnant."
Legal experts cautioned that if Mukasey called it torture, that effectively could have constituted an admission that the United States engaged in war crimes. It could also commit him to prosecuting U.S. officials even before he takes office.