President George W. Bush chalked up a victory on Thursday in his first clash with Democrats in Congress as the US Senate confirmed controversial conservative John Ashcroft as attorney general.
Ashcroft, a Republican former senator and Missouri governor known for his firm stands against abortion and gun control, had crashed into opposition from many Democrats who doubt his commitment to civil rights.
"The president will be very pleased to have his Cabinet in place and ready to work for the American people," Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said moments after the lawmakers voted 58-to-42 to confirm Ashcroft.
"He's very pleased with the entire confirmation and nomination process. The votes have been bipartisan. And this vote by definition, too, is bipartisan," said Fleischer.
Eight Democrats joined all 50 Republicans in supporting the nomination after two days of impassioned debate.
"I hope that we will not have to go through similar battles when Supreme Court nominations come before us" in the Senate, remarked New York Democrat Charles Schumer, in a not-so-veiled warning to the White House.
Ashcroft was swiftly sworn in at a closed gathering at the US Supreme Court, and was to take his oath ceremonially at a later date, officials said.
"I will confront injustice by leading a professional Justice Department that is free from politics; that is uncompromisingly fair," Ashcroft promised in a statement.
With the Senate split 50-50 on party lines, Ashcroft was Bush's only nominee whose confirmation faced a vocal threat and an uncertain fate.
But on Tuesday, the 18-member Senate Judiciary Committee voted in Ashcroft's favor, with one Democrat, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, crossing the aisle and setting the stage for a full-Senate nod.
"As a man who respects the rule of law, I have no doubt that he will enforce the laws of the land, rather than creatively interpret them," said Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, charging that was what liberals wanted from the top US law enforcement officer.
"Senator Ashcroft, I believe, is the wrong man to heal America's divisions," said Senator Tim Johnson a South Dakota Democrat, ahead of the vote.
Since his nomination last month, Ashcroft, who also has served as Missouri's attorney general, was in the cross-hairs of an energetic campaign by liberal groups determined to derail his nomination.
"He is as qualified as probably anybody has ever been to be attorney general. I am bothered by the intensity of opposition, and I wonder where it comes from," said assistant majority leader Don Nickles, an Oklahoma Republican.
Opponents maintained Ashcroft's conservative Christian religious beliefs could impair his willingness to enforce some US laws, while supporters insisted he will enforce the law to the letter as he has pledged.
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