Q: There were some sharp words exchanged between ranking member Orrin Hatch and committee chair Patrick Leahy as the hearings wound down....
Waller: Yeah, Hatch hated having all these outside witnesses coming in. And this is not going the way the GOP had imagined it: Washington is very dreary today the rain is coming down and they may have to hold the inauguration inside at the Rotunda Saturday. And here you have Bush's nominee for chief law enforcement officer being accused of racism and homophobia and being gun-crazy.
This is not a great inaugural eve event it's sort of drowning out the Ricky Martin effect Republicans were looking for.
Q: Where does Ashcroft's nomination go from here?
Waller: They'll vote next week in committee, and on the Senate floor the week after that. At this point Ashcroft has the votes to be confirmed, unless someone launches a major grenade. This week we saw outside groups take their best shots at him and fight him to a draw and in this case, a draw means Ashcroft wins.
Q: So he'll definitely be confirmed?
Waller: : I think all of Bush's Cabinet nominees will get through. Kennedy has been hinting at an Ashcroft filibuster, but Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle generally opposes filibusters. He believes all Cabinet nominees deserve a vote on the Senate floor.
Q: Leahy made several references to Ashcroft's "confirmation evolution," signaling his skepticism over Ashcroft's apparent about-face on issues like abortion rights and gun control. Is this sudden moderation making conservative groups nervous?
Waller: The conservative groups I've spoken with aren't worried that Ashcroft has gone native on them, or that he's a closet liberal. They know just as well as liberal groups that an attorney general has a considerable amount of prosecutorial leeway. They know, and have acknowledged through a series of winks and nods, that the AG can decide which cases to pursue aggressively and which to leave alone.