WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON - The Senate confirmed the nomination of Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state yesterday and moved a step closer to approving Alberto R. Gonzales, President Bush's choice to be attorney general, even as Democrats mustered strong and often personal opposition to both nominees.
The 85-13 vote on Rice's confirmation was the sharpest Senate opposition to a secretary of state nominee since at least World War II. And with some Democrats withdrawing support for Gonzales, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-8, along party lines, to send that nomination to the full Senate.
Both nominees ran into opposition from lawmakers seeking accountability for Bush administration missteps in Iraq and policies on torture. The votes reflected growing anger and frustration among Democrats who believe that the administration has failed to acknowledge mistakes in the war on terrorism.
The vote on Rice, who until recently was Bush's national security adviser, came after an unexpectedly bitter and divisive day and a half of debate that included direct attacks on her veracity and the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq war.
"We made history," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who was among the most outspoken critics of Rice during the confirmation process.
Boxer was among the 12 Democrats and one independent who voted against confirmation. Two Republican senators did not vote.
Four years ago, Rice's predecessor, retired Army Gen. Colin L. Powell, was confirmed unanimously. The last recorded "no" vote on the confirmation for a secretary of state was in January 1981, when six senators opposed President Ronald Reagan's nominee, Alexander M. Haig Jr.
Rice was sworn in privately last night at the White House. She begins her job today and will have a public swearing-in ceremony tomorrow.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., a Delaware Democrat, stressed that a vote against Rice's confirmation should not be interpreted by those abroad as a rejection of efforts to bring democracy to Iraq, declaring, "We're united on one point: We all want to win in Iraq."
Rice's confirmation was never in doubt, and GOP leaders hailed the final vote as an overwhelming endorsement. Noting that Rice would be the first black woman to hold the job, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tenness Republican, called the result "historic."
The sharply divided committee vote on Gonzales illustrated how his nomination has faltered. Democrats initially welcomed his nomination as heralding an era of cooperation with the Justice Department; their relationship with outgoing Attorney General John Ashcroft was often strained, particularly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Gonzales, Bush's White House counsel and a former Texas Supreme Court judge, is tied to a series of administration legal memos that critics say led to abuses of U.S. military detainees and suspected terrorists in Iraq and Cuba.
Democrats had hoped that his confirmation hearing would shed light on how those practices evolved, but they accused Gonzales of failing to fully explain his role.
Republicans said Democrats were blaming Gonzales for problems that were not of his own making.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.