WASHINGTON The Senate confirmed John Ashcroft as attorney general yesterday, giving President Bush a victory in his first battle with congressional Democrats and completing his Cabinet.

Eight Democrats joined all 50 Republican senators in the 58-42 vote in favor of the former Missouri senator. The number of votes against the nomination represented the biggest rebuke of a one-time Senate colleague since 1989, when the Senate rejected Bush”s father”s nomination of former Texas Sen. John Tower as secretary of defense.

Conceding weeks ago that they couldn”t stop Ashcroft, Democratic leaders had attempted to muster enough votes to show Bush they have the ability to defeat conservative nominees in the future, particularly candidates for any Supreme Court vacancy.

“His nominees for the Supreme Court would better serve the nation if they came from the middle,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)

The 42 votes would give the Democrats the opportunity to perform a filibuster a procedural delay that effectively kills a nomination by debating it to death as 60 votes are needed to stop one.

Dennis Denno, spokesman for the Michigan Democratic Party, said he feels the Democrats sent a strong message to the president.

“I think it shows that Democrats can use the filibuster if necessary if George W. Bush decides to go with another controversial candidate, for instance in the Supreme Court,” he said.

The chamber”s top Democrat, Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, told reporters his party would cooperate on moderate nominations. “But we”re going to be very concerned when they come from the far right, and we”ll use whatever means necessary.”

In this case, Daschle said, Democrats abandoned the idea of a filibuster because Ashcroft, a Missouri Republican, is a former colleague and because many believe a president deserves to choose his own Cabinet members, none of whom are lifetime appointees.

The Democrats who voted for Ashcroft were Sens. John Breaux of Louisiana, Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Zell Miller of Georgia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

Although Denno said he is hopeful Ashcroft will uphold the law and push aside his conservative views, he chastised Bush for making the nomination.

“The important thing here is that George W. Bush wanted to unify this country and I question whether or not he is trying to do that,” Denno said.

Bush has introduced many plans that have drawn bipartisan support in his first two weeks as president, but Ashcroft”s nomination has left a deeply divided Senate.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said moments after a Senate majority had voted for Ashcroft that Bush “will be very pleased to have his Cabinet in place and ready to work for the American people.”

“The votes have been bipartisan, and this vote by definition, too, is bipartisan,” Fleischer said.

Ashcroft”s successor in the Senate, Democrat Jean Carnahan of Missouri, voted against her family”s longtime political rival. Her late husband, Gov. Mel Carnahan, defeated Ashcroft posthumously after a plane crash during their campaign, and Jean Carnahan was appointed to what would have been his seat in the Senate.

Jean Carnahan said Ashcroft “was just too divisive for our country.” She called her vote “an act of conscience.”

Fleischer said members of the Congressional Black Caucus told Bush on Wednesday about their “deep passion” in opposing Ashcroft”s nomination but no one asked the president to withdraw it.

“They implored him to make certain that the Department of Justice enforces civil rights laws, and is sensitive to civil rights concerns. The president said, “I hear you,”” Fleischer said. “He thinks John Ashcroft is a man of integrity. He is a good man and he will enforce the civil rights laws. He said he talked to John Ashcroft about this when selecting him.”

Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles (R-Okla.) said he was “bothered by the intensity of opposition” to Ashcroft.

“I have absolute, total, complete confidence that he is going to be one outstanding attorney general of the United States,” Nickles said. “He”s as qualified as anybody probably has ever been to be attorney general.”

Frustrating the task were several Democrats who endorsed Ashcroft”s nomination, including Dodd, who declared his intention in less-than-glowing terms late Wednesday.

While there is evidence Ashcroft “can be a healer,” Dodd said, “I remain concerned that he will, as he appears to have done at times in the past, submit to the temptation to divide Americans along racial lines.”

Criticism focused on Ashcroft”s battles against abortion and against a school desegregation lawsuit while serving as Missouri governor and attorney general.

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