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GOP Pondering Gonzales Strategy

A dispute is brewing within the Senate Republican Conference over whether to allow debate to move forward today on the Democratic-drafted no-confidence motion against Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Senate GOP sources said some Republicans were inclined to vote for cloture to make it easier for them to offer their own no-confidence motions of a yet-to-be-decided nature.

Republicans also may allow debate to proceed to lodge their own arguments against the unprecedented no-confidence vote. Many believe it is a political stunt designed to embarrass the White House without any real effect since the motion would be nonbinding.

Late last week, Senate Republicans were considering offering a resolution that would have targeted the sponsor of the Gonzales motion: Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). But that plan seemed to be falling through on Friday.

“He may get a dose of his own medicine,” said Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.), adding, “Schumer is clearly way out of order. … This isn’t going to be free.”

One Senate Republican source explained that such a resolution would not name Schumer directly, but instead instruct the Senate to vote on whether a Senator who runs a campaign committee should be “using his political capacity to run the show” on an investigation such as the U.S. attorneys scandal. Schumer is the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

“My sense is, we’re going to let them get cloture, and we’re going to talk about it,” the source said. “We have more dirt to throw at them than they have at us.”

But another Senate GOP source cautioned that Republicans have not yet decided whether to vote to open debate or block Democrats from moving forward.

“It’s unclear as to which route Republicans will choose to go, but it is very clear that Republican Senators view this as a pointless waste of time,” the source said.

Even if Republicans allowed debate to proceed, they are unlikely to support the actual no-confidence vote. Senate Democrats announced Friday that the vote would take place late today.

“The attorney general has made clear he is focused on the important issues that the American people expect him to address,” a Justice spokesman said.

Six Republicans have called on Gonzales to resign, but none so far have stated they plan to support the Democrats’ no-confidence motion. One — Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.) — has said he will introduce a competing motion “expressing no-confidence in Congress’ ability to cut wasteful spending.”

The other five Senate Republicans who have called on Gonzales to resign are: Sens. Chuck Hagel (Neb.), Gordon Smith (Ore.), John Sununu (N.H.), John McCain (Ariz.) and Norm Coleman (Minn.).

“If all Senators who have actually lost confidence in Attorney General Gonzales voted their conscience, this vote would be unanimous,” Schumer said on Friday.

“However, the president will certainly exert pressure to support the attorney general, his longtime friend,” Schumer added. “We will soon see where people’s loyalties lie.”

Nonetheless, the vote constitutes a political headache for Senate Republicans who have been reluctant to defend Gonzales after his weak Senate testimony and shifting explanations for the prosecutor debacle.

Senate Democrats say they are pursuing the no-confidence vote because President Bush will not do the right thing and remove Gonzales from office. Some still hold out hope that Gonzales will resign before today’s vote, although Bush has stood staunchly behind his old Texas friend.

They also pointed out that Senate Republicans largely refused to fall in line behind the White House just last week on the Bush-backed bipartisan immigration bill, which helped scuttle the bill.

“I don’t think we know how [the vote] is going to go,” said one Senate Democratic aide, adding, “We expect to have the full support of the [Democratic] Caucus.”

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