The Case Against the Confirmation of John Ashcroft As Attorney General of the United States: Part II

Race for Chair of the Republican National Committee

In 1993, as his term as Governor was ending, Ashcroft decided to run for the position of Chairman of the Republican National Committee. Ironically, some Republican legislators and local leaders from Missouri who knew the most about him said he was too extreme for the job and that he was not receptive to people with different views. An important aspect of these statements was the concern about Ashcroft’s extreme views on abortion.

For example, Republican State Senator Robert Johnson said that Ashcroft had stopped talking to him because of differences over their views on abortion. St. Louis Post-Dispatch (1/10/93). Johnson stated that Ashcroft "won’t take criticism, and if you disagree with him, he knocks you out of the loop, like you don’t exist." Id. Republican State Rep. Connie Wible reportedly stated that she hoped the Republicans would choose an RNC Chair "who is truly a moderate Republican, because we’re in a position where the party needs to prove we are not extremists." Id. Pro-choice Republican leader Karen Grace advised national republicans to be "very careful" in considering Ashcroft, stating that "[Ashcroft is] trying to present himself as a more moderate person than I think he is." Riverfront Times, at cover, 18 (1/27/93-2/2/93).

According to press accounts, even anti-choice Republican legislators stated that Ashcroft was intolerant of differing views within the party and thus implied he might not be a good fit for the RNC Chair position. For example, Republican State Sen. Dennis Smith, "an abortion foe from Ashcroft’s hometown of Springfield," stated: "Can he accommodate opinions that differ from his own? My opinion is that it’ll be hard for John to do that." News Tribune (1/24/93) Another Republican anti-choice legislator, State Rep. Todd Smith, said that "[t]he governor can get along with you - if you change your tune." Id.

The criticism of Ashcroft by local Republican leaders came not just from those involved in battles over reproductive rights, but also extended to those involved in civil rights, desegregation and other matters. For example, Rev. Eugene Fowler, a local African American Republican activist, complained about Ashcroft’s role as leader of the state Republican party and the use of a weighted voting system by which more power is given to party activists in "high-turnout voting wards (typically white)." Riverfront Times, at 17 (1/27/93-2/2/93). Ashcroft also drew criticism from local leaders over his resistance to voluntary desegregation programs in Kansas City and St. Louis. Fowler reportedly said, "They can’t let an Ashcroft become national chairman. They’ll be allowing racism to continue to raise its ugly head in the party." Id.

In the end, Ashcroft lost out on his bid for the RNC Chairman position to Haley Barbour, a former White House political director in the Reagan Administration. The Washington Post (1/30/93); The Kansas City Star (1/30/93). This was despite the fact that Barbour was also anti-choice and conservative. Outgoing RNC Chair Rich Bond warned that the GOP needed to move away from abortion as a "litmus test issue" and to stop "cling[ing] to zealotry masquerading as principle." Id.

Senator Orrin Hatch said in opposing Bill Lann Lee’s nomination as assistant attorney general for civil rights, "Those charged with enforcing the nation’s laws must demonstrate a proper understanding of the law and a determination to uphold its letter and its spirit." The Washington Post, (E.J. Dionne op-ed column, January 5, 2001). With respect to a woman’s constitutional right to choose and other reproductive rights, Ashcroft’s record indicates an extreme view that raises serious questions about his respect for existing law and the ability to provide balanced and impartial counsel in this area. Based on his record during his Missouri and U.S. Senate years, if confirmed as Attorney General, millions of American women would not be able to count on John Ashcroft to protect their fundamental reproductive rights. Instead, they would have an Attorney General who will do everything within his power to undermine and roll back these rights.

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