The Senate narrowly confirmed former federal judge Michael Mukasey last night as the 81st attorney general, giving him the lowest level of congressional support of any Justice Department leader in the past half-century, the Washington Post reports. The 53 to 40 vote came after more than four hours of impassioned floor debate. It reflected an effort by Democrats to register their displeasure with Bush administration policies on torture and the boundaries of presidential power.
He avoided defeat only because a half-dozen Democrats voted in favor of the appointment along with Republicans and Democrat-turned-independent Joseph Lieberman (CT). Mukasey, 66, had outraged many lawmakers and human rights groups by repeatedly refusing to classify waterboarding, a simulated-drowning technique, as torture. The vote signals that Mukasey will face a skeptical Democratic Congress as he takes over at a department demoralized and emptied of senior leadership in the wake of scandals. The challenges facing him over the next 14 months are tough, from rebuilding confidence at Justice to crafting new strategies to combat a growing violent-crime problem.