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Wednesday, 24 January, 2001, 21:11 GMT
Mixed fate for Bush nominees
Ashcroft opponents and supporters
Mr Ashcroft has been at the centre of controversy
Democrats in the United States Senate have delayed the approval of President George W Bush's controversial nominee for attorney-general, John Ashcroft, as three more cabinet nominees were confirmed.

Senators have swamped Mr Ashcroft with questions since his confirmation hearing, enabling Judiciary Committee Democrat Patrick Leahy to request a week's postponement of his expected approval.

John Ashcroft
Mr Ashcroft may be confirmed next week
However Gale Norton was endorsed as the country's next interior secretary, clearing the way for her confirmation by the full Senate despite fierce opposition from environmental groups.

Two more nominees were approved unanimously - Norman Mineta, the only Democrat in the cabinet, as transport secretary and Tommy Thompson as health secretary.

Mr Ashcroft and labour secretary candidate Elaine Chao are now the only nominees still seeking approval.

Over 400 questions

Mr Ashcroft is expected to be voted in early next week.

But his nomination has drawn opposition from Democrats worried by what they see as his poor record on affirmative action for women and minorities, and his opposition to abortion and gun control.

Gale Norton
Gale Norton has won over many Senate Democrats
"For over a quarter of a century of public life, John Ashcroft has established a record of right-wing conservatism, and of views far to the right of the average American," Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein said.

More than 400 questions have been submitted to Mr Ashcroft since his nomination hearing ended.

But Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, a Republican, described the delay as "going to the extreme".

'Environment pledges'

The Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee backed Gale Norton for interior secretary by 18 votes to two, with full Senate approval expected next week.

Gale Norton is a wolf in sheep's clothing, and she pulled the wool over the eyes of most of the Democrats on the committee

Friends of the Earth chairman
One of Mr Bush's most controversial nominees, Mrs Norton has pledged to enforce laws protecting the environment and improve the national park system.

But campaigners have expressed concern that, judged on her past record, she will favour oil, logging and mining interests over land conservation.

Friends of the Earth President Brent Blackwelder told Reuters news agency that she was a "wolf in sheep's clothing", adding that she had "pulled the wool over the eyes of most of the Democrats on the committee".

But committee chairman Frank Murkovski said that environmentalists had gone overboard and hurt their credibility with their attacks on her.

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See also:

16 Jan 01 | Americas
Spotlight on key Bush nominee
16 Jan 01 | Americas
Profile: John Ashcroft
11 Jan 01 | Americas
New nominations to Bush cabinet
04 Jan 01 | Americas
Senate questions Bush commerce chief
02 Jan 01 | Americas
Bush completes cabinet
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