Updated 10:45 p.m. A vote on Harold Hongju Koh’s nomination to be legal adviser to the Department of State is finally in sight.
Senate Democrats successfully ended debate on Koh’s nomination this morning, as their cloture motion passed 65 to 31, split mostly along party lines. The cloture motion limits further consideration of Koh’s nomination to no more than 30 hours, meaning the former Yale Law School dean’s confirmation saga should finally come to an end this week.
The vote came after several Democratic senators spoke out in Koh’s defense. Sen. Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 of Connecticut called him “profoundly qualified,” and Sen. John Kerry ’66 of Massachusetts described him as “one of the foremost legal scholars in this country, a man of the highest intellect, integrity and character.”
Kerry pointed out that Koh was confirmed unanimously when President Bill Clinton LAW ’73 nominated him for the position of assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor in 1998 and criticized Republicans for objecting to his nomination this time around.
“I really regret that some of the accusations and insinuations against Dean Koh have simply gone over any line of reasonableness or decency,” Kerry said. “Dean Koh deserves a better debate than he has been given thus far.”
Koh also received testimonials from Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Sen. Arlen Specter LAW ’54 of Pennsylvania. “If his nomination is to be rejected,” Specter said of Koh, “it certainly will be a signal to people who have an interest in public service that they’re better off not treading in these waters, because the politics is so think that even individuals with such extraordinary credentials can be rejected by the United States Senate.”
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas was the lone Republican to speak against Koh, saying the former dean was not the right person to be legal adviser because of his “radical views.”
“Do we really want the top adviser at the State Department supporting the idea that international bodies and unelected federal officials, not the U.S. Congress, should be the ultimate lawmaking authority for the American people?” Cornyn asked. “I don’t think so.”
Sixty votes were required for the cloture motion to pass. Senate Democrats (with the exception of Sen. Ted Kennedy and Sen. Robert Byrd, who were absent because of illness) unanimously voted in favor of the motion. They were joined by eight Republicans: Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Susan Collins of Maine, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Richard Lugar of Indiana, Mel Martinez of Florida, Olympia Snowe of Maine and George Voinovich of Ohio.