By David Ingram
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted overwhelmingly today in favor of Eric Holder Jr.'s nomination to be attorney general, sending his name to the full Senate for a confirmation vote as soon as Thursday.
The vote was 17-2. Six Republicans gave their support to Holder.
Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) called the vote the beginning of a new era. "There are rights that need to be restored. There are abuses that need to be undone," he said
Holder's nomination has been among the most contentious picks of President Barack Obama because of his involvement in President Bill Clinton's 2001 pardon of fugitive commodities trader Marc Rich and other Clinton-era controversies. Republicans delayed the committee vote one week, saying they needed more time to examine the Covington & Burling partner's record and positions.
Specter, Holder's most vocal skeptic, all but assured confirmation Tuesday when he said he would vote for Holder.
"I believe that these hearings are enormously important in evaluating a nominee and in laying down certain markers," Specter said today. "I think it was important that Eric Holder was willing to admit publicly his mistake in the Marc Rich pardon."
In voting for Holder, other Republicans cited his experience in law enforcement, his positions on national security, and the need to give a president deference in Cabinet choices.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who voted against Holder along with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), cited Holder's role in the Rich pardon, among other concerns. "The doubt cast on his independence and judgment remains," Cornyn said.
The Judiciary Committee must now turn its attention to other nominees for top Justice Department positions, including deputy attorney general and solicitor general.
"We have to get the attorney general in place so that we can put the rest of his team in place," Leahy said.