WASHINGTON — Eric Holder's nomination as the first African-American attorney general moved to the full Senate Wednesday with broad bipartisan support, as Republicans who earlier criticized the nominee determined he was well qualified for the job.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 17-2 to favorably recommend Holder's confirmation to the Senate, which could vote as early as Thursday.
The only senators who voted against Holder in committee were Republicans John Cornyn of Texas and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
Cornyn criticized Holder's role in controversial pardons and questioned whether he would protect intelligence agents who participated in harsh interrogations.
Holder's supporters said he wouldn't be afraid to tell President Barack Obama he was wrong. They praised him for declaring that waterboarding as an interrogation technique is torture. And they said he would be tough on crime.
"When asked whether this country at is at war he said yes," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "He indicated the enemy have declared war on this country long before we realized it. He sees the battlefield as the entire globe."
Graham said he supports Holder's view that the country needs to interrogate terrorism suspects in accordance with American values.
"I am confident this new attorney general will have a balanced approach and I look forward to working with him. I know he's made mistakes and so have I," Graham said.
Several senators praised Holder for his willingness to admit his mistake, when he told the White House he was leaning in favor of Bill Clinton's pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich — whose wife was a major Democratic contributor.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. said Holder has "extraordinary experience" as a former judge, deputy attorney general and U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.
"He made some big mistakes when he should have really dug his heels in," Sessions said. "He indicated he understands that error."
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. said that with Holder as attorney general, "Waterboarding is history. Guantanamo Bay is history."
Referring to the politics that ran rampant through the Bush Justice Department, Schumer added, "The rancid (political) considerations of the Department of Justice will be history."
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the committee chairman, said it would be "Alice in Wonderland" for Holder to make a blanket promise not to prosecute U.S. agents who participated in harsh interrogations. Leahy said he would vote against a nominee who made such a promise without even looking at the circumstances.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Holder would be independent. "Would he sit in the Oval Office and say, 'Mr. President, with all due respect you're wrong? I think he would."
Cornyn said Holder's actions in the Rich pardon and the commutation of sentences for Puerto Rican nationalists left him with "doubts about his judgment and his independence."
He said he doesn't believe Holder understands the terrorism threat, and is hostile to the right of individuals to keep and bear arms.
Coburn also has expressed doubt that Holder would uphold an individual's right to own guns.