Janet Reno won unanimous Senate approval Thursday to become the nation’s first female attorney general, allowing President Clinton to complete his Cabinet seven weeks into his administration.
The Senate voted 98-0 to confirm Reno, 54, who has been an elected state prosecutor for Dade County, Fla., for the past 15 years.
‘It’s an extraordinary experience and I hope I do the women of America proud,’ Reno said at the White House, where she was personally congratulated by Clinton. ‘The president and I just said hello. He congratulated me, told me he was very proud of me.’
Clinton later told reporters, ‘I’m elated’ by her confirmation, and joked, ‘That may be the only vote I carry 98-0 this year. I think she’ll do well.’
Aides said later that Reno would officially be sworn in Friday morning.
As the nation’s top law enforcement official, she will run the Justice Department with responsibility for oversight of the major federal police agencies.
Her confirmation ended Clinton’s exhaustive and sometimes embarrassing search for an attorney general that began Dec. 24, when he nominated corporate lawyer Zoe Baird.
Baird withdrew her nomination after two days of Senate hearings in January that snagged on her hiring of an illegal alien couple.
Clinton’s apparent second choice, U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood of New York, was never nominated but withdrew her name from consideration for a related reason.
‘President Clinton, albeit not the first time at bat, has hit a home run,’ Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said on the Senate floor before Thursday’s vote.
The rest of Clinton’s 14-member Cabinet has been in place since shortly after his Jan. 20 inauguration.
But the Justice Department has been run by holdovers from the Bush administration, including acting Attorney General Stuart Gerson. Reno told reporters she had just received Gerson’s letter of resignation.
The Senate waived its normal three-day waiting period to vote on Reno less than 24 hours after she was approved, 18-0, by the Senate Judiciary Committee following two days of hearings.
Compared to Baird’s bruising and aborted confirmation hearings, Reno’s two days before the committee were — as Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, D-Ill., said — ‘a veritable love fest.’
She calmed conservative fears by repeatedly stressing that hardened career criminals should be dealt with severely and that death-row inmates should be executed without decade-long delays.
But she tempered those views by advocating more resources for crime prevention and rehabilitation services, and defending past statements that the ‘first objective’ of prosecutors should be to ensure that innocent people are not arrested.
Reno said her philosophy of running the Justice Department is predicated on better cooperation among federal, state and local law enforcement agencies without regard for credit or ‘turf battles.’
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Thursday he was ‘honored’ to support Reno.
‘She is going to be a tough prosecutor who basically is not going to be moved by politics in this position,’ Hatch said.
Moseley-Braun predicted Reno could go down as one of the best attorneys general in history.
‘The Justice Department needs new leadership. Janet Reno is that leader,’ said Moseley-Braun. ‘She will be the people’s lawyer.’
Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, said Reno was ‘superbly qualified’ and called Thursday ‘an historic day.’
‘Make no mistake,’ added Metzenbaum, ‘Miss Reno is not being confirmed by reason of her gender.’
Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., perhaps the most conservative member of the Senate, said he had received some pressure from constituents concerned about Reno’s views supporting abortion rights and a degree of gun control, but called her ‘absolutely honorable.’
‘I’m going to vote for her, unhesitatingly, because I think she is a person of character,’ said Helms.
Reno, who is single, is the 6-foot-1 daughter of two newspaper reporters. She was graduated from Cornell University and Harvard Law School and still lives in the home her parents built in South Dade County.
The only two senators not on the floor to vote Thursday were Bob Krueger, D-Texas, and Mark Hatfield, R-Ore.