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Michael Mukasey was confirmed as the 81st attorney general late tonight, but by a very narrow margin. The Senate voted 53-40 to confirm Bush’s nomination, only six of which were votes made by Democrats. This is the closet vote of its kind in over 50 years. When President Bush first nominated Mukasey, his victory looked promising, and many Democrats viewed the retired federal judge as a “consensus nominee”—and the best they could hope for during the tail end of the Bush Administration. However, Mukasey is now unpopular among Democrats for his weak position on the constitutionality of waterboarding. In his October 18th testimony, Mukasey would only go so far as to condemn the use of torture for interrogation purposes, but at one point refused to define waterboarding as torture. This unpopular stance was widely criticized, and the attorney general’s success seemed doubtful.

The six Democrats who voted to confirm Mukasey as the next attorney general ultimately viewed their decision as a practical matter. Though critiquing his views on the state-sanctioned use of a torture technique, Senators such as Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) considered him to be the best—and safest—compromise, especially in Alberto Gonzales’ wake. Politics aside, Democrats and Republicans alike hope that Mukasey can clean up the justice system of late. However, dissenters fear that Mukasey’s position on torture already indicates a path towards a dangerous alliance between the Justice Department and Bush’s top aides, who espouse controversial anti-terrorism techniques.

All four of the Senate Democrats running for President—Clinton, Obama, Biden, and Dodd—announced their opposition to nominee, but were not present when the vote took place. Their presence would not have been enough to avoid the nomination altogether, but a 49-44 vote is an even closer call. That another disappointing nominee has secured a position of power—despite his overwhelming lack of support from the Senate Majority—stands out as another example of Congress embracing a defeatist attitude: Attorney General Mukasey may not be the right guy, but he’s the best we can do.