Dangerous game

News that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will leave office Sept. 17 has spawned much sadness and regret within the Democratic Party. Sadness that lawmakers were on recess when Mr. Gonzales announced his resignation, delaying some serious group revelry at Capitol Hill watering holes (the Kennedys are buying!). Regret that Bush-bashers couldn't extract one last pound of flesh from the embattled Cabinet official during a committee meeting.

Such posturing and payback will have to wait for Mr. Gonzales' successor.

As pundits and insiders speculate about who President Bush will nominate to lead the Justice Department for the final 16 months of his term, Senate Democrats are sharpening their knives in anticipation of the confirmation hearing.

They'll demand investigations. They'll call for a complete repudiation of Bush administration policies and priorities. They'll command the release of documents. They might even ask a few questions.

"Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' replacement -- whoever that may be -- faces a potentially nasty Senate confirmation," The Associated Press reported Tuesday.

Such is the political culture of Washington today. Senate Democrats have no interest in fulfilling their "advise and consent" role in executive appointments. Nevada's Harry Reid will essentially demand that Democrats -- not the White House -- run the selection process. And if the administration disagrees, watch out for the left-wing attack dogs.

The president -- whether he's a Republican or Democrat -- has long been afforded wide latitude in selecting a Cabinet. It's one thing for lawmakers to reject appointments to federal judgeships or to raise a stink over Supreme Court nominees. But has Washington partisanship degraded to the point that presidents no longer have the right to select their own Cabinet advisers?

There will come a time when the roles are reversed, and a Democrat again occupies the White House while Republicans control the Senate. Is this the precedent that Sen. Reid and his colleagues want to set? It's a dangerous game.