WASHINGTON (CNN) -- After weeks of controversy over Michael Mukasey's views on waterboarding, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday approved the former judge's nomination for attorney general.
Former federal Judge Michael Mukasey's nomination for attorney general now goes to the full Senate.
The committee voted 11-8 to send Mukasey's nomination to the Senate floor, where it is expected to be approved.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said the full Senate would take up the nomination sometime next week.
Last week, a leading Democrat, speaking on condition of anonymity, conceded Mukasey's nomination likely would be confirmed if it emerged from the Judiciary Committee.
"Judge Mukasey has clearly demonstrated that he will be an exceptional attorney general at this critical time," White House press secretary Dana Perino said in a statement after the panel vote.
"The Justice Department is crucial to both our law enforcement and national security missions, and so we look forward to a vote in the full Senate to confirm Judge Mukasey, allowing us to move to filling the senior leadership positions at the Justice Department."
The nomination had been considered at risk after a number of Democratic senators opposed Mukasey because of questions that arose from his views on the terror interrogation technique known as waterboarding and the president's power to order electronic surveillance. Watch Sen. Leahy explain why he can not vote for Mukasey »
Mukasey, a former federal judge in New York, told senators that he considers waterboarding "repugnant," but he could not categorically say whether the technique amounts to torture, which U.S. and international law bans.
Waterboarding is a technique that involves restraining a suspect and using water on him to produce the sensation of drowning.
But on Friday, two key Democrats on the Judiciary Committee -- Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Chuck Schumer of New York -- announced they would vote for Mukasey despite concerns about his views on waterboarding.
"The Department of Justice, once the crown jewel among government institutions, is adrift and rudderless," Schumer said Tuesday. "It desperately needs a strong and independent leader at the helm to set it back on course and I believe Judge Mukasey is that person."
Schumer said that in a meeting Friday the nominee said that Congress would be within its rights to pass a law that bans waterboarding across all government agencies and that the president "would have absolutely no legal authority to ignore" it.
Schumer said he believed Mukasey would be more likely to find waterboarding illegal than an interim attorney general. "Indeed, his written answers to our notices have demonstrated more openness to ending the practices we abhor than either of this president's previous attorney general nominees have."
But Mukasey's pledge to enforce such a law rang hollow with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, the Judiciary Committee's chairman.
"Some have sought to find comfort in Judge Mukasey's personal assurance that he would enforce a future, new law against waterboarding if this Congress were to pass one," Leahy said Tuesday before the panel's vote. "Unsaid, of course, is the fact that any such prohibition would have to be enacted over the veto of this president."
However, the committee's ranking Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said he believed Mukasey would enforce a law banning waterboarding.
"He could have said a lot of things which would have given me more assurances," Specter said earlier. "But he is intelligent; he's really learned in the law. He's strong, ethical, honest beyond any question. He's not an intimate of the president."
Specter added, "And you have to balance it off with where we are today. The Department of Justice is dysfunctional. It is not performing. And every day that passes, we do not have someone in charge of the investigation against terrorism, the fight against violent crime." E-mail to a friend
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