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Most Americans Want Gonzales Out, Aides to Testify, Poll Shows


By Heidi Przybyla

April 11 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should resign, most Americans say, and White House aides should be forced to testify before Congress about their involvement in the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys.

In a new Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll, conducted April 5 to 9, 53 percent of respondents said Gonzales should leave his post. Seventy-four percent said White House staff members who had discussions about the firings with Gonzales's chief of staff should testify under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which the White House has refused to allow.

Still, a strong majority in the survey, 63 percent, said they believe the Democratic-led Congress is seeking political gain in the investigations of the attorney dismissals, unauthorized wiretapping of U.S. citizens and substandard conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Only 28 percent said the inquiries were driven by concern over ethics.

``People tend to be cynical about these government investigations,'' said Susan Pinkus, the Los Angeles Times polling director. ``Whether they think it's for political advantage or not, they want to get to the truth.''

In other findings, the poll showed that a strong majority of Americans believe the U.S. is on the wrong track and President George W. Bush's approval rating was 36 percent, a record low. In addition, a majority of respondents said they disapproved of the performance of the Democratic-led Congress, in part because of continuing divisions over the war in Iraq.

Pressure on Gonzales

Gonzales's handling of the firings of the U.S. attorneys has prompted calls for his ouster by Democratic leaders and several Republican lawmakers, including Senators Gordon Smith of Oregon and John Sununu of New Hampshire.

The House and Senate Judiciary Committees are investigating whether improper political considerations, such as hindering or pushing criminal investigations, were a factor in the dismissals.

Bush has stood by Gonzales, who is scheduled to testify about the firings before the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 17. Yet the poll found majority support for Gonzales's departure; even among self-described conservatives, 41 percent said he should go.

The percentage of Americans who say the country is on the wrong track remains near a record high, at 66 percent, compared with 70 percent in the March poll and 61 percent in January.

Sour Mood

This sour mood is affecting attitudes toward Bush and the Democratic-led Congress. Only 36 percent of respondents said they approved of Bush's performance, and 62 percent said they disapproved. In September 2006, Bush's approval rating was 45 percent.

At the same time, 58 percent of Americans said they disapprove of Congress's handling of its job, up 25 points from a poll in March.

The results reflect the divisions among Americans over the war in Iraq. Anti-war activists want Congress to do more to end the conflict, while others say they worry that congressional meddling may undermine the troops on the ground. This presents a conundrum for Democratic leaders pressing for a timetable for withdrawal as an alternative to Bush's plan to increase the number of forces.

Democrats are split on Congress's job performance, with about 45 percent either approving or disapproving, while 74 percent of Republicans gave Congress poor marks. Among independents, 35 percent approved and 56 percent disapproved.

`Showing Disunity'

The clash between the White House and Congress is ``showing disunity,'' said poll respondent Jonathan Newcomb, a 34-year-old engineer from Dover, New Hampshire.

``Congress wants one thing and the president wants another,'' said Newcomb, an independent who opposes any plan to withdraw U.S. troops. ``I'm afraid for this country because if that's the attitude, we're going to get hit again.''

An overwhelming majority of Americans, 73 percent, said Bush's plan for Iraq has made the situation there worse or has had no effect on the country's stability. Just 27 percent said setting a timetable for withdrawal helps U.S. troops on the ground, and 15 percent said it would have no effect.

Bush's plan includes troops and funds for reconstruction and jobs and increasing pressure on the Iraqi government to stabilize the country.

Withdrawal Timetable

Poll respondents gave conflicting messages about the war in Iraq, particularly the proposals to set a timetable for withdrawal. Forty-eight percent said Bush should agree to sign a bill that ties further funding of the war to targeted dates for withdrawal of combat troops, and 43 percent said he should stick by his vow to veto it.

Poll respondents were no more unified over how Congress should respond to a presidential veto, with 45 percent saying it should refuse to authorize any funding until Bush agrees to accept conditions for withdrawal. Forty-three percent said Congress should fund the war without conditions.

Congress is ``definitely getting mixed messages'' over how to proceed in Iraq, said poll respondent Allen Thorpe, a 29-year- old restaurant worker and student from Richfield, Minnesota.

Thorpe, an independent who voted for Bush in 2004, said he wants Congress to find a course of action other than a timeline and other than Bush's strategy. ``I really don't have an answer,'' he said. ``We need to do something different.''

This week, Bush sought to revive his proposal to overhaul the country's immigration laws, calling on Congress to pass legislation by the end of the year.

Illegal Immigrants

The poll found substantial concern over immigration, with 54 percent of Americans saying illegal immigrants hurt the nation's economy and 77 percent saying employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers should be punished.

Bush, in an April 9 speech in Yuma, Arizona, touted an approach that he said would secure America's borders, create a temporary-worker program, and resolve the status of illegal immigrants.

The poll found a majority of Americans support his approach of blending tougher enforcement of immigration laws with a guest- worker program that allows undocumented workers to work legally in the U.S. on temporary visas.

Fifty-five percent said they support an approach that contains tougher enforcement and a guest-worker program, compared with 40 percent who said they wanted an approach that focuses only on tougher enforcement. The survey of 1,373 adults had an error margin of 3 percentage points.

A Matter of Economics

On the subject of immigration, the poll found Americans were divided according to their income level.

One poll respondent, Don Snyder, a 56-year-old truck driver from Mansfield, Ohio, who earns less than $40,000 a year, said U.S. attitudes toward immigration depend on simple economics.

``Immigration takes a lot of jobs away,'' said Snyder, a registered Democrat. ``You look at your job and you think, `am I going to be threatened?'''

People who earn a lot of money view it differently, he said. ``We could be in a depression and they would swear everything's fine.''

Among those earning $60,000 or more a year, 61 percent support an approach of tougher enforcement combined with a guest- worker program, similar to the one proposed by Bush and supported by most Democrats. Among those earning $40,000 a year or less, Americans are split, with just 48 percent supporting such a plan.

To contact the reporter on this story: Heidi Przybyla in Washington at hprzybyla@bloomberg.net

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