02/15/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Eric Holder Confirmation Hearing: Live Updates (VIDEO)

Eric Holder Jr. acknowledged past mistakes as he braced for a Republican grilling in his confirmation hearing, his path to becoming the nation's first African-American attorney general rockier than President-elect Barack Obama's other Cabinet choices.

Republicans saw the hearing as their best early forum for showing that as a minority party, they're still relevant despite a Democratic sweep in November.

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, complained Thursday that Republicans had insufficient time to examine Holder's record before the hearing on his nomination to be attorney general.

Specter said the public had "understandable disdain for Washington's political bickering."

Holder sought to head off some of that criticism by picking retired Sen. John Warner, a well-known and popular Republican from Virginia, to introduce him to the Senate panel.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, called for Holder's swift confirmation, saying Holder has good character and a long history of service.

Holder also issued a clear answer to a question that two previous attorney generals have deftly avoided. He said unequivocally that waterboarding, used by the CIA in interrogations, is torture.

The LA Times reports that the GOP also plans to use Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich against Holder:

As Eric H. Holder Jr. gears up to go before the Senate Judiciary Committee today for his confirmation as attorney general, some Republicans say they will question him aggressively about whether his ties to Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich are more extensive than Holder has acknowledged.

GOP staffers investigating Holder's background say that although he has downplayed his connections to Blagojevich, new information suggests Holder did legal work for Blagojevich on an investigation into the controversial award of a state casino gambling license by the Illinois Gaming Board.

Holder's opening statement did not address the specific issues of character and independence that Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have raised.

But it does set a conciliatory tone, with Holder asserting he made more good decisions than bad ones.

"My decisions were not always perfect" while serving as the top deputy to Clinton administration Attorney General Janet Reno, Holder said. "I made mistakes. I hope that enough of my decisions were correct."

He continued, "But with the benefit of hindsight, I can see my errors clearly and I can tell you how I have learned from them."

Holder has apologized for not making sure he was better informed about the pardon of Rich, which had strong political overtones because his ex-wife was a major Democratic donor.

The committee scheduled the hearing in the ornate caucus room in Congress' Russell Office Building. It has been the site for many historic hearings, including investigations of the Watergate break-in and the Iran-Contra affair, and the Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas.