Sunday, October 23, 2005

Harriet, We Hardly Knew Ya

[[C O U R T S]] * Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York), one of the more thoughtful and outspoken members among the 18 who currently sit on the GOP-controlled U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, appeared quite confident this morning when he pronounced, on NBC-TV’s Meet the Press, that Harriet Miers, George W. Bush’s nominee to fill the Supreme Court seat being vacated by Sandra Day O’Connor, currently lacks the votes needed for confirmation. “I think if you were to hold the vote today, she would not get a majority either in the Judiciary Committee or on the floor,” said Schumer. “I think there is maybe one or two on the Judiciary Committee who have said they’d support her as of right now ...” Committee chair Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) isn’t so ready to stick a fork in Miers’ bid for the Court; however, he concedes that senators are still waiting for additional information about Miers’ credentials, independence, and overall judicial philosophy. It was Specter who, along with ranking committee Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont, asked Miers last week to redo a questionnaire she had submitted, because, as Leahy put it, her responses “ranged from incomplete to insulting.”

With Miers’ confirmation hearings due to begin two weeks from now, on Monday, November 7, the White House--already embroiled in damage control, as it readies for possible indictments spawned by the CIA leak scandal, and deals with the fallout from the indictment of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas)--is scrambling to improve her chances of confirmation. But with even Republicans complaining of her inadequacy for the job, last week’s planned repackaging of the nominee--with more emphasis this time on the White House counsel’s accomplishments as a “pioneering female lawyer” and less on her religious fundamentalism, her fawning approval and longtime association with the prez (a losing theme, given the administration’s recent history of cronyism), and her genial personality--accomplished little, save to make clear how creaky the Bush “spin machine” is these days. As Washington Post columnist David S. Broder writes, Miers’ introduction to the public has been “as badly bungled as anything since Bush’s father shocked his staff by choosing Dan Quayle as his running mate.”

In the wake of Bush’s smooth success at installing the significantly more experienced John G. Roberts Jr. as Chief Justice of the United States, even conservatives are suggesting that the prez withdraw Harriet Miers from consideration for the Court. The usually Bush-friendly Washington Times newspaper reported on Friday that “The White House has begun making contingency plans for the withdrawal of Harriet Miers as President Bush’s choice to fill a seat on the Supreme Court ... ‘White House senior staff are starting to ask outside people, saying, “We’re not discussing pulling out her nomination, but if we were to, do you have any advice as to how we should do it?”’ a conservative Republican with ties to the White House told The Washington Times yesterday.” And Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire blog carried an e-note, said to have been submitted by “a staffer to a Senator on the Judiciary Committee,” which made clear that GOP senators are intent on killing Miers’ nomination:
Many are wondering why the Republicans who criticize the nomination of Miers pushed for the hearings to start Nov. 7th. My understanding is that they are trying to get to a committee vote ASAP, so that they can stop the nomination in committee, while they still have the momentum in the media against her, without dragging the coverage out into the new year. Some GOP Judiciary committee members and senior staff have suggested that this nomination is hurting the Republican party, and that they need to get over this quickly. Thus, there is now talk of the President pulling the nomination. If they vote her out in committee, the Republicans in the Senate save face, and the Democrats lose their credibility to vote against the next nomination.
Democrats seem, on the whole, to be handling the Miers meltdown with surprising deftness. Except for a few kind but benign things having been said of Miers early on by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (who may, in fact, have helped set up the unpopular prez for this latest disastrous fall), the Dems have stood on the sidelines while the circular firing squad of Republicans take aim at this latest Court nominee. Although some left-wing critics have derided Democrats for not making their opposition to the anti-abortion Miers better known, it seems to me that they’ve lost nothing with their silence. None of the Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee has come out and said he or she would actually vote for Miers. They might have let her think that they’d give her a pass, but I’m not aware of any commitments. And in the absence of those, Leahy and his fellow Democrats have retained their right to turn thumbs down on her in the end. The gamble, of course, is that given a “do-over nomination,” Bush will buckle once more to the demands of the GOP’s ultraconservative majority, and pick somebody better known and more ideologically “pure” than Miers. Still, as the Political Wire’s Goddard points out, it might be better to have a clearly right-wing appointment to campaign against in next year’s midterm elections, rather than be raked over the coals for confirming an “unqualified Bush crony.”

For the time being, Capitol Hill lawmakers from both sides of the aisle suspect that Bush will stick with Harriet Miers (“I haven’t seen anything coming from the White House that says they’re going to pull the nomination,” says Kansas Republican Senator Sam Brownback). Withdrawing her name “would be a major problem for Bush, on top of his existing problems ...,” opines Steve Soto of the Left Coaster blog. “Aside from the fact that Bush never admits a mistake especially when it involves a crony appointment or selection, it would also be proof that Bush, [first lady] Laura [Bush], and [White House chief of staff Andrew] Card flamed out on a pick that was all their own. And it would be a ‘f*ck you’ from the [Karl] Rove supporters in the West Wing.”

On the other hand, Bush wouldn’t be the first Oval Office occupant to withdraw a nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. At least two of President John Tyler’s nine Supreme Court nominations (to fill only a pair of open seats) were withdrawn, as was one of Ulysses S. Grant’s, that being the nomination of Caleb Cushing. In 1968, Lyndon B. Johnson nominated Abe Fortas, at the time a Supreme Court associate justice, to replace retiring Chief Justice Earl Warren; however, a controversy over money Fortas had received for speaking at a Washington, D.C., law school provoked a Senate filibuster, which eventually convinced the nominee to withdraw his name from further consideration. And back in 1987, Ronald Reagan nominated Douglas H. Ginsburg (following the Senate rejection of Robert Bork), only to have Ginsburg remove himself from the running, after it became known that he’d used marijuana a few times during the 1960s and ’70s. There’s always the possibility, too, that the Senate could defeat Miers simply by failing to schedule a final vote on her nomination. That contingency would save the White House embarrassment, and give Bush the chance to complain (if erroneously) that he’s been thwarted once again by the Democratic minority, while also ensuring that a demonstrably unfit nominee is benched and that right-wing Republican extremists get another shot at positioning one of their own on the highest court in the land.

FOLLOW-UP: There were still more indications on Monday that Miers’ nomination might be headed for the Dumpster. Bush announced that he won’t satisfy Senate requests for records of his conversations with the nominee, insisting that doing so would pose a threat to the confidentiality of advice presidents receive from their attorneys. “It’s a red line I’m not willing to cross,” the prez is quoted by the Associated Press. Of course, that sounds decisive and powerful, but it could also be an excuse for Bush finally withdrawing Miers’ name from consideration. He won’t comply with the Senate’s requests, therefore his only recourses are either to brazen out a bitter and confrontational hearing, or to settle on an alternative candidate for the Court seat. Meanwhile, the blog Confirm Them, a project of the conservative site, reports that
certain third parties have begun going back through the list of potential judicial nominees at the behest of the White House. Sources tell RedState that while the White House intends to make a public display of moving the Miers nomination forward, the reality of the situation has been conveyed to the President--namely that it is increasingly likely that Harriet Miers will meet a bipartisan effort to block her nomination.

As a result of growing chatter about the nomination, the White House is, as the
Washington Times reported, trying to develop an exit strategy. At the same time, the White House does not want to withdraw the nomination without having a replacement close by. Notwithstanding that, the White House is relying on trusted third parties to initially help reformulate a list of candidates that would unite and rally the base.
The only problem with this information is there’s nothing remotely “bipartisan” about the effort being made to block Miers’ appointment. It’s conservatives and Republicans who are behind this nominee’s torpedoing, not the wait-and-see Democrats. Even more proof of that comes with the launching of, a coalition of right-wing groups such as the Center for a Just Society, Eagle Forum, and ConservativeHQ that are urging the withdrawal of Miers’ Court nomination.

READ MORE:A Miers Pullout?” by Steve Benen (The Carpetbagger Report); “Defending the Indefensible,” by George H. Will (The Washington Post); “The Gathering Storm,” by Richard Wolffe and Daniel Klaidman (Newsweek); “Miers Family Received ‘Excessive’ Sum in Land Case,” by Jack Douglas Jr. and Stephen Henderson (Knight Ridder Newspapers); “No Privilege for Miers,” by Stephen Gillers (The Nation); “George Bush Gives Up,” by John Nichols (The Nation); “Supreme Court: Withdraw Miers” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer); “Miers Must Go,” by Joe Conason (Salon); “How to Make Money on Politics” (Dan Conley’s Political Journal).

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