10-27-05 - Under withering attack from conservatives, President Bush abandoned his push to put loyalist Harriet Miers on the Supreme Court and promised a quick replacement Thursday. Democrats accused him of bowing to the "radical right wing of the Republican Party."
The White House said Miers had withdrawn because of senators' demands to see internal documents related to her role as counsel to the president. But politics played a larger role: Bush's conservative backers had doubts about her ideological purity, and Democrats had little incentive to help the nominee or the embattled GOP president.
"Let's move on," said Republican Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi. "In a month, who will remember the name Harriet Miers?"
The withdrawal stunned Washington on a day when the capital was awaiting potential bad news for the administration on another front _ the possible indictments of senior White House aides in the CIA leak case. Earlier in the week, the U.S. military death toll in Iraq hit 2,000.
Bush, who said he reluctantly accepted Miers' decision to withdraw, must now go through the agonizing nomination process for a third time this fall. He could turn first to the list of candidates passed over in favor of Miers, including Samuel Alito, an appeals court judge supported by many conservatives, administration officials said.
Democrats urged Bush to nominate a moderate. "The president has an opportunity now to unite the country. In appointing the next nominee, he must listen to all Americans, not just the far right," said Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts.
Bush, after weeks of insisting he did not want Miers to withdraw, blamed the Senate.
"It is clear that senators would not be satisfied until they gained access to internal documents concerning advice provided during her tenure at the White House _ disclosures that would undermine a president's ability to receive candid counsel," Bush said shortly before leaving for Florida to assess hurricane damage.
There were few regrets on Capitol Hill, from either party. Republicans control 55 of the Senate's 100 seats, but several GOP lawmakers were wavering on Miers amid intense lobbying from conservative interest groups.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist spoke with White House chief of staff Andy Card Wednesday night and offered a "frank assessment of the situation in the committee and in the full Senate," Frist spokesman Bob Stevenson said.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called Miers capable but added, "This clearly was the wrong position for her."
"The radical right wing of the Republican Party killed the Harriet Miers nomination," said Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who had recommended Miers to the president. "They want a nominee with a proven record of supporting their skewed goals."
Whomever Bush picks, a united GOP caucus holds the upper hand. Democrats would have to use their 44 voters (there is one independent) to try to block the nomination procedurally, a move loaded with political and logistical hurdles.
Republican consultants predicted that Bush would satisfy the conservatives who helped him to two election victories and now want their due. "The conservative movement has made it fairly clear from their standpoint that they would like someone that many people have been fighting for, or involved in these battles over 30 years," said consultant Greg Mueller, who was deeply involved in the Miers nomination fight.
While conservatives cheered her withdrawal, Ralph Neas, president of the liberal People for the American Way, said the decision demonstrated that "ultraconservatives are so determined to swing the Supreme Court to the right that they pounded their own president's nominee into submission and now demand a nominee with unquestioned far-right credentials."
Miers' withdrawal means the justice she was chosen to replace, Sandra Day O'Connor, will delay her retirement further. O'Connor has been a swing voter on numerous emotional social issues, and more are set to come before the Supreme Court.
On Nov. 30, the court will hear arguments on New Hampshire's parental notification law for abortion. In late November the court may decide whether it will hear the Bush administration's appeal of a 2003 federal law that bans the type of late-term operation known as partial-birth abortion.
Before the president chose Miers on Oct. 3, speculation had focused on her and two other Bush loyalists: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Bush's longtime friend who would be the first Hispanic on the court, and corporate lawyer Larry Thompson, who was the government's highest ranking black law enforcement official as deputy attorney general during Bush's first term.
A senior administration official said Gonzales and Thompson would probably run into similar criticism as Miers. They are Bush confidants with sparse records.
Other candidates mentioned frequently include conservative federal appeals court judges Alito, J. Michael Luttig, Priscilla Owen, Karen Williams and Alice Batchelder; Michigan Supreme Court justice Maura Corrigan and Maureen Mahoney, a frequent litigator before the high court.
Bush promised a new nominee "in a timely manner." Miers will remain White House counsel.
A second senior administration official said it had become increasingly clear that her nomination was facing a collision on Capitol Hill that needed to be prevented.
Miers called the president in his private residence at 8:30 p.m. EDT Wednesday to tell him of her decision. Twelve hours later, she walked into the Oval Office to hand him her letter of withdrawal.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Miers came to the decision on her own. The administration officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the nomination, said it was clear to everybody in the White House that Bush could not afford the fight.
Polls show Bush is at the weakest point of his presidency with growing numbers of voters disapproving of his job performance and his policies on Iraq.
Since Miers' nomination, there have been widespread complaints about her lack of legal credentials, doubts about her ability and assertions of cronyism because of her longtime association with Bush.
In a letter on Wednesday, Sen. Arlen Specter, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, sought assurances that Miers would show no favoritism toward Bush if confirmed as a justice.
Also on Wednesday night, Miers had submitted 59 pages worth of answers to a Senate questionnaire.