Miers to face hostile queries from both sides of aisle

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Harriet Miers, unlike previous Republican nominees, will face hostile questioning from both Democrats and Republicans when she appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Several Republican senators — including committee Chairman Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Sam Brownback of Kansas — have said they won’t be cutting her any slack just because she’s a Republican nominee. And Republican staffers say privately that they’re researching her background as if she were a “third-party nominee.”

Meanwhile yesterday, a leading Christian conservative said the White House told him that some prospective Supreme Court nominees conservatives would have preferred withdrew their names from President Bush’s “short list” before the nomination — raising the possibility that Miss Miers wasn’t Mr. Bush’s first pick.

James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, said he spoke with Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove on Oct. 1 — two days before the Miers nomination — and was told that “Harriet Miers was at the top of the short list.”

Also on that list were several candidates that many conservatives say they would have preferred, Mr. Dobson said on his radio program that was recorded yesterday and will be broadcast today.

“Well, what Karl told me is that some of those individuals took themselves off that list,” he said, according to a transcript obtained last night. “They would not allow their names to be considered because the process has become so vicious and so vitriolic and so bitter that they didn’t want to subject themselves or the members of their families to it.”

White House officials could not be reached for comment last night.

Mr. Dobson also said that no one gave him any assurances that Miss Miers would rule any certain way in specific court cases but only that her judicial philosophy “was consistent with the promises that President Bush had made when he was campaigning.”

Mr. Specter had suggested he might call Mr. Dobson and Mr. Rove to testify before his committee about any inside knowledge they might have about Miss Miers — a threat that has only heightened the angst many conservatives feel about the nomination.

Republican staff lawyers on the committee — normally the ones building the case to confirm a Republican nominee — say they are despondent over Mr. Bush’s choice and some are actively working to thwart her.

“I don’t know anybody who is buying what the White House is selling here,” said one Republican staffer.

“They’re putting out a bunch of positive rhetoric, but they’re not putting any substance behind it,” said another.

Since her nomination last week, Republican staffers privately have complained bitterly that Miss Miers isn’t verifiably conservative. In one staff meeting last week in the office of Judiciary Committee chief counsel Michael O’Neill, a staffer reportedly cried in disappointment.

Mr. O’Neill sent out an e-mail yesterday warning staffers to tread carefully when talking about their dissatisfaction.

“I really cannot stress enough (as I did at our last meeting) that we need to be careful about what we say to the press. I obviously don’t control your access to the media, but I do care about you guys and don’t want anyone to get themselves in a tough spot,” Mr. O’Neill wrote. “We should not want to be out in front of our clients on an issue that is important to the President & Leadership.”

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