Karl Rove called key conservative interest group leaders yesterday morning to give them a heads-up just before the White House made public President Bush’s nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court.
Many of the same conservatives had been labeled “sexist” and “elitist” by the White House for their criticisms of Harriet Miers, Mr. Bush’s previous court choice. But all seemed forgiven yesterday as leaders across the Republican spectrum, from economic libertarians to religious conservatives, united in praise of the Alito nomination.
The chance to heal a rift between the president and his conservative supporters brought the personal involvement of Mr. Rove, the political strategist who just days earlier had been the object of press speculation that he might face criminal indictment.
At 7:05 a.m. yesterday, Mr. Rove telephoned Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, to tell him about Mr. Bush’s choice, a Land spokeswoman said.
In separate calls about 10 minutes apart, two other Bush operatives telephoned Free Congress Foundation President Paul M. Weyrich, about an hour before the White House went public with the Alito pick, Mr. Weyrich said.
The nomination of Miss Miers, White House counsel and a longtime Bush loyalist, to the high court caused Mr. Weyrich to break publicly with Mr. Bush for the first time in his five years in office. Mr. Weyrich had said that he would “be satisfied” with Judge Alito as a Supreme Court pick after Miss Miers withdrew her nomination last week.
Mr. Land, who continued to support Miss Miers long after other conservatives began questioning her credentials, yesterday praised the Alito nomination.
“I predict the nomination will promote healing among conservatives,” Mr Land told The Washington Times, adding that the healing would be so thorough that “there won’t be any scar tissue.”
And Phyllis Schlafly, another veteran conservative activist who parted ways with the White House over the Miers nomination, sounded upbeat about the new pick.
“I thank Bush for rapidly correcting the Harriet Miers situation and moving so quickly to fulfill his campaign promise to give us constitutionalists as justices on the Supreme Court,” the Eagle Forum president told The Times yesterday. Mrs. Schlafly said she had been well-acquainted with Judge Alito’s qualifications even before news of his nomination reached her.
Mr. Land told The Times that his phone rang just after sunrise yesterday and that he heard Mr. Rove on the other end of the line saying, “Just wanted to let you know it’s [Judge Alito].”
The federal appeals court judge was on Mr. Land’s shortlist of preferred nominees, the Baptist official said. Mr. Land said he told Mr. Rove: “Well, first off, let me say I think the president and Harriet Miers deserved better than they got from some of our conservative friends.”
Mr. Rove agreed but said that was in the past, Mr. Land said.
Mr. Weyrich had said he hesitated to go public with his criticism of Miss Miers’ nomination but asked for a court pick “who could rally the troops.”
Yesterday, Mr. Weyrich got early morning calls from former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie and from White House aide Tim Goeglein to alert him to the nomination of Judge Alito, a longtime favorite of conservatives.