- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 4, 2005

White House counsel Harriet Miers will be sitting on the Supreme Court by Thanksgiving, Republican Senate leaders predicted yesterday, even though they face a fight from within their own ranks to get her confirmed.

Welcoming Miss Miers to the Senate, Majority Leader Bill Frist said she “understands judicial restraint” and called her a “pioneer” in Texas legal circles.

“Harriet is a nomination that we are excited about, we are pleased with,” he said as the nominee sat uncomfortably beside him in the glare of dozens of news cameras.

Miss Miers also won a quick and enthusiastic endorsement from the Senate’s top Democrat, Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who months ago advised Mr. Bush to nominate her.

“I like Harriet Miers,” he said yesterday. Later, he too posed for the cameras with Miss Miers and said four times in the six-minute event that he was “happy” with the nominee.

Not all Senate Republicans were following the party script, with several key Judiciary Committee members withholding public judgment yesterday, and some Republican staff members said they were deeply disappointed that Mr. Bush nominated someone without a paper trail that would assure them of the candidate’s conservative credentials.

Contrary to the custom of a flurry of Republican press releases heaping admiration on the president and praise on the nominee, at least two Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee — Sens. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma — did not issue releases yesterday and declined to discuss the nominee.

Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican and likely a 2008 presidential candidate, relied on Mr. Bush’s “outstanding track record of nominating fair-minded men and women,” but stopped well short of endorsing Miss Miers without learning more about her.

Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican, also issued a statement that was less than embracing.

“I will reserve judgment on this nominee until the Senate studies her qualifications,” he said. “It has been my expectation that President Bush would nominate someone in the mold of Justices [Antonin] Scalia and [Clarence] Thomas and it is my hope that Harriet Miers will prove to be such a person.”

The reaction from Democrats on Capitol Hill was one of relief, if not sheer giddiness. Asked what he thought about a political contribution Miss Miers made to former Vice President Al Gore, Mr. Reid said he didn’t know about it.

“But if she did, that speaks well of her,” he added. “That only makes me feel better about her.”

Even Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat who has led the filibusters of Bush nominees, was almost friendly.

“My first reaction is a simple one,” he said. “It could have been a lot worse.”

The White House and its surrogates spent most of yesterday dealing with fire from the right, pleading with conservatives to give Miss Miers a chance.

“This is a pick that was made from weakness,” radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh declared. “There was an opportunity here to show strength and confidence and I don’t think this is it. There are plenty of known quantities out there who would be superb for the court.”

Vice President Dick Cheney called in to soothe him.

“I’m confident that she has a conservative judicial philosophy that you’d be comfortable with, Rush,” he said. “I’ve worked closely with Harriet for five years. I’ve seen her and worked closely with her, hand in glove with her.”

One Republican Judiciary aide said Mr. Bush showed a lack of courage in nominating Miss Miers.

“Conservative staffers are looking for ways to debunk this nominee,” the aide said.

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and member of the Judiciary Committee, said he’s known Miss Miers for 15 years and commended her highly. He was asked whether Mr. Bush made the nomination from a point of weakness.

“Well, I have known the president even longer than I’ve known Harriet Miers, and this president is not going to be intimidated in discharging the responsibilities of his office,” he said, adding: “I don’t think he was looking for a fight either.”

Several members of the “Gang of 14” senators who can determine whether a nominee can be successfully filibustered, said yesterday that Miss Miers appears to be outside the “extraordinary circumstances” that would permit Democrats to filibuster.

“It appears the president has made a sound choice in Harriet Miers,” said Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat. “From every indication, it seems that she has the qualifications and experience to serve on the Supreme Court.”

While most of the consternation came from Republicans yesterday, Democrats made clear that they won’t be giving Miss Miers an entirely free pass.

After praising the selection, Mr. Schumer went on to compare her to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who was confirmed just last week.

“We know less about this nominee than we knew about John Roberts in terms of judicial philosophy, in terms of legal background,” he said. “And because this nomination is for the swing seat on the Supreme Court, it means learning the nominee’s judicial philosophy is going to be even more important than it was for John Roberts.”

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