Sen. Brownback on Miers Withdrawal

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) responds to the news that Harriet Miers has withdrawn as a nominee for the Supreme Court. Brownback had expressed reservations about Miers' candidacy, and says there had been mounting difficulties with the nomination.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Since President Bush nominated Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, reaction on Capitol Hill has been cool at best. Now that she has withdrawn, the voices from the Hill have turned positive. Senators from both parties, including many who had avoided taking a public position, are now saying Harriet Miers was not the right person for the job. New York Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat, said Miers lacked the qualifications to serve on the Supreme Court. Other senators say the White House simply recognized the political reality and agreed to pull the nomination.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We're gonna go next to United States Senator Sam Brownback. He's a Republican from the state of Kansas. He's on the phone.

Senator, good morning.

Senator SAM BROWNBACK (Republican, Kansas): Good morning.

INSKEEP: What's your response to the news about Harriet Miers?

Sen. BROWNBACK: Well, we were getting to an impasse on the issue of some documents, and that's reflected in her letter that we needed information during her time of service in the White House. They did not feel like they could provide that in good conscience and still be true to the needs of the executive branch. And there were just other mounting difficulties with the nomination, so I think this is a good move by the White House. It's a very difficult thing for them to do, but I think at the end of the day we'll be in a better position and we'll get another nominee, and I'm sure it'll be an excellent nominee and we'll be able to move forward with the process.

INSKEEP: When you say `other mounting difficulties,' you're referring to the fact that there were so many of the president's own supporters who seemed unwilling to support Harriet Miers?

Sen. BROWNBACK: Well, it seemed like the hill was getting bigger and not smaller, and that people just had increasing concerns rather than decreasing issues, and any nominee, particularly to the Supreme Court, faces a hill to climb, and this one just kept growing.

INSKEEP: Why was it so hard for Miers to satisfy her critics?

Sen. BROWNBACK: Because there--she had no record and the record that was available was in the White House, and that was not gonna be provided to us, so it was the sort of thing that she's caught between where she serves and where the president had nominated her to serve. And the Senate was just not willing to give its advice and consent blindly on a position of such importance to the future of the country.

INSKEEP: We're talking to US Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas about the announcement that Harriet Miers has withdrawn as a nominee for the US Supreme Court. I want to bring another voice into the discussion. Senator Brownback, if you can stay with us for a few seconds, I want to bring in NPR White House correspondent David Greene and ask about another layer of this.

David, what does it mean that this troubled candidacy was going forward at a time when the White House was also facing an investigation on unrelated issues and facing possible indictments of some of the top officials?

DAVID GREENE reporting:

Yeah, this comes at an intriguing time, Steve. I mean, what the White House seemed to be doing when it came to the CIA leak investigation was looking for some sort of distraction. I mean, the president was giving a speech on the economy yesterday, he was speaking with a string of foreign leaders, he was traveling to hurricane-ravaged Florida today. Now it's tough to get into what they're thinking with accepting the letter of resignation from Harriet Miers. Perhaps--I mean, once the news about Miers blows over, the White House is thinking they'll have an opportunity now to take command again, nominate someone else and appear forward-looking, get the support of some of the people in their party, and use this to take news away from the leak investigation. But for the moment it's gonna be tough to manage.

INSKEEP: Well, let's take it back to Senator Brownback, who's on the phone.

Senator Brownback, what do you think about the position overall that the White House is in now that this nomination has been withdrawn?

Sen. BROWNBACK: I think they're in a better position now. This was a nominee that was put forward that the president knew very well but the rest of the country did not. It was a nominee that didn't have a paper trail, and that seemed to be one of the great assets, and yet what we were asking for, certainly what I'm asking for in the Senate, is exactly to have a paper trail because this is gonna be arguably the swing vote on the Supreme Court. We don't know that for certain, but it looks like it will be. I think it's a strong move by the White House. We'll have to reset, reboot the situation, and I think we'll be able to go forward.

INSKEEP: Are you saying you want to make sure that people know what they're voting on, even on hot-button issues like abortion where candidates in recent years have been at pains not to say exactly what they believe?

Sen. BROWNBACK: Well, I think we should know. Certainly knew on Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was general counsel to the ACLU when she was nominated, or had been. There's no question really but where she would rule on the court, and yet she was competent, a well-regarded lawyer and she was confirmed. I don't see any problem with nominating somebody of a conservative stature, well-regarded and that that person should be able to get confirmed.

INSKEEP: To your knowledge, have senators of either party been consulted in recent days about possible replacement nominees that might be seen as more acceptable?

Sen. BROWNBACK: Not to my knowledge.

INSKEEP: If someone came and asked you, I imagine you'd have a list.

Sen. BROWNBACK: There'd be a list of 10, 15 people. It's a pretty well-known list. It's been talked about now for several months of different people, whether it was Priscilla Owens or Edith Jones. Janice Rogers Brown has recently cleared through the court. There have been a number that have cleared through within the past year that a lot of people would look at and say this would be a fine nominee for the Supreme Court.

INSKEEP: Very interesting that you mentioned those names, Senator Brownback, because when you talk about people like Priscilla Owens, you're talking about people who, if they were nominated, would be expected to provoke a much greater fight with Democrats than some previous nominations have inspired. Do you think that would be a good thing?

Sen. BROWNBACK: Well, why can Ruth Bader Ginsburg get through on a large bipartisan vote, having been the general counsel for the ACLU, and yet you cannot nominate an openly conservative person for the bench? I really think this is a discussion that we should have with the country. Why do you need stealth? Why is there a litmus test if you're pro-life, but there isn't if you're on the other side?

INSKEEP: And, Senator Brownback, briefly, how much damage has been done to the Republican Party by the debate over the last several weeks over the nomination of Miers?

Sen. BROWNBACK: I don't think there's been damage. If anything, it's probably strengthened the party to show it's not a one-person party. It is a party of ideas and ideals and people are willing to fight for those. I think that shows strength, not weakness.

INSKEEP: Was it important at this moment for some conservatives to show that it wasn't a one-person party, that the White House itself, alone, was not in charge?

Sen. BROWNBACK: I don't know that that was important at this moment, but this position is important. So many people have worked so long to get a president in place, a US Senate in place to put forward a more conservative court, so this position in and of itself was of great importance to many people across the country.

INSKEEP: Senator Brownback, always good to talk to you.

Sen. BROWNBACK: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Thanks very much.

That's Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, speaking with us today after Harriet Miers announced that she is withdrawing her nomination for the United States Supreme Court.

This is NPR News.

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