Roberts Tapped to Succeed Rehnquist as Chief Justice

President Bush names Federal Appeals Court Judge John Roberts as U.S. chief justice

President Bush names Federal Appeals Court Judge John Roberts as his candidate for U.S. chief justice, Sept. 5. Reuters hide caption

itoggle caption Reuters

Shifting gears after the death of William Rehnquist, President Bush nominates John Roberts to be the next chief justice. Roberts was previously nominated to succeed retiring Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. But while some groups have criticized his past legal stances, his candidacy to serve on the Supreme Court has been well accepted in the Senate.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

We turn now to NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts.

Good morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS reporting:

Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: As survivors throughout the region survey their personal damage, the Bush administration is scrambling this morning, this Monday, to undo the political damage of the past week.

ROBERTS: Well, that's right. The president is going back to the hurricane-ravaged region again today, his second trip. Over the weekend, various members of the Cabinet were there--Secretary Rumsfeld, Chief of Staff Myers, Secretary Leavitt, Secretary Rice. The president had the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and other black leaders into the White House over the weekend to deal with the charges of racism in the wake of Katrina. And now the administration has been offering the press to have rescue imbeds, the way they had imbedded reporters in Iraq. So, clearly, a huge effort to try to overcome the very negative view of how the administration has handled this crisis. The Republican senator from Louisiana, David Vitter, had given the federal response an F for its efforts. Now we are told that Karl Rove, the president's point man on politics, is orchestrating a strategy to try to turn this around, point the fingers at the state and local officials. I'm not sure that that's what people particularly want to hear from the White House right now.

There probably is plenty of blame to go around. But the buck stops with the president, and the big problem for this president is that his strong suit has been his ability to react in crisis, particularly, of course, September 11th. And what we saw throughout the last campaign was people responding to him on the basis that he could protect them. And I think there's reason to question now if this is the kind of response to a natural disaster, what would be the response to a terrorist attack? And that has, of course, been the heart of this president's presidency is that he could respond well. Senator Hillary Clinton is already calling for a Katrina commission to look into all of this. So I think the president's got a lot of work ahead.

MONTAGNE: And the president also has a new Supreme Court position to fill since this past weekend with the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Do you think his handling of Hurricane Katrina will affect in any way his choice for the Supreme Court?

ROBERTS: Well, I think it would probably be a very bad time for the president to pick a fight. The fact is is that he does have this problem with his personal approval. There is a big congressional agenda that he wants to achieve in this second term, and he needs some political capital, as he would say, in order to do that. I must say, by the way, speaking of the congressional agenda, if Republicans decide to bring up cutting the estate tax permanent this week, I think that that would be a truly politically tone-deaf move. And people are furious about gas prices, unhappy about the Iraq War. I think they want to see political cooperation in Washington. Democrats know that and they haven't really challenged John Roberts, even though it makes their political base mad. And I think the president might feel that he needs to do the same thing at this moment in his pick for the replacement of Chief Justice Rehnquist, that he needs to find someone who will be a uniter, even if it makes his political base mad.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, when we talked last Monday just before the hurricane hit, you talked about what might happen if it was big and if it hit New Orleans, and, of course, you're from Louisiana. Has it turned out worse than you feared?

ROBERTS: Oh, I think it was worse than anybody feared. And all the economic problems I was pointing to last week have come true, unfortunately. Oil refineries down, farmers being affected, home heating oil prices for the Northeast for the winter. My own family, the family on the Gulf Coast, was completely wiped out, their 10 houses gone. My mother, I'm happy to say, is here with me, but very concerned about her city.

MONTAGNE: Cokie. Well, good luck to all of your family and thanks very much for talking with us. NPR political analyst Coke Roberts.

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