GOP Senators Cautious on Miers Nomination

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Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) has said he is not yet convinced to vote in favor of President Bush's Supreme Court nominee, Harriet Miers. Other Republican Senators are uneasy about the choice, but so far have not offered public dissent.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers continues making the rounds on Capitol Hill today. She spent much of yesterday there meeting with the senators who will vote on her confirmation. Although she was nominated by a conservative Republican president, some conservative Republicans are uneasy with her more so than the Democrats. More from NPR's David Welna.

DAVID WELNA reporting:

Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions had just spent an hour with Harriet Miers behind closed doors yesterday when the two emerged and stood side by side before a scrum of cameras and microphones.

Senator JEFF SESSIONS (Republican, Alabama): Ms. Miers, congratulations on the nomination...

Ms. HARRIET MIERS (Supreme Court Nominee): Thank you.

Sen. SESSIONS: ...and we wish you every success.

Ms. MIERS: Thank you.

WELNA: Sessions is a conservative member of the Judiciary Committee that will be questioning Miers. He told reporters he was enthusiastic about her but wanted her to be a certain kind of justice.

Sen. SESSIONS: I think she has a good understanding on the role of a judge, that a judge should not make law but be faithful to the law and be bound by the law, that the Constitution constrains the Congress, it constrains the president and it also constrains the Supreme Court.

WELNA: That kind of deference to the Constitution is known as strict constructionism. At a White House news conference yesterday, President Bush said he wanted judges who were strict constructionists and he said Harriet Miers has that philosophy.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I know her well enough to be able to say that she's not going to change, that 20 years from now, she'll be the same person with the same philosophy that she has today.

WELNA: While campaigning, Mr. Bush often promised to appoint strict constructionists to the Supreme Court in the mold of conservative justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. That's why Senator Sam Brownback, who's a conservative Kansas Republican on the Judiciary Committee, was not expecting him to nominate Harriet Miers.

Senator SAM BROWNBACK (Republican, Kansas): You know, I was surprised. I was not initially really very positive, a lot of skepticism.

WELNA: Brownback refrained from making any statements about Miers' nomination until yesterday when he declared he was, quote, "not yet confident Miers has a proven track record." Speaking from Topeka, Kansas, Brownback told NPR he could imagine voting against Miers' nomination.

Sen. BROWNBACK: Well, I think there's a fair amount of skepticism on this pick because there were so many other names floating out there that seemed to have a more discerned track record, that had been on the bench, that you could go with and you say, `OK. I know--I feel like I've got a good idea how this person would rule on the Supreme Court.' That's not the case with Harriet Miers.

WELNA: Another Judiciary Committee Republican, Utah's Orrin Hatch, says he'll support Miers but acknowledged after his meeting with her yesterday that there is discontent in the ranks.

Senator ORRIN HATCH (Republican, Utah): A lot of my fellow conservatives are concerned that they don't know her as I do. I've had a lot of dealings with her and she's a very bright woman with an awful solid sense of what's right and wrong.

WELNA: Bruce Fein, a constitutional expert who served in the Reagan administration, says he's not surprised some Republicans are dismayed.

Mr. BRUCE FEIN (Constitutional Expert): I think that leaves the Republicans somewhat in a quandary. On the one hand, they really are silently seething that Bush has squandered this opportunity to appoint someone who would awaken and enthuse their conservative bases but they feel impotent to oppose a Republican president. After all, you don't eat your own, and, therefore, they'll just grit their teeth and probably vote in her favor.

WELNA: Meanwhile, some of the warmest praise for Miers yesterday came from the Senate's top Democrat, Harry Reid, who says he urged Mr. Bush to choose her.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): With so much at stake, we shouldn't rush to judgment about this or any other nominee. But even at this early stage of the confirmation process, I will say that I am impressed by what I know about Harriet Miers.

WELNA: Congressional expert Ross Baker of Rutgers University says Reid's plaudits for Miers may be aimed at driving a wedge into the Senate Republican caucus.

Professor ROSS BAKER (Rutgers University): I think he senses that this is something that is deeply disturbing and even ominous for some people on the right, and that by praising it, he induces a certain kind of dissidence in their minds, you know, sort of, `What is Reid doing this for? What does he like her? And why are we so uncertain?'

WELNA: So Miers' round of courtesy visits may be less about mollifying Democrats and more about reassuring the dubious within the president's own party.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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