Miers Gets Mixed Reception from Christian Right

Some Christian conservatives have expressed support for Harriet Miers, President Bush's nomination to the Supreme Court. But others say her choice marks a watershed for a movement betrayed.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Harriet Miers continued her meetings on Capitol Hill today, sitting down with the senators who will vote on her nomination to the Supreme Court. As she makes the rounds, conservative groups are in turmoil over her selection. As NPR's Peter Overby reports, that turmoil could have a long-term effect on the Republican Party and the conservative movement.

PETER OVERBY reporting:

Two big endorsements came in today for Harriet Miers, one from televangelist Pat Robertson on "The 700 Club"; the other from Jim Dobson at Focus on the Family. Dobson said he agonized and prayed over his decision.

Mr. JIM DOBSON (Focus on the Family): I know that our listeners are confused and not sure about Harriet Miers, and want to know why I have come out, initially at least, in favor of her nomination and what I know that maybe they don't know.

OVERBY: Everyone is learning more about Miers this week. The White House floated her name to grassroots groups last week, then held a conference call on Monday, the day President Bush announced Miers as his choice to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Yesterday, the president held a press conference to elaborate on his reasons for picking her despite her relatively low profile on the national legal scene. And today, there were well-orchestrated newspaper accounts of Miers' born-again experience as an evangelical Christian. Manuel Miranda, head of a coalition called the Third Branch Conference, says none of that brought his grassroots conservatives back to the fold.

Mr. MANUEL MIRANDA (Third Branch Conference): I think the White House, after two days of trying to assuage conservatives, have really not done that. In fact, I think the conservatives are more concerned right now.

OVERBY: But Jim Dyke, working on the nomination for the White House, says they'll come around to support Miers.

Mr. JIM DYKE (Administration Official): The more people learn about her, the more they understand what the president means when he talks about trusting him.

OVERBY: This has played reasonably well with political insiders who thrive on access, but not so well with the outsiders who have powered the conservative grassroots movement, people like Paul Weyrich, whose organizing credentials reach back to the 1970s.

Mr. PAUL WEYRICH: I have been through five `trust mes' in my career here, beginning in 1969, and I can't really take a sixth one.

OVERBY: Right now the main White House argument for supporting Miers is her faith. Weyrich says it doesn't prove anything about where she stands, say, on abortion.

Mr. WEYRICH: They have emphasized the fact that she's an evangelical Christian, you know, which is fine. But I mean, you know, so is Jimmy Carter.

OVERBY: Still, the expectation in most quarters is that Miers will be confirmed. In that case, the test comes next winter or spring. That's when the Supreme Court would start handing down the first decisions bearing her imprint. If she turns out to be less conservative than the president insists she is, it could seriously damage the Republican Party.

It's been about 25 years since the religious right started organizing politically and joined the GOP. These voters powered the party into majorities in Congress and at the White House. Now, according to grassroots veteran Richard Viguerie, among others, the Bush White House is in danger of sending a message...

Mr. RICHARD VIGUERIE: ...that all these politicians are alike. They court you at election time, and then they abandon you afterwards. And I think that we're going to see that begin to set in.

OVERBY: At the American Family Association--a grassroots group based in Tupelo, Mississippi, which hasn't decided what to say about Miers--association president Tim Wildmon says the grassroots groups themselves could pay a price.

Mr. TIM WILDMON (President, American Family Association): If we say, `Listen, stick with the president on this; he's doing the right thing,' and it turns out that he is and he selected incorrectly, then, yeah, it could hurt the groups and their support and the money.

OVERBY: With big implications for the 2006 midterm elections and beyond. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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