Miers' Religious Beliefs Under Scrutiny

White House spokesman Scott McClellan confirms that presidential strategist Karl Rove called evangelical broadcaster James Dobson to seek his support for Harriet Miers' nomination to the Supreme Court before it was announced. In that call, Rove assured Dobson that Miers is an evangelical Christian.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

Harriet Miers has been out of the public eye this week, but her nomination to the Supreme Court continues to brew trouble for the White House. The Bush administration seemed to be caught off guard by negative reviews of Miers in the conservative press and by lukewarm reactions from Republican senators. The White House initially sought support for Miers from some religious leaders, but today presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said the issue of religion was getting too much attention. NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA reporting:

The president's choice of White House counsel Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court was a surprise, and so was the resistance to her among some of his longtime allies. Miers is not a judge, and there's little public record to indicate how she might vote on key social issues, such as abortion, so the White House has been touting her personal story, including her membership in an evangelical church. Presidential aide Karl Rove even placed a prenomination call to religious broadcaster Dr. James Dobson. When asked about such efforts today, White House spokesman Scott McClellan challenged reporters.

Mr. SCOTT McCLELLAN (White House Spokesperson): It seems like the media wants to focus on things other than her qualifications. Maybe your news organization would rather focus on things other than her qualifications and record. The president believes we should focus on her qualifications and her record and her judicial philosophy, and that's what we emphasize.

Unidentified Man: But why is his top aide going around telling people how she prays?

Mr. McCLELLAN: He's simply talking about who she is and what her background is. And you're being very selective in your comments there, because what he emphasized, and what Dr. Dobson said he emphasized, was her conservative judicial philosophy.

GONYEA: The Dobson controversy began last week when he himself said on his radio show that he had received assurances about Miers from presidential strategist Rove. Dobson at the time said he knew things about Miers that he, quote, "probably shouldn't know." That statement prompted some serious questions. Had Dobson been told things about Miers' position on the Roe v. Wade abortion ruling that the White House was withholding from the public and from members of the US Senate who will vote on her nomination? Today, Dobson was interviewed on the Focus on the Family radio program.

(Soundbite of radio broadcast)

Mr. JOHN FULLER: It's Wednesday. I'm John Fuller, and you're tuned to Focus on the Family with psychologist and author Dr. James Dobson.

GONYEA: Dobson was not shy about the attention he's been getting.

(Soundbite of radio broadcast)

Dr. JAMES DOBSON: Well, John, if our listeners and friends have been monitoring the news on radio and television and the Internet, and if they have been listening to other talk shows in the past week, then they know well that I have been a topic of conversation from the nation's capital to the tiniest burg and farming community.

GONYEA: Dobson was also a topic on Capitol Hill, where Republican Senator Arlen Specter, who will chair the hearings into Miers' nomination, suggested that he might subpoena Dobson to appear before the Judiciary Committee. But today, the radio evangelist said that won't be necessary. He says he and Rove did not talk about Roe v. Wade.

(Soundbite of radio broadcast)

Dr. DOBSON: What did Karl Rove say to me that I knew on Monday that I couldn't reveal? Well, it's what we all know now, that Harriet Miers is an evangelical Christian, that she is from a very conservative church which is almost universally pro-life, that she had taken on the American Bar Association on the issue of abortion, fought for a policy that would not be supportive of abortion, that she had been a member of the Texas Right to Life.

GONYEA: On that last point, White House spokesman McClellan said today that Miers was not a member of that Texas organization opposed to abortion, but had attended some of its meetings.

But why did Karl Rove make that call to Dobson days before the nation heard Miers was the president's pick? At the White House today, President Bush himself was asked why people in this White House feel it's necessary to tell his supporters that Harriet Miers attends a very conservative Christian church.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: People are interested to know why I picked Harriet Miers. They want to know Harriet Miers' background. They want to know as much as they possibly can before they form opinions. And part of Harriet Miers' life is her religion.

GONYEA: And, the president said, another part is her career. Mr. Bush today again praised her work as a lawyer, calling her a pioneering woman and a trailblazer in the law in Texas. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

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