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Bush Fails to Assuage Conservatives on Court Pick
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Bush Fails to Assuage Conservatives on Court Pick

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Bush Fails to Assuage Conservatives on Court Pick

Bush Fails to Assuage Conservatives on Court Pick
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President Bush's nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court re-opens a rift in the Republican Party. Conservatives demand more information on Miers' religious background and her views on abortion. Moderates in the party are against mixing religion with judicial politics.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up, Ron raps on baseball.

But first, the White House is fielding some tough questions on a number of fronts this week. Questions have arisen over President Bush's top adviser, Karl Rove, who on Friday went before a federal grand jury for a fourth time. More questions have emerged about whether a video conference with US soldiers in Iraq was scripted. And the toughest questions of all are probably coming from Bush administration allies who remain incensed, even infuriated at the president's choice of Harriet Miers for the US Supreme Court. As NPR's David Greene reports, the Miers' nomination has reopened a rift in the president's party.

DAVID GREENE reporting:

President Bush's father suffered one of his biggest political blows in 1992. Not from his Democratic opponent Bill Clinton, but from a fellow Republican, Pat Buchanan. Bush beat Buchanan in the 1992 GOP primaries, but allowed him to give a convention speech in which Buchanan lionized social conservatives.

Mr. PAT BUCHANAN: They share our beliefs and our convictions, our hopes and our dreams. These are the conservatives of the heart. They are our people, and we need to reconnect with them.

GREENE: Many analysts felt Buchanan's speech, in which he spoke of a culture war in the United States, frightened away moderate voters. It was a lesson to the strategist Karl Rove, who worked to make the next President Bush appeal both to moderates and to the party's social conservative face. By the time George W. Bush gave his 2000 convention speech in Philadelphia, he and Rove had united their house.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I will lead our nation toward a culture that values life, the life of the elderly and sick, the life of the young and the life of the unborn.

GREENE: Throughout his first term, the second President Bush made sure to keep the conservative base satisfied. He opposed what opponents call partial birth abortion. He spoke out against same-sex marriage. He opposed using federal funds to expand stem cell research, and his core supporters were the key to his re-election in 2004. All along, these core conservatives had their eye on the Supreme Court and how Mr. Bush could give them their dream--a court that would overturn Roe vs. Wade. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's departure seemed to be their chance. But Mr. Bush chose Harriet Miers, his White House counsel and once his personal attorney. Leading conservatives were profoundly disappointed. Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas on CBS' "Face the Nation" accused the president of bowing out of a fight. `Sure,' he said, `Democrats would have tried to filibuster a nominee with known views against abortion.'

(Soundbite from "Face The Nation")

Senator SAM BROWNBACK (Republican, Kansas): But I believe we could have overcome that filibuster. It would have required a bruising fight, changing the rules, but I think we're at a point in time that we should have that discussion and debate. Let's have that in front of the American public.

GREENE: One prominent conservative, Dr. James Dobson, founder of the group Focus on the Family, stuck with the president, though he also told his radio listeners he was praying he wasn't making a mistake. He said Rove had called him before the president chose Miers. He said he liked what Rove told him about Miers' faith, but still got no guarantee of how she would vote on abortion rights.

Dr. JAMES DOBSON (Focus on the Family): That's the most incendiary information that's out there, and it was never part of our discussion.

GREENE: And Rove's outreach to Dobson raised new questions for the president about why his advisers were talking to conservatives about where Miers goes to church.

Pres. BUSH: They want to know Harriet Miers' background. They want to know as much as they possibly can before they form opinions. Part of Harriet Miers' life is her religion.

GREENE: That answer rankled those who fear the mixing of religion and judicial politics, and it still left many of Miers' detractors unconvinced. So for the first time in his presidency, George W. Bush finds himself taking serious public heat from his right. David Greene, NPR News, the White House.

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