Frum Expresses Relief at Miers' Withdrawal

Steve Inskeep discusses the withdrawal of Harriet Miers' Supreme Court nomination with David Frum, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former speechwriter for President Bush. Frum says he looks forward to a new nominee "who's got both the philosophy the president wants and also the first-rate credentials."

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

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

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

We're going to hear more in this part of the program about the withdrawal of Harriet Miers from consideration for a seat on the US Supreme Court. She sent a letter announcing that withdrawal three weeks after President Bush nominated her. Harriet Miers had faced skepticism about her qualifications, and in recent weeks conservatives groups mounted a campaign against her, saying she was not the strong conservative candidate they wanted. We're going to hear from one of those conservatives in a moment. We're going to start with NPR's David Greene.

And, David, can you just review for us some of the pressures that Harriet Miers and the White House faced over recent weeks?

DAVID GREENE reporting:

Sure, Steve. What it said in the letter, as you mentioned, was that this was about the questions that Miers expected to face about her time at the White House as an adviser to the president, and that she was not ready to face those questions. The president wasn't willing to let those questions be answered. But this nomination was in trouble in many other ways. There were a lot of questions about her qualifications. She was never a judge. Lawmakers on both sides brought that out, and conservatives became more and more concerned about her views on abortion and made that clear to the White House. And so the letter comes today and the president accepted the resignation this morning.

INSKEEP: Now one of the people raising those concerns was David Frum. He's a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, one of the earliest critics of Harriet Miers, and he is on the phone this morning.

Good morning.

Mr. DAVID FRUM (American Enterprise Institute): Good morning.

INSKEEP: You wrote after the nomination, `Harriet Miers is a lovely person, but, quote, "there is no reason at all to believe that she has the spine and steel necessary to resist the pressures that bend the American legal system toward the left."' You must be happy today.

Mr. FRUM: I'm greatly relieved. I think Harriet Miers has done the right thing. She's put the president and the party first, and I think we can now go forward to pick a nominee who's got both the philosophy the president wants and also the first-rate credentials that will make that person someone whom all Americans can take pride in whether they're conservative or not.

INSKEEP: You said that she put the president and the party first. How big a problem was it for the Republican Party that the party was showing such open strain on this issue?

Mr. FRUM: It was a huge issue. That's one of the reasons why this argument about going to hearings was a bad one. This would have just torn the party apart on national television. It's clear, especially from the speech that was released yesterday, that Harriet Miers was not the person the president thought she was, and more and more Republicans were going to wake up to that, and it would have unleashed a lot of turmoil inside the party.

INSKEEP: You're talking about a speech that was released yesterday which appeared to suggest that her views on abortion were not as hard-line as some people would like.

Mr. FRUM: Well, she was--sort of denigrated the pro-life movement, accused them of wanting to criminalize abortion, which is not a fair statement of what they're about, but also is a wide-ranging endorsement of all kinds of judicial activism, saying that, for example, the reason judges were entitled to act is because legislatures had failed in their duty to take unpopular steps. Well, legislatures are supposed to represent the people, and judges are not there to correct legislatures when in the opinion of judges the legislatures have done the wrong thing. They're there to enforce state and federal constitutional norms.

INSKEEP: Does Miers' withdrawal end this episode in your mind, or are there much larger problems here that Republicans and the White House will have to wrestle with?

Mr. FRUM: Let's hope, first of all, the president comes up with a better nominee second time. I think this episode has revealed some real weaknesses in the White House staff process, and, clearly this nomination was not checked thoroughly. Clearly, a lot of people acted in impulsive ways that are kind of alarming. So I think that there are some internal reforms there that are going to be necessary; I'm sure they'll happen.

INSKEEP: As somebody who worked in the White House and who knows many people there, do you think that people in the White House have been distracted in recent weeks by this investigation on which we're expecting the possibility of indictments in the coming days?

Mr. FRUM: That's certainly possible. On the other hand, the people who work on judicial nominations are different people from the people who might be distracted. And so I think they now need to reorganize themselves, but I think this is a good day for conservatives, it's a good day for the president; it's a good day for the country. You know, sometimes we have Democratic presidents and sometimes Republican, but both owe America the best from their side, and when there's a Democratic president he should pick the best Democrat he can find, and a Republican president owes the country the same thing.

INSKEEP: Well, who do you want the president to pick next?

Mr. FRUM: I--there are literally 20 people whom the president could chose from. There are men and there are women and they're from every ethnic background, and I think that the president has a broad remit from his conservative supporters to pick whichever one of those people seems to him to make the most sense, but they should be people with a clear judicial philosophy and a clear record and first-rate credentials.

INSKEEP: From his conservative supporters, do you want the president to pick someone who will go after the--who will anger Democrats?

Mr. FRUM: No. I think, as we saw with John Roberts, as, by the way, we saw with Stephen Breyer on the other side, you can find people who clearly represent your own political philosophy who are broadly acceptable to the country. Americans understand when one party has the presidency and the Congress, it gets to pick a Supreme Court judge so long as he doesn't stray too far. So President Clinton picked Stephen Breyer, and I think Republicans would say if there's a Democratic president that's a great choice. And President Bush picked John Roberts...

INSKEEP: Mr. Frum?

Mr. FRUM: ...same thing. That's what the next nominee should be like.

INSKEEP: Mr. Frum, thanks very much.

Mr. FRUM: Thank you. Bye-bye.

INSKEEP: That's David Frum of the American Enterprise Institute.

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