After Miers Withdrawal, What's Next?

The withdrawal of President Bush's nominee for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court sets the stage for a new political fight. Now Congress and interest groups are gearing up for the debate over who the president will nominate next.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The withdrawal of President Bush's nominee for a seat on the Supreme Court sets the stage for a new fight. Harriet Miers asked that her nomination be withdrawn earlier today. And now Congress, as well as interest groups, are gearing up for the debate over who the president will nominate next. We're going now to NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams.

Juan, good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:

Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So a minute ago we heard David Frum, the conservative writer who opposed Harriet Miers, looking forward to who the president might nominate next, someone more acceptable, he was hoping, more acceptable to him. Who might that be?

WILLIAMS: Well, there's a deep bench of conservative judges, and some people who aren't judges. But right at the top of the list you'd have to go to people like, you know, J. Harvie Wilkinson, who's in Virginia, or Michael Luttig, also on that circuit. Then you start looking at maybe even the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales; then there are people who are highly controversial, people who'd been blocked recently like Janice Rogers Brown. You could look at the former deputy attorney general, Larry Thompson; that's if the president chooses to go back. If you'll recall, Steve, he was looking for someone who was either a woman or a minority to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the bench.

INSKEEP: We heard Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas this morning raise some of those names, people who'd been opposed by Democrats in the past and presumably would be opposed by liberals again.

WILLIAMS: Absolutely, and so what you're seeing here is now the president, given all the political stress on this White House at the moment--and here I'm referring to the possibility of indictments against the likes of Scooter Libby, the vice president's chief of staff, against Karl Rove, the president's deputy chief of staff, and given the unpopularity of the war--all of these issues swirling around--the president needs to rally his political base and that means the right. And so the very people who were displeased with the Harriet Miers nomination will now be looking for the president to nominate someone that they consider a doctrinaire conservative, and that in turn is going to trigger more resistance from the Democrats.

INSKEEP: You mentioned the investigation into the White House. What do you make of the timing of this withdrawal coming just as that investigation seems to be nearing an end?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think there's--it invites a question, Steve. Was her decision to withdraw something of her own volition, or is it something that she was forced to do? The reason I say that is that clearly the White House is under tremendous pressure at the moment, and they really weren't in position to properly defend Harriet Miers and they were looking, I think, for a way out and they were looking for someone either to give Harriet Miers a nudge or for Harriet Miers to come to that conclusion on her own.

INSKEEP: Does this move get conservatives back on the White House's side just at a moment when they really need 'em?

WILLIAMS: It certainly does, at least for the moment, Steve. The other--the bigger issue will be whether or not you have the opportunity to nominate someone that the conservatives can rally around in the future.

INSKEEP: Juan, I'll let you catch that call from one of your sources, no doubt, in a moment, but first let me just ask: Does Harriet Miers after withdrawing go back to being White House counsel?

WILLIAMS: I think the president, if you look at his history, is extraordinarily loyal and so my guess would be that given his personality he will try to be protective of Harriet Miers, and if that's the case she'll be back as White House counsel and back as part of the Bush team.

INSKEEP: She certainly has been a loyal supporter of President Bush over the years, hasn't she?

WILLIAMS: Oh, absolutely, and she's served in this White House. You know, she was the White House secretary, she was a deputy chief of staff. You know, she worked with the president in Texas. People forget that she was his personal lawyer, that he appointed her to the Texas Lottery Board. This is a long-standing relationship. The president, as he repeated when he nominated her, has known her for a long time, doesn't think she's the kind of person that's going to change. And for that reason, I just don't see that she is going to leave or go too far from the president's hand.

INSKEEP: Juan, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: We've been listening to NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams, and for those who are just tuning in, Harriet Miers, President Bush's most recent nominee for a seat on the US Supreme Court, has withdrawn that nomination under pressure. The official reason was a lack of documents. And we will bring you more on this story throughout the morning as we learn more.

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