Political Damage to White House from Miers Pullout

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The withdrawal of Supreme Court Associate Justice nominee Harriet Miers from the confirmation process could prove embarrassing and damaging to the president. Noah Adams talks with Mara Liasson about the effects Miers' decision may have on the president and his agenda.


The Miers withdrawal comes at a difficult time for the Bush White House which is anticipating possible indictments and a grand jury probe in the Valerie Plame leak investigation. And joining us to talk about what this week means for President Bush is NPR political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Mara, today a surprise at all for you?

MARA LIASSON reporting:

Yes, it was a surprise, although many conservatives have been openly calling for Miers to withdraw her nomination. But this president was widely considered to be someone who doesn't back down from a fight. He has been asked if she would withdraw and he said, `Absolutely not. She's going to be confirmed.' So in that sense, it was a surprise.

ADAMS: Well, let's hear that insistence and that stubbornness that he had in his voice back in mid-October at a news conference.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: She's going to be a great judge.

Unidentified Woman: So you're ruling it out, any withdrawal?

Pres. BUSH: No, she is going to be on the bench. She'll be confirmed. And when she's on the bench, people will see a fantastic woman who is honest, open, humble and capable of being a great Supreme Court judge.

ADAMS: Now, Mara, the pressure's been building for weeks now. So why did it happen and why did it happen now?

LIASSON: It happened now because Harriet Miers has been making the rounds of senators on the Hill, Republicans and Democrats, but particularly with Republicans she's been having a lot of private meetings. And the senators have not been coming out of those meetings feeling better about her. Only four Republican senators have said they would support her, the two senators from Texas, Orrin Hatch of Utah and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. She has had no one else who's come out in support of her. Nobody has come out publicly opposed to her, but there was a lot of dissatisfaction with her, and last night, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist called the chief of staff at the White House, Andy Card, and offered what his, Frist's, spokesman called `a frank assessment of the situation in the committee and in the full Senate.' Translation: She wasn't gaining any support and she probably wasn't going to have the votes unless she turned in an incredible slam-duck performance in the hearings, which people thought, based on their private meetings with her, was probably not going to happen. So many conservatives were in open revolt against this nomination. There were ads by conservative groups on the air asking President Bush to withdraw this nomination, and I think basically the White House read the writing on the wall and they had a perfect excuse to do this in this looming stalemate between Republican senators, not just Democratic senators, and the White House over documents.

ADAMS: The documents from her time advising the president as White House counsel on various issues, including issues involving the war in Iraq, there is no judicial record. So you just have the documents and the senators don't get to see them. Now what does that mean for President Bush's relationship with the Republican congressional leaders?

LIASSON: Well, the withdrawal improves it tremendously. In other words, Republican congressional leaders were just trying to get this nomination through. I think what this does is it helps repair the breach between President Bush and his conservative base who were up in arms about this nomination. I think this is only good news for President Bush's relationship with Republicans in Congress. People have breathed a sigh of relief, basically. Trent Lott today said it was a bad idea. He's the former majority leader. He said the Miers nomination was a bad idea, and he said, quote, "Let's move on. In a month, who will remember the name Harriet Miers? Who wants to go to war with your own base?" So I think that this is a positive thing for his relationship with Republicans in Congress.

ADAMS: And, Mara, to complete the week, it's quite possible there would be indictments from a federal grand jury investigating the possible role of White House aides in the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's name to the press. How would the White House handle both these issues at once, the leak case and the search for a new Supreme Court nominee?

LIASSON: Well, you're assuming that they're going to be indictments. Now if Karl Rove is indicted, somebody's going to have to step in and take his place. If Lewis Libby is indicted, the vice president's chief of staff, somebody will step in and take his place. You know, Andy Card, who's the White House chief of staff, is not under threat of indictment and he's the one who pretty much stage managed the Miers nomination. Now a lot of conservatives have said that was bungled, it wasn't vetted properly, he didn't understand the depth of the opposition that this nomination would get from the conservative base. So I think that in terms of the next nominee, there's going to be a lot more touching base with conservatives. That's something that Karl Rove does and used to do, and if he's indicted, somebody else will just have to do that.

ADAMS: Mara Liasson, NPR's national political correspondent. Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you, Noah.

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