Slate's Politics: The White House Miers Debacle

Noah Adams speaks with Slate political correspondent John Dickerson about how Harriet Miers' withdrawal of her Supreme Court nomination could affect the Bush White House, as well as Democratic and Republican interests in Congress and the looming 2006 mid-term national election.

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Noah Adams.

In a few minutes, a prominent Catholic magazine calls for an end to the sport of boxing.

But first, we return to the subject of Harriet Miers' withdrawal of her candidacy for the US Supreme Court. That decision announced earlier today. We turn to John Dickerson, chief political correspondent for the online magazine Slate. He joins us from Washington, DC.

John, let's talk about the timing of this withdrawal here at a pretty tough week for the White House. There could be possible bad news from the special counsel and the federal grand jury over the Valerie Plame leak indictments. You put the two together at all?

JOHN DICKERSON (Slate): You could. I think the Miers nomination was having such issues on its own that everybody--you know, allies of the president were saying the nomination was dead and he was the last to sort of figure it out. It is good timing to the extent anything can be seen as good coming out of this because it's going to be a one-day story. We're likely to have indictments tomorrow and that will churn up the news cycle. And people may begin to start forgetting about the Miers detour, which I think is what the White House would like.

ADAMS: Now the Democratic senior senator from New York, Chuck Schumer, describes the Miers withdrawal as a victory for what he calls the extreme wing of the Republican Party. How much pressure is the president going to be under to pick somebody more pleasing to the conservative base?

DICKERSON: The president will be under pressure. He's--the Miers nomination created a huge rift in his own party, and he was under pressure before the Miers nomination. His argument would have been, `She was a conservative pick.' Well, he's gonna have to pick somebody now, and what you see Chuck Schumer doing is beginning the debate on the next nominee. They know a conservative is coming and so they want to begin the argument and try and frame the president as kind of totally beholden to his very most conservative wing so that they can already start to frame the next nominee in that context.

ADAMS: Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi was talking about the nomination on CNN today, and he said he's sure the president will find a good replacement. We're gonna hear a bit of what he had to say.

(Soundbite of CNN broadcast)

Senator TRENT LOTT (Republican, Mississippi): I want the president to look across the country and find the best man, woman or minority that he can find with great educational background, as much experience as possible, an understanding of the Constitution, a strict constructionist, yes, a conservative.

ADAMS: And as we have heard over and over again, Senator Lott would be happy--was certainly happy with John Roberts.

DICKERSON: That's right. And here we see the other side of the ideological debate here, putting its licks in for the next nominee. I mean, everybody has already--in some sense it's moved beyond the Miers nomination, and this is what conservatives expect. And I think they're likely to get what they expect from the president.

ADAMS: So more conservative, but what are the other considerations?

DICKERSON: Well, the president has to pick somebody who's got enough of a track record that conservatives can feel confident. The trick here for any president now, it seems, is they've got to pick somebody who lacks enough of a record that the opponents can pick at it but has a sufficient record that his supporters can rally around it and know that he's not nominating a kind of blank slate--we heard that term so many times--somebody who will get onto the court and then rule in a way that upsets conservatives.

ADAMS: So you have the politics and then you have the other considerations, a minority candidate, a female candidate, right?

DICKERSON: That's right. The president wanted very much to pick a woman, and the signals are a little mixed coming out of the White House today, but I think he'll probably try and do that again. I think the real motivating factor here, though, is speed from the White House. And so we should get another nominee, not today, but very soon there after.

ADAMS: Let me ask a question now going back to these documents that belong in the White House and that, in principle, Harriet Miers is trying to protect, executive privilege, saying the White House can't give up the documents that contain her advice to the president. Wouldn't that conversation have happened, you know, over coffee when they first started talking about putting your White House counsel up for the Supreme Court?

DICKERSON: You're exactly right. They knew this fight was coming. They just thought they'd be able to blow right through it. They thought that the president's having picked her and sort of vouching for her would have been sufficient. And so the documents is a little bit of a fake fight here. It was kind of the thing that allowed everybody to save face, but the White House went with it given how difficult a climb she was having in getting confirmed.

ADAMS: John Dickerson, chief political correspondent for the online magazine Slate, joining us from Washington, DC.

Thank you, John.

DICKERSON: Thank you.

ADAMS: More coming up on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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