Republican Opposition Made Miers Bid Untenable

Growing opposition to Harriet Miers from Republican senators — fueled by conservative groups and commentators — ultimately derailed President Bush's nomination to the Supreme Court. Miers withdrew her Supreme Court bid Thursday morning.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

I'm Robert Siegel.

And we begin with today's big story, the withdrawal of Harriet Miers as a nominee for the Supreme Court. Miers cited a growing dispute over access to White House documents as the reason for her move, but her nomination faced increasing opposition from the right wing of the president's own party. We'll have analysis from our legal scholars in a few minutes, but we start our coverage with NPR's David Welna at the Capitol.

DAVID WELNA reporting:

Miers hand-delivered President Bush a letter at 8:30 this morning. It said she no longer wanted to be considered for a nomination in which this president has invested both prestige and a huge amount of political capital. `I am concerned,' Miers wrote, `that the confirmation process presents a burden for the White House and our staff and is not in the best interests of the country.' The president's spokesman later told reporters that Mr. Bush was, quote, "deeply disappointed" in the process that prompted Miers to quit. On the Senate floor, Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist maintained it was Miers' decision alone to drop out.

Senator BILL FRIST (Republican, Tennessee): I had a conversation with Ms. Miers early this morning and she told me that it was last evening that she spoke to the president and did formally request her nomination to be withdrawn.

WELNA: Still, pressure was clearly mounting for Miers to bow out. Frist's spokesman confirmed the Republican leader offered what he called a frank assessment on Miers' standing last night to White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card. Frist expressed no regret today about Miers' withdrawal, but Democratic Leader Harry Reid did.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Minority Leader): I believe without any question when the history books are written about all this that it will show that the radical right wing of the Republican Party drove this woman's nomination right out of town. Apparently Ms. Miers didn't satisfy those who wanted to pack the Supreme Court with rigid ideologies.

WELNA: The Judiciary Committee's ranking Democrat, Patrick Leahy, insisted his party was not to blame for Miers' withdrawal.

Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont): It all came from Republican newspeople, Republican columnists and Republicans in the Senate.

WELNA: And even though the Republican chair of the Judiciary panel, Arlen Specter, had rejected Miers' answers to a questionnaire and disputed what she told him behind closed doors, he lashed out at what he called the heavy decibel level against her.

Senator ARLEN SPECTER (Republican, Pennsylvania; Judiciary Committee Chair): This is a sad episode in the history of Washington, DC, which has a lot of sad episodes, but the way Harriet Miers has been treated is really disgraceful.

WELNA: But Specter also disputed Miers' contention that White House documents were an issue, saying his committee has asked for nothing that intruded on the president's executive privilege. He said he did not know whether Miers would have been confirmed by the Senate, but New York Democrat Charles Schumer, who's also on the committee, expressed satisfaction things never got as far as a vote.

Senator CHARLES SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): Harriet Miers is a fine and capable person, but this was clearly the wrong position for her. Her gracious withdrawal saves Harriet Miers and the nation from a difficult and agonizing process in decision.

WELNA: Schumer's doubts were about Miers' qualifications. Kansas Republican and social conservative Sam Brownback had doubts about Miers' stance on abortion.

Senator SAM BROWNBACK (Republican, Kansas): I was feeling less comfortable all along. I had an initial pause about the nominee and then I kept thinking, `Well, OK. Maybe the president's really got a strong person and we just don't know her.' And then the background kept seeming more checkered rather than consistent.

WELNA: Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison disputed that characterization of Miers.

Senator KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (Republican, Texas): I think some of the things that were being brought up from before she changed her views and her support have been used to indicate that she's not firm in her views.

WELNA: And Jon Cornyn, also a Texas Republican, said Miers had been treated unfairly.

Senator JON CORNYN (Republican, Texas): The only person responsible for her withdrawal was Harriet Miers. She saw that this was--she was becoming too controversial and that she was basically--her nomination was going to be mugged before she got even to the chance to go to the hearing room on November the 7th.

WELNA: Cornyn predicted coming up with another nominee won't be easy.

Sen. CORNYN: If John Roberts had a sister, that maybe that's a possibility. In all seriousness, I think any nominee's going to be closely scrutinized and it is going to be a tough process.

WELNA: But California Democrat Dianne Feinstein said there's no rush to choose another nominee, and she had this advice for the president.

Senator DIANNE FEINSTEIN (Democrat, California): Appoint someone in the mainstream. Appoint someone whose knowledge and ability is beyond question. And appoint someone about whom there will not be a major squabble.

WELNA: Still, a major squabble is what everyone now expects over that next nominee. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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