Tracking Miers' Downward Trajectory

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President Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court was in trouble from the beginning. As days and weeks went by, the prospects for her confirmation got steadily worse.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

President Bush got the news formally at 8:30 this morning from Harriet Miers. She came to him with a letter saying she no longer wanted to be considered for the Supreme Court. Miers cited a looming battle with the Senate over documents as the main reason for her withdrawal, but there has been growing opposition to her from the right wing of the Republican Party. Reaction from senators from both parties is coming up. First, NPR's Don Gonyea walks us through the Miers nomination.

DON GONYEA reporting:

It was October 3rd when President Bush ended weeks of suspense with the following statement.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: This morning, I'm proud to announce that I'm nominating Harriet Ellen Miers to serve as associate justice of the Supreme Court.

GONYEA: It was a surprise selection. Miers has never been a judge, but she does have a long history with Mr. Bush, and that counted for a lot. That morning, Miers also spoke.

Ms. HARRIET MIERS (White House Counsel; Former Supreme Court Nominee): And now I look forward to the next step in the process that has begun this morning, including the Senate's consideration of my nomination. I look forward to participating in that process.

GONYEA: But no one in the White House imagined how difficult that process would be. They were braced for a fight with Democrats. Instead, it came from conservatives within the president's own party who immediately criticized her selection. They said she had no experience in constitutional law, that her resume was thin. They worried that she may not even be conservative.

Despite an aggressive effort by the president and his surrogates to overcome such concerns, the questions about Miers persisted. Then last night, she called the president at the White House and informed him that she planned to withdraw her nomination. The White House says it was her decision. This morning, she hand-delivered a letter to Mr. Bush in the Oval Office. In a statement, the president said he reluctantly accepted it. In her letter, Miers noted the Senate's desire to see documents relating to her time at the White House. The president refuses to release such information, citing executive privilege. It's a topic he spoke about just two days earlier at a Republican fund-raiser in Washington.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: You see, in order to make sure that the president gets good advice, whether it be me or whoever's coming down the pike, there must be confidentiality in the White House. Asking for those documents is a red line as far as I'm concerned in protecting the White House and its ability to operate.

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: That position became the rationale for Miers' withdrawal. Even though the White House also withheld from the Senate certain documents relating to the John Roberts nomination to the court, he still won overwhelming support and is now chief justice. The difference is his experience far exceeded that of Miers. The reality is that the White House realized Miers could end up being rejected by the Senate, and that a bitter fight with conservatives would create a rift within the party at a time when the president is struggling on a number of fronts, including the possibility that aides could be indicted, perhaps as early as tomorrow, in the CIA leak investigation.

GONYEA: Today's sudden announcement pleased conservatives. David Frum is a former White House speechwriter who was a key opponent of Miers' nomination.

Mr. DAVID FRUM (Former White House Speechwriter): 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 Republicans, but both owe America the best from their side. And when there's a Democratic president, he should pick the best Democrats he can find. And the Republican president owes the country the same thing.

GONYEA: The president, who traveled to Florida today to view hurricane damage, did not take any questions about the Miers withdrawal. In his written statement, he promised a new nominee in a timely manner. Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House.

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