Conservative Columnist's Miers Plan Played Out
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
The way the Harriet Miers withdrawal unfolded was precisely predicted in a column last Friday by Charles Krauthammer. In his syndicated column, he suggested that irreconcilable differences over documents would provide an exit strategy, an honorable way out of a troubled nomination. Charles Krauthammer joins us.
Welcome to the program.
Mr. CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER (Syndicated Columnist): Pleasure to be with you.
BLOCK: And it sounds like your crystal ball is gleaming brightly today.
Mr. KRAUTHAMMER: Well, I guess it's my 15 minutes of fame, so I'm going to enjoy it.
BLOCK: Would you say that this question, this disagreement over White House documents, is really just a convenient fig leaf, a cover for a real ideological problem that they had with this nomination?
Mr. KRAUTHAMMER: Well, it's both. I mean, the reason she is withdrawing is obviously because questions of competence and experience on the one hand and also ideological problems. But even if you assume that she were OK on those two fronts, her only exposure to constitutional issues has been in the White House, which meant that if you wanted any documentation about her thinking on constitutional issues, you'd have to ask the White House for the documents, which it occurred to me last week that that would present an insoluble issue which would allow a face-saving withdrawal of her nomination. And, in fact, that's what they ended up using.
BLOCK: What have you learned about what happened at the White House behind the scenes that led up to this withdrawal today.
Mr. KRAUTHAMMER: Look, obviously, they had been getting tremendously negative reaction at first from sort of non-governmental, non-congressional conservatives, and then the real issue was, was that having an effect on the ones who count, the Republican senators. And clearly, the lukewarm statements of support, the non-support, the questions were mounting. And when you saw some of her speeches, which showed not only unsophisticated constitutional thinking but at times sort of a contradictory incoherence, I think it was all over.
BLOCK: Earlier on, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter, said it would be a sign of incredible weakness for the Bush administration to withdraw this nomination. How weakened do you think the Bush presidency is right now?
Mr. KRAUTHAMMER: I think he's wrong on this. I think her nomination was a sign of weakness. It was an attempt to duck a fight. Her withdrawal will actually help to strengthen the president. He cut his losses and he's getting away from this. In a month, people aren't going to remember who Harriet Miers was. I think this will give him an opportunity to nominate a strong conservative with a good constitutional history in the mold of Roberts which will rally his troops, recement his base and allow him to face the other obvious difficulties in his administration.
BLOCK: So you think this will essentially refocus the conservative base, they'll rally around him again?
Mr. KRAUTHAMMER: I think it will. And I think if he picks the right nominee, they'll be a lot of enthusiasm, which was what was lacking here and what he needs.
BLOCK: When you say the right nominee, who are you thinking of, at least...
Mr. KRAUTHAMMER: I would say a Michael McConnell, who's an extremely distinguished constitutional scholar. I think a Michael Luttig would be an excellent choice. Ted Olsen, the former solicitor general--unfortunately, he's over 60, which I think would probably disqualify him.
BLOCK: The names you've mentioned are all white men and, obviously, this is the seat being vacated by Sandra Day O'Connor. There's been a lot of pressure, including from first lady Laura Bush, that the president should be thinking about a woman or a minority to fill that seat. Do you think there's any room for diversity in this process?
Mr. KRAUTHAMMER: Of course, there's room for diversity, but I think you can't allow that to dictate your choice. I think in a strange way, the politics of how this worked out relieves the president of the necessity of choosing a politically correct minority or a woman. I think right now he wants someone like Roberts, male or female or a minority.
BLOCK: Where does this leave Democrats, do you think?
Mr. KRAUTHAMMER: Democrats will rue the day that they lost Harriet Miers. She would have been the perfect Supreme Court justice who, in the parlance of Washington, grows in office, which means becomes more liberal in establishment. I think the Democrats will wish that they had had Harriet Miers, but they're not going to have her now.
BLOCK: Charles Krauthammer, thanks very much.
Mr. KRAUTHAMMER: A pleasure.
BLOCK: Charles Krauthammer is a syndicated columnist. He spoke with us from his office in Washington.