Politics with Juan Williams: A Rough Week for Bush

A rough week winds up for President Bush... with grand jury probes and a failed Supreme Court nominee, what's next? Juan Williams talks to Noah Adams about the latest political news from the nation's capital, including Harriet Miers' withdrawal as a high court nominee and the grand jury investigation of the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame's name to the press.

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

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

In a few minutes, if the Confederates had won. A new spoof documentary that is opening old wounds.

But first, news of the indictment of Vice President Cheney's chief of staff Lewis Libby brought a swift response today from President Bush. Mr. Bush said Libby had sacrificed much in service of the White House and should be presumed innocent pending trial. The indictments cap a challenging week for the White House. Yesterday, Harriet Miers withdrew her candidacy for the US Supreme Court. On Wednesday, criticism of the war in Iraq mounted as the toll for US military personnel topped 2,000. And with us now to talk about this very long week here in October in politics is NPR's senior correspondent and regular DAY TO DAY contributor Juan Williams.

Hi, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:

Good to be with you, Noah. It's getting cold early in Washington. I tell you, the White House has had a very chilly week.

ADAMS: Yeah, you bet. The president today, coming out on the lawn in the open air, repeated his pledge not to be distracted from the business of the country by the indictments. How tough is it going to be to actually fulfill that, to go ahead when you have so much attention being paid to these indictments?

WILLIAMS: Well, in a way, I think the feeling at the White House today is they dodged a bullet, Noah, that there the possibility of much worse, that the charges could have been specifically about revealing the CIA agent's identity. Instead, the charges facing--charges against Lewis Libby, the vice president's chief of staff, have to do with obstruction of justice, with perjury, with making false statements. So it doesn't really go to the heart of the question about justification for going to war.

The second thing to say here is it just comes at a difficult time. You know, there's divisions among Republicans, most notably about Harriet Miers, but we could go on in that regard--divisions over deficit spending to rebuild the Gulf area in the aftermath of the hurricane; arguments over even immigration policy. So the president needs to rally his base, and he's having a tough time at the moment. We'll see what steps he's willing to take to try to get support behind him once again.

ADAMS: We talked about this. Harriet Miers withdrew, and the president nominate--back when he nominated her, named her, he spoke very glowingly of her suitability for this job. What went wrong with the nomination? Let's go back over this just a bit. And how bad does its sinking reflect on the president?

WILLIAMS: Well, now again we come back to the divisions within the GOP, because what you have here are people--and I must say a great number of columnists and opinion leaders in the Republican community, the conservative Republican community, making the case against Harriet Miers. And so there's the sense of sort of, you know, infighting. Where the missteps came was, one, I guess they didn't do a good job of reaching out and selling Harriet Miers before the nomination. Apparently they reached out across party lines. They got Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, to say he thought Harriet Miers was a good choice.

ADAMS: Yeah, he liked her.

WILLIAMS: Yeah. So--but apparently they didn't do a good job with conservative opinion leaders. And so what you got was this backlash that really sank Harriet Miers before she had a chance to get her hearing, which, of course, had been the Republican argument all along on other nominees. Why are we talking about filibusters and the like? Every nominee deserves a hearing. She never got a hearing. She never got a vote on the floor. But that part of the argument, you know, what's going to go on among Republicans going forward, is as much an issue for the president as gaining support from Democrats and rebuilding his all-time low now approval ratings with the American people.

ADAMS: Let's mention the war in Iraq. We spoke earlier about what happened there. This week the US death toll reached 2,000 earlier this week, and the president gave a response to that on Tuesday at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Each of these men and women left grieving families and left loved ones back home. Each of these patriots left a legacy that will allow generations of their fellow Americans to enjoy the blessings of liberty. Each loss of life is heartbreaking. And the best way to honor the sacrifice of our fallen troops is to complete the mission and lay the foundation of peace by spreading freedom.

(Soundbite of applause)

ADAMS: Now, Juan, President Bush has to turn things around. He has 39 months left in the second term.

WILLIAMS: He sure does. And so look for the president to try to engage some hot-button issue--I suspect it may be immigration, Noah--to try to rally the base. And the question is, on Harriet Miers, does he make the kind of nomination that engenders a fight with the Democrats in order to again secure the far right of the Republican base, or does he say, `You know what? I'm not strong enough at this juncture, given the war, given the arguments over deficits and the storms, to endure that kind of fight'? It's really going to be telling what his next step is.

ADAMS: NPR's senior correspondent Juan Williams. He joins us on Fridays here on DAY TO DAY to talk about the week's news.

Thank you, Juan.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Noah.

ADAMS: This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News..

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