Bush Faces Press on Miers, Iraq, Hurricanes
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.
Coming up, new charges that the vote for Iraq's constitution, a referendum coming up in just about 10 days, has been rigged.
First, the lead. President Bush held a press conference this morning in the White House Rose Garden and began that event with a statement extolling the judicial virtues of his new Supreme Court nominee, White House counsel Harriet Miers. Joining us is NPR White House correspondent David Greene.
David, welcome back to the program.
And President Bush was asked today if Ms. Miers was the best choice for the Supreme Court. He said yes. We'll listen to a little a little bit of what he had to say.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: I know her well enough to be able to say that she's not going to change, that 20 years from now she'll be the same person with the same philosophy that she has today. She'll have more experience, she'll have been a judge, but nevertheless, her philosophy won't change.
CHADWICK: David Greene, is the president thinking about David Souter perhaps, one of his father's court picks, who, it's claimed, drifted to the left on the bench?
DAVID GREENE reporting:
Well, Alex, I think we have every reason to believe that, except for the president actually coming out and saying it. It seems that was the worry this morning from the White House, that conservatives might view this nominee as another Souter, especially because they just don't know anything about her. And conservatives seem very edgy about the nomination. And the president came into this news conference--the question was what could he do to reassure them. He's certainly not going to talk about her views on abortion or other views that might make them happy. So the message he could give was, `Trust me. I know her.' And that's exactly what he did repeatedly through this news conference. He would bring it up himself sometimes. And another reassurance was, `She's not going to change over time,' and that, of course, was the big worry among conservatives who look at Souter and think that he is no longer an ally.
The funniest moment was when a reporter specifically asked about David Souter and whether that nomination, in retrospect, was a mistake. The president said, `You're trying to get me in trouble with my father?' and suggested, you know, `You better call him yourself.'
CHADWICK: All right. Well, he was asked about abortion and about Harriet Miers, his White House counsel. And the question was: Did you ever talk to Harriet Miers privately, in a private conversation, not having to do with her Supreme Court nomination, but privately about abortion anytime in the past? Here's what the president said.
Pres. BUSH: I have no litmus test. That's also something I've consistently said. There is no litmus test. What matters to me is her judicial philosophy, what does she believe the proper role of the judiciary is relative to the legislative and the executive branch.
CHADWICK: David, that's not really an answer to the question, is it?
GREENE: Not really. And `litmus test' is one of the president's buzz phrases that he'll bring up time and time again when talking about judicial nominations. And, you know, reporters pressed him on the question, said, `You know, since you two are so close, as you say, you must have spoken about abortion at some point.' The president slipped around that question, said he'd never ask a nominee in an interview about abortion. And reporters pressed a little more and said, `Come on, you have private conversations. Didn't the topic come up?' He finally said, you know, `I've never sat down with her.' And it was in a bit of the kind of speak that the president often uses. I think what he meant was, `I've never sat down with her to discuss this topic' so that the question of whether he's ever spoken to her about the topic of abortion is still an open question.
Of course, bringing up his relationship with Harriet Miers and how well he knows her in a strange way fed into the criticism coming from the other side, which is that this nomination had a lot to do with cronyism, and the president had to respond to that as well and reassure Americans that Harriet Miers was viewed by him and by this White House as the best qualified person and that it was not about the friendship that he keeps stressing.
CHADWICK: David, let me just ask you one other thing. Iraq--the president talked about a kind of misunderstanding that occurred. There were a couple of senior generals speaking on Capitol Hill recently who said that the battle-ready army battalions of the Iraqi Army was really only one, and the president had said there was more than that.
GREENE: Indeed. And the president did take on that question. He said that, you know, let's focus instead on the number of battalions that are actually performing in the field alongside American forces. He said there are a lot. He said that a lot are actually leading the joint operations along with American forces. So this, again, gets back to the question of how do you measure? And Americans look at their television screens and see a lot of violence. We have military officials on Capitol Hill talking very honestly about the fact that indeed there's only one battalion that's battle-ready to go out in the field on its own compared to three over the summer. You measure it that way, it looks like things are not going as well. The president, as he often does, wanted to turn the topic back to the progress. He said we are making progress. The goal is to have as many...
GREENE: ...battalions in the field as possible. And...
CHADWICK: NPR White House correspondent David Greene. David, thank you.
GREENE: Thank you, Alex.
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