MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
There's a new name gaining prominence here in Washington today. Judge Samuel Alito is President Bush's pick for the US Supreme Court. A 15-year veteran of the federal Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, Alito is a favorite of conservatives. He replaces Harriet Miers, who withdrew her nomination amid mounting opposition. For the White House, the Alito nomination helps to change the subject after a tough month for President Bush. In a moment we'll hear from two senators on Alito's nomination. First, here's White House correspondent Don Gonyea.
DON GONYEA reporting:
All last week the president seemed buffeted by bad news: the Harriet Miers withdrawal, an indictment against White House insider Lewis Libby in the CIA leak case, another deadly month in Iraq. But this week, Mr. Bush seems intent on regaining the initiative. So as the country was starting its workweek, he made this announcement.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Good morning. I'm pleased to announce my nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. as associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
GONYEA: The president read at length from the resume of the 55-year-old Judge Alito: Princeton, Yale Law School, US attorney, assistant to the solicitor general. He noted that Alito argued 12 cases before the Supreme Court and dozens other before the federal Courts of Appeals, all before becoming a federal judge in 1990.
Pres. BUSH: Judge Alito has served with distinction on that court for 15 years and now has more prior judicial experience than any Supreme Court nominee in more than 70 years.
GONYEA: It could not have been a more vivid contrast to the nomination four weeks ago of Harriet Miers, whose own qualifications for the court became a focus of opposition. Today Judge Alito also emphasized his deep experience, recalling the first case he ever argued before the Supreme Court in 1982.
Judge SAMUEL A. ALITO Jr. (Supreme Court Nominee): I remember the sense of awe that I felt when I stepped up to the lectern. And I also remember the relief that I felt when Justice O'Connor, sensing, I think, that I was a rookie, made sure that the first question that I was asked was a kind one.
GONYEA: Those conservatives who fought the president over Miers are overjoyed about Alito. Many Democrats, who mostly stayed out of the Miers melee, are saying Alito is too conservative. So a confirmation battle looks certain, but even that may be just what the White House wants. David Rohde is a professor at Duke University.
Professor DAVID ROHDE (Duke University): It appears that this strategic choice accomplished what it was designed to accomplish. It pulled most of the conservatives together again in support of the president on this matter. But that doesn't mean it's going to work out well for him. We know that the conservatives like him. We know liberals don't like him. The question is: How do the people who are in the middle who are going to decide the outcome--how do they feel?
GONYEA: The president's schedule this week will go in new directions. Tomorrow he unveils a plan for dealing with a potential avian flu outbreak. Later in the week, he travels to South America to discuss trade and other issues. But at the White House today, the story of the investigation into the leak of the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame continued to intrude. Press secretary Scott McClellan held his first news conference since Lewis Libby's indictment and was asked pointed questions about statements he made to reporters in the past about Libby and Karl Rove and their role in the leak.
Mr. DAVID GREGORY (NBC News): You were wrong then, weren't you?
Mr. SCOTT McCLELLAN (White House Press Secretary): David, it's not a question of whether or not I'd like to talk more about this. I think I've indicated to you all that I'd be glad to talk about this once this process is complete, and I'll look forward to that opportunity, but again, we have been directed by the White House counsel's office not to discuss this matter or respond to questions about it.
Mr. GREGORY: Public representation you made to...
Mr. McCLELLAN: Hang on.
Mr. GREGORY: ...the American people...
Mr. McCLELLAN: We can have this conversation, but let me respond.
Mr. GREGORY: No, no, no, because it's such an artful dodge. Whether there's a question of legality...
Mr. McCLELLAN: No, I...
GONYEA: In fact, questions to McClellan about the CIA leak overshadowed those about Judge Alito, demonstrating how hard it is to change the subject even with a news event as important as a Supreme Court nomination. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.
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