The Harriet Miers Withdrawal
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MARGARET WARNER: Harriet Miers first informed the president of her decision to withdraw at 8:30 last night. This morning, she handed him a letter explaining why: “I am concerned that the confirmation process presents a burden for the White House and our staff that is not in the best interest of the country,” she wrote.
Miers added that she was particularly concerned by the bipartisan demands from the Senate to see internal documents related to her role as White House Counsel.
“Protection of the prerogatives of the Executive Branch and continued pursuit of my confirmation,” she wrote, “are in tension. I have decided that seeking my confirmation should yield.”
For weeks, President Bush has maintained that Miers would not withdraw, despite mounting criticism from many conservatives. In a statement today, the president said he reluctantly accepted her decision and blamed it on the stalemate over her White House papers.
“It is clear that Senators would not be satisfied,” the statement said, “until they gained access to internal documents concerning advice provided during her tenure at the White House — disclosures that would undermine a president’s ability to receive candid counsel.”
But even the president’s allies in the Senate said Miers’ withdrawal was triggered more by growing concerns among conservatives outside and inside the Senate.
Texas Republican John Cornyn, Miers’ staunchest defender on the Judiciary Committee, explained:
SEN. JOHN CORNYN: You know, clearly, there were some people who were — who wanted something different in a nominee, and the most often thing I heard mentioned is that there were some who wanted the president to pick a fight by nominating a very controversial conservative nominee that would consolidate conservatives behind that nominee.
MARGARET WARNER: Democratic Leader Harry Reid denounced the role conservatives played in torpedoing the nomination.
SEN. HARRY REID: I believe without any question, when the history books are written about all this, that it will show that the radical right wing of the Republican Party drove this woman’s nomination right out of town.
MARGARET WARNER: The conservative drum beat against Miers began the very day she was nominated, and it never subsided. There were daily opinion columns criticizing her lack of conservative legal credentials, and plenty of blogs, too. And many legal conservatives, like former Reagan Justice Department lawyer Bruce Fein, said they were determined to shipwreck the nomination.
BRUCE FEIN: If there are vacancies on the Supreme Court, they have got to be filled by people of brains and intellect who will carry the conservative torch forward, not just run on a treadmill, and Harriet Miers is not that person, whatever else she is. She has never even thought about conservative philosophy. She’s never thought about philosophy at all.
MARGARET WARNER: Social and religious conservatives also had doubts about Miers’ reliability on issues they care about, like abortion and school prayer.
The White House tried to allay their fears by touting her evangelical Christian faith.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Part of Harriet Miers’ life is her religion.
MARGARET WARNER: That tactic backfired, said Jan LaRue, chief counsel of Concerned Women for America.
JAN LaRUE: Well, we found that the initial appeal, and the repetition of mention to her faith was really offensive. It was patronizing because our organization, the pro-family groups, the Senate, we have always taken the position that a person’s faith should not be the issue.
Now, I’m an evangelical Christian myself. I’m always pleased to learn that anyone shares my faith, but that plus the fact that she’s been a successful corporate attorney is not sufficient to qualify her — or anyone else — for the U.S. Supreme Court.
MARGARET WARNER: This week, a newly minted conservative group, called Americans for Better Justice, launched a $250,000 media campaign against Miers.
AD SPOKESPERSON: Go to BetterJustice.com. Urge President Bush to withdraw the nomination of Harriet Miers.
MARGARET WARNER: David Frum, a former Bush White House speechwriter who founded the group, said the final straw came in a news yesterday about a speech Miers had given in Dallas.
DAVID FRUM: The revelation that Harriet Miers as an attorney had given a speech in which she had endorsed a very liberal theory of judicial activism, had spoken very slightingly of the pro-life movement, and I think that made it impossible. And that day, the Concerned Women for America, a very important conservative women’s group, came out against her nomination.
I think probably that same evening a number of senators and other important conservatives in the country made it clear to the White House they could not continue to support the president on this.
And the nominee withdrew, and the president accepted it, and that’s just good news.
MARGARET WARNER: Frum hopes the president will name someone satisfactory to his conservative supporters who’ve waited so long to reshape the Supreme Court.