Debating the Miers Nomination
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JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, the analysis of Shields and Brooks: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks. The Harriet Miers nomination, David, some of your fellow conservative columnist and commentators have said the whole thing is a big mistake and it should be withdrawn. What do you think, sir?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I feel let down.
JIM LEHRER: Do you really?
DAVID BROOKS: Yeah. I don’t have anything against her, from everything I know she’s a wonderful woman. But the conservative movement was built on a certain set of identity for itself: That ideas have consequences, that arguments really matter, that you win the war of ideas, that you form these organizations like the Federalist Society, this conservative legal organization, and that you win the war of ideas and that Reaganism was about ideas, and that even Bush, the war on freedom was about ideas.
And if you believe that and if you believe that’s what your movement is all about, you want someone for this most important job like a Michael McConnell, who we’ve talked about who is a brilliant theorist, who will —
JIM LEHRER: This is another judge who is not nominated for the Supreme Court.
DAVID BROOKS: Right. But you want someone who will push the argument, who will write opinions that law students will be talking about and analyzing for generations, who as the decades go on and new issues come up will be able to think brilliantly about all these issues. And Miers, whatever her many benefits, shows no evidence that she’s of that sort.
So not only is there concern whether she’s pro-life or not or conservative enough, there’s concern about intellectual seriousness and that’s where I think a lot of people like me feel a little discomforted.
JIM LEHRER: It’s not about ideology?
DAVID BROOKS: It is for some people, not for me personally.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think is going on, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: I think what’s going on, Jim, it’s like a family fight. I think that the Bush Republicans have been that family down the street, where everything seems to be going very well, incredibly disciplined, they never said a bad word about anybody, and now we got a peek behind the door and things have really– they have come unglued.
I think the conservatives, I think there’s the cumulative grievances — it’s like a couple that are arguing about who is going to take the trash out. They’re upset at the prescription drug bill, they’re upset about the size of government, upset about the deficits, upset about the fact that the Homeland Security Department, that great society response to Katrina. I mean, I think this –
JIM LEHRER: — was just one more thing in it.
MARK SHIELDS: — was just one more thing in it. And what’s absolutely fascinating to me, and I don’t include David in this, but, I mean, the conservatives really felt this was their call. I mean, it wasn’t the president’s call. It was — and really the recommendation that she had was that she was very close to the president, the president knew her.
And the irony is, as you watch this, is that we went through a nomination just four weeks ago of a superior candidate —
JIM LEHRER: John Roberts.
MARK SHIELDS: John Roberts was introduced to the American people, a conservative Republican jurist by Democratic lawyers, who swore by him and all the rest of it and was just wonderful — set a standard. The standard that is unfortunately going to hurt Harriet Miers.
JIM LEHRER: Going to hurt Harriet Miers.
MARK SHIELDS: But secondly what she’s being introduced by are conservatives like Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Conference, Chuck Colson of the Prison Ministries; James Dobson of Focus on the Family, assuring that she’s a religious person.
We were told that we couldn’t discuss John Roberts’ Catholicism, because that had no effect — that was the White House position. Now her principal credential to mollify and assuage those angry conservatives is, my God, I went to church with her and she prayed with me, said Nathan Hecht, the judge from Texas.
DAVID BROOKS: That’s pure identity politics. She’s a Christian. Well, there are a lot of Christians in the world. That doesn’t mean they should be on the court.
JIM LEHRER: But, David, why is it that it’s not good enough for the conservatives that George W. Bush vouches for her — I know her, I trust her, don’t worry about it, she’s okay — and that’s not good enough?
DAVID BROOKS: Two things. First of all, conservatives have been told that before by Bush’s father and it didn’t work so, there’s that one concern, the Souter concern. But the second concern —
JIM LEHRER: David Souter, appointed by his father, he came out of New Hampshire and he’s turned out to be part of the so-called quote liberal wing.
DAVID BROOKS: Right.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
DAVID BROOKS: And then the second thing and it goes back to this issue, if you read some of the conservative commentary about this, it was we’re supposed to believe in arguments. The president doesn’t argue, and Democrats frankly have been saying this for a long time, but he never did it to us before — where he said just trust me. That’s not an argument, just trust me; that’s not an argument; that’s an assertion of authority, that’s what kings do. That’s not an argument, and this has frankly been part of the problem of the administration, and now conservatives are scraping about it too.
JIM LEHRER: What about the Democrats, how are they playing this, or how should they play it? Let’s put it that way, Mark.
MARK SHIELDS: The Democrats, because this family down the street that’s always got along, incredibly disciplined, a model for the neighborhood, because it erupted and they’re throwing china at each other and accusing each other of staying out too late and all the rest of it, the Democrats are just kind of standing back, they’re not sure what to do.
JIM LEHRER: They don’t know how to play it, do they?
MARK SHIELDS: They’re not sure what to do. I mean, what they’ve done most recently is to come to her defense, from some of the criticism on the right.
JIM LEHRER: Well, that really helps too.
MARK SHIELDS: I gotta tell you this is what’s happened, Jim, is that she’s gone around on these courtesy calls and what the White House is trying to do is schedule them late at night, at 8:00 at night after the reporters have filed, so that there isn’t another Democrat —
JIM LEHRER: I notice that Schumer, Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, wouldn’t meet with her at 8:00 because it was after the nightly news.
MARK SHIELDS: That’s right, because if they say something good about her, that just is going to rile the conservatives more, if the Democrats say something good about her. But they haven’t quite figured out. These hearings are really going to be in all likelihood, unless something happens between now and then, hearings like we’ve never seen before, because she’s going to be introduced to the American people – I mean like no other judge has.
JIM LEHRER: A new poll the last couple of days said what do you think about Harriet Miers and 99 percent of the people said who?
MARK SHIELDS: That’s exactly right.
DAVID BROOKS: There was one I saw just today showing a pretty low level of support compared to where Roberts was at the equal amount of time.
JIM LEHRER: Most people never heard of her.
DAVID BROOKS: Right, but a lot of conservatives had. What was curious to me is this just conservative intellectual types who are upset by this, but it’s clearly a lot more than that.
MARK SHIELDS: You know what it is, one other thing, and there is in American people there’s a sense of the separation of powers. And the fact that the only credential that has really been advanced for her is that she’s the president’s choice, and there’s a resistance on that, that is actually, in one survey I saw that’s against her two to one, not a great sample, but two to one say I’m less inclined to support someone who is the president’s close buddy. Do you remember when Lyndon Johnson nominated Abe Fortas?
JIM LEHRER: That’s right; that really was a negative.
MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Bottom line, guys, is, first of all, is it’s likely that President Bush would withdraw this nomination?
DAVID BROOKS: No.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. If he doesn’t, is it likely that she would not be confirmed? Not be confirmed.
MARK SHIELDS: No, I don’t know and I’ll yield to David here to defer to him, on just how deep. If it becomes, it’s seen as to the political advantage of people like Sam Brownback – people with other –
JIM LEHRER: Senator from Kansas.
MARK SHIELDS: — from Kansas – a conservative thinking about running for president, family values guy, if he thinks that, you know, maybe this could be to his political advantage to stand out, to stand up to distance yourself on this one, there could be some trouble.
JIM LEHRER: You mean the combination of Democrats who will go against her just because she —
MARK SHIELDS: The Democrats have really kept their powder dry this time. This is an example, Jim, of what the Democrats, a mistake they made on Roberts. If they had endorsed Roberts and said this is the standard, we want someone who stands at this kind of scholarly intellectual heft and all the rest of it, the respect of colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and –.
JIM LEHRER: Then they’d be in better shape.
MARK SHIELDS: Now the kiss of death may be, and David can answer this, that is the city council ten years ago, Harriet Miers actually voted once for a tax increase. And I’ve heard conservatives –
JIM LEHRER: Say it isn’t so.
DAVID BROOKS: These are scales falling from my eyes. There’s a lot of rumors about her views on affirmative action and gay rights and all this stuff. My gut instinct tells me she would be confirmed, because if she lost to Republicans so much that she lost it would destroy the Bush presidency at this point. And the White House will say you can’t kill us, boys. So it would take a real high level of conservative dislike to do that before a mid-term election and Mark is right, there’s a whole string of things conservatives are unhappy with the Bush administration for. But to stick the knife in would be extraordinary.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Some other subjects. Today’s Nobel Prize for the nuclear agency at the U.N. and Mr. Mohammed ElBaradei. A poke in the finger at the United States?
DAVID BROOKS: I think a little one, I think they’ve done worse before. But it’s obviously, ElBaradei and the Bush administration were at odds in the run up to the war, so I think there’s a bit of that, though it’s been a couple years and the work the agency does on Iran and other things like that is not quite as confrontational, but I’d say a little.
MARK SHIELDS: I think they do good important work. They were right, prior to Iraq, and they were vilified by the administration.
JIM LEHRER: And should the Nobel committee’s giving them the award be seen assaying okay, we’re going with the guy who was right, or what?
MARK SHIELDS: Going with the guy that’s right is a better choice than Henry Kissinger was.
JIM LEHRER: I didn’t ask him that, David.
JIM LEHRER:Okay. The president’s speech yesterday on terrorism: What did you think of that?
MARK SHIELDS: I think, Jim, the president is on every possible front, his support is going south on him. He had the lowest job rating of his presidency in this CBS poll.
JIM LEHRER: 37 percent.
MARK SHIELDS: 37 percent, Jim, and their support for the war and keeping our troops there and all the rest of it is gone. And I think in a strange way, this is George Bush’s strongest suit. It’s the one area, the war on terrorism, where he almost gets even marks, every place else, the economy, the environment, every other, handling foreign policy, Iraq, he’s way down.
And I think he’s trying to make that case. And I, I’m afraid for his sake that people aren’t listening.
JIM LEHRER: David, it was suggested that what he is continuing to do is redefine what terrorism is, what the enemy is. How did you see the speech?
DAVID BROOKS: I think he’s coming closer to where he has been privately, he emphasized how it was an ideological foe.
JIM LEHRER: You said that before —
DAVID BROOKS: The 9/11 Commission said it a couple years ago. But I think he’s always privately agreed with us, but he was stuck with this war on terrorism thing, so he’s describing more how al-Qaida has metastasized. I think he went quite far and he reminded people there is still this thing out there, there still are these attacks.
I thought it was a beautiful speech, a great speech. The problem is, speeches can only go so far, and Iraq is sort of out of our hands. It’s in the Iraqis’ hands; it’s in the Sunni and the Shiite hands. And that’s something Bush can give a speech about, but what happens on the ground by now is going to be much more important.
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, when the president and certainly I respect David’s assessments of it, but if it’s a great speech and he talks about how important it and is what a global struggle it is, what’s the action statement? What is it that he asks then of the American people, that we know that this is part of it. That this is going on, that it’s a movie that’s out there that involves one hundred forty thousand or one hundred fifty thousand Americans and their families there, and two thousand dead.
JIM LEHRER: Finally, try an experiment, yes or no question. Do you think the Senate was right to overwhelmingly by ninety to nine vote to put these interrogation rules in the military appropriations bill?
MARK SHIELDS: I respect the Senate more from that vote than anything they’ve done this session.
DAVID BROOKS: I knew he couldn’t give a yes or no answer.
JIM LEHRER: What about you?
DAVID BROOKS: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. You think the Senate did the right thing?
DAVID BROOKS: You know what McCain said; it’s the American way, that’s the core.
JIM LEHRER: The president said he might veto it. Do you think that would ever happen?
DAVID BROOKS: He’s never used the veto, he’s going to veto an anti-torture resolution?
MARK SHIELDS: Cruel, inhuman torture.
JIM LEHRER: On torture we got to go.