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Newsmaker: Andrew Card

July 20, 2005 at 12:00 AM EST
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GWEN IFILL: Now, back-to-back Newsmaker interviews with two men who hold different views of the president’s Supreme Court choice. First, we turn to White House chief of staff Andrew Card; he joins us from the Old Executive Office Building in Washington. Welcome, Mr. Card.

ANDREW CARD: Good to be with you, Gwen.

GWEN IFILL: There has been so much positive commentary today about John Roberts, and you have heard, Democrats have been largely circumspective even in their criticisms; Republicans have been practically dancing in the streets, many of them. So is his nomination a — his confirmation a slam dunk?

ANDREW CARD: Well, I hope that the Senate will act deliberately. I think that they should do their work. The president did not ask them to pre-judge this process; he said, give him a fair, open process, but let’s try to make sure that we complete the work so that a Justice Roberts can take his seat on the Supreme Court when it convenes on Oct. 3. But I think we’ve had a very good response to the president’s outstanding nomination of John Roberts to be a member of the Supreme Court.

GWEN IFILL: And you think that means a likely confirmation?

ANDREW CARD: Well, I’m confident that he will be confirmed, but I do want the Senate to be able to conduct first hearings within the Judiciary Committee and then have an open and full debate on the floor of the Senate before they vote, but he deserves an up or down vote, and I’m confident that he will be confirmed. But I do want the process to work openly, fairly, and with respect.

GWEN IFILL: Give us a sense — after all the talk backing and forthing that’s been going on the past several weeks about the Supreme Court and all the names that were floating in the air even up until yesterday about who the president would pick, give us some insight into what the president finally did in deciding to settle on Judge Roberts.

ANDREW CARD: Well, the president did an awful lot of work. He read many, many memos that were written describing some of the candidates that could be considered. He spent an awful lot of time meeting with some of his advisors, and then he interviewed several of the potential candidates that could serve on the court. And he was — I was impressed with how the president took the responsibility of naming a Supreme Court member and how he read the documents that were presented, asked tough questions of the staff and then interviewed the candidates.

Many of the candidates that were considered the president knew and he didn’t feel he had to interview them. But some of the candidates the president didn’t feel he knew well and he did want to interview them and he did do that; he did it, I think, with an appropriate respect for the challenge of being on the Supreme Court, a great respect for that Constitution that he has sworn to preserve, protect and defend. And he picked a nominee who is very, very smart, highly respected, a keen intellectual mind, excellent judicial temperament, and a great understanding of what it means to be an American citizen and have the protections afforded by our Constitution.

GWEN IFILL: Sandra Day O’Connor, the retiring justice, said today that even though she described Judge Roberts as being first rate, she regretted a bit that the number of women on the court was going to be cut in half because the president did not nominate a woman. What do you say to that, why not a woman?

ANDREW CARD: Well, I’m sure that she’s thrilled that he’s nominated someone who has got the intellect of John Roberts, an understanding of how the court works, and a respect for the Constitution. So I think that, overall, she’s very happy with the individual the president has named to succeed her on the bench.

GWEN IFILL: Well, let’s talk about Judge Roberts’ record, which obviously is going to be pored over with great detail in the Senate Judiciary Committee. He was on the appeals court only two years, and even though he has an extensive legal resume, is his record of judicial experience too thin?

ANDREW CARD: Oh, I think when you compare it to others who have served on the Supreme Court, you’ll find that it is robust. He is clearly a very well known and respected lawyer. And he has been a respected member of the judiciary. He argued 39 cases before the Supreme Court, and he also has had a lot of praise from many lawyers who come from different philosophical and party backgrounds as he served in the court. And so I think he is an outstanding and well prepared individual to take a seat on the court.

I think he’ll have a good hearing. The president has shown great respect to the senators during this process. He had conversations with many senators and instructed Harriet Myers and me and others in the White House to reach out to members of the Senate to solicit their suggestions, not only on names, but also on the kinds of temperament and issues that he thinks should be considered as you take a look at someone to serve on the highest court in the land.

GWEN IFILL: But even some conservatives today have said that they have expressed a little quiet nervousness about his lack of a record. They have said that — Sen. Sam Brownback, for instance, who, of course, is a friend of yours, said there was cause for concern, that there wasn’t enough actual judicial record on the issues, social issues he cared about. What do you say to them?

ANDREW CARD: Well, I can tell to you that the president has great confidence in the individual, John Roberts, and the intellect that he would bring to the court as well as with respect to the Constitution and an understanding that it’s not the job of a judge to legislate. Legislators legislate and members of the judiciary interpret the law. And as a member of the Supreme Court, he would help to interpret a better understanding of that Constitution.

GWEN IFILL: So you’re saying the senators should basically trust the president’s judgment on this?

ANDREW CARD: Well, I think that they should take a look at their responsibilities and consider John Roberts with due deliberation and they should ask the questions that are on their minds. The president has great confidence that John Roberts will live up to the expectations that the Senate has, and I’m confident he will be confirmed.

GWEN IFILL: If the senators ask the questions that are on their minds, will Judge Roberts answer them?

ANDREW CARD: Well, as you know, when someone appears before the Judiciary Committee and they’re peppered with questions, they answer questions in a way that does not prejudice decisions that might have been made should they be confirmed and serve on the court. Justice (Ruth Bader) Ginsburg, for example, did a terrific job when she appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee answering questions, and I would expect Judge Roberts to perform the same way when he appears before the Judiciary Committee.

GWEN IFILL: How do you draw the line if a question is posed to Judge Roberts about his position on whether Roe versus Wade should be overturned or upheld? Would you expect him not to answer that question?

ANDREW CARD: I would expect him to answer the question appropriately consistent with the expectations that he would have that he might have to serve on the Supreme Court and consider issues that would center around that.

GWEN IFILL: What does that mean? What does appropriate mean?

ANDREW CARD: I would let Judge Roberts make that determination as he answers the questions that might be posed by the Senate Judiciary Committee members.

GWEN IFILL: Do you think there’s still a threat of a possibility of a filibuster threat on this nomination?

ANDREW CARD: I certainly hope not. I think Judge Roberts has earned the respect of the Senate before. He was confirmed on a unanimous consent agreement when he was put on the circuit court in D.C. here, and he was treated very, very well in the Senate Judiciary Committee; he was passed out of that committee on a vote of 12-3 and his subsequent virtually unanimous confirmation because there was no objection when his name was put forward I think is a great testament to the respect that he has from both sides of the aisle and across the philosophical spectrum.

GWEN IFILL: Your critics have said that the timing on this announcement is at very least convenient in that it comes at a time when there has been great criticism against Karl Rove at the White House, that the John Bolton nomination to be U.N. ambassador has been stalled in the Senate, and the Social Security legislation the president has staked his domestic agenda on has been stalled. What’s your response to that?

ANDREW CARD: I think that’s a ludicrous suggestion. First of all, the president met with Sen. (Bill) Frist and Sen. (Harry) Reid, Sen. (Arlen) Specter and Sen. (Patrick) Leahy and they talked about the timing of an announcement such that they would have time to consider a nominee so that he could be confirmed before the Supreme Court reconvened in October.

And so the announcement had been suggested that it might come on a day like yesterday and so that the background checks could be completed so that the Senate Judiciary Committee could begin its work and hold hearings and a vote on the floor of the Senate with the appropriate debate could take place so that a nominee could be confirmed before the court reconvened Oct. 3.

And that was the timing that the president took into consideration. He did an awful lot of deliberate work in researching potential candidates and then interviewing them, and he was ready to make the announcement last night, and he made the announcement.

GWEN IFILL: White House chief of staff Andrew Card, thank you very much for joining us.

ANDREW CARD: Thank you very much.