Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Loyalty thy name is Harriet Miers

Twenty four hours ago, "Harriet Miers" resulted in about 350 blogs on a Google Blog search. Before midday yesterday, it was up to 1500+ blogs. At 1500 Eastern on Monday, 3352 blogs entries resulted from that same search. This morning the number is 9974 blog entries.

The news and reviews

Dan Balz has many fine points in the Washington Post including potential/actual reax from Limbaugh, Reid and Kristol, just to name a few:

"It's hard to explain why Harriet Miers is the right pick unless you're trying to avoid a fight about someone who has expressed a conservative constitutional philosophy," William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, said in an interview. ". . . Even if she does well in the hearing and turns out to be a pretty good judge, I still think it's demoralizing for the president to pass over a host of publicly identified conservative constitutionalists."

Peter Baker, also in the WaPo has the insider account:

Throughout his career in public life, President Bush has frequently turned to his inner circle for critical appointments, relying on personal judgment and favoring loyalists over the most sterling résumés of better-known outsiders.

In fact, senior administration officials said yesterday, Bush had Miers in mind for the court for two months without telling her. Shortly after nominating John G. Roberts Jr. in July for the first opening on the court, the officials said, Bush and Card began discussing Miers to fill the next vacancy that opened. Card even launched a secret vetting process last summer to investigate Miers -- assigning her own deputy to do the digging behind her back.

Richard W. Stevenson in the New York Times says that the Bush administration has "no appetite" for a fight with this nomination. That, perhaps, Bush wanted "to sidestep a partisan showdown" and save the scant political capital left in the bank. But, Stevenson notes, he faces charges of cronyism by picking an insider in his tightly-wound inner circle. And:

Perhaps even more seriously for him and his party, he left many conservatives feeling angry and deflated, if not betrayed, greatly exacerbating a problem that has been growing more acute for weeks because of the right's concern about unchecked government spending following Hurricane Katrina. For an administration that has at every turn tried to avoid the mistakes of Mr. Bush's father, especially the first President Bush's alienation of his right wing and the subsequent lack of enthusiasm for his re-election effort in 1992, the fallout on Monday was especially glaring.

BUT, how does this reasoning process, or really a grab bag of reasonings, work with the administration vetting Miers in July, almost two months before the hurricane and the low approval ratings? It doesn't.

In a word: Awkward. Harry Reid and some Republicans are in an interesting spot with this nomination, New York Times:

For Mr. Reid, who suggested two weeks ago at a breakfast meeting that Mr. Bush consider Ms. Miers for the Supreme Court, the selection may have been a personal triumph. Evidence that, perhaps, a Republican president took to heart some advice from a Democratic leader.

But Mr. Reid's effusive praise has also put Senate Democrats and the liberal advocacy groups who support them in an awkward spot.

The upset conservatives are speculating in the Los Angeles Times:

Weyrich said he believed Bush chose Miers because he has been politically weakened by his much-criticized response to Hurricane Katrina and other political setbacks.

"I think the president thinks that he's weak and that he has to have somebody that wouldn't cause a controversy," Weyrich said. "I think that it's a huge miscalculation. If there is any kind of controversy and she doesn't have us behind her, she's going to be in trouble."

Once again, Miers was on the Bush/Card radar screen in July, according to one of the above reports. How on earth does Katrina play into that? The loyalist card is much, much more plausible as a motivation.

Loyalist or cronyism? The Los Angeles Times:

Whatever her legal credentials, Miers has solid bona fides as a Bush loyalist. Former speechwriter David Frum, writing of her recently in the National Review magazine, said, "She once told me that the president was the most brilliant man she had ever met."

Her ties to Bush date to his 1994 campaign for Texas governor. She was a key member of Bush's small inner circle of advisors with roots in Texas, many of whom were dispatched from the White House staff to Cabinet positions at the beginning of his second term.

Here is the quote of the hour from the Cook Report, cited in the Stevenson NY Times article, and other publications.

"The swagger is gone from this White House," said Charles E. Cook Jr., editor of The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter, citing a litany of other difficulties afflicting the administration, including high gasoline prices and the failure of Mr. Bush's push to overhaul Social Security. "They know they have horrible problems and they came up with the least risky move they could make."

Also E. J. Dionne Jr in the Washington Post:

With the Miers nomination, Bush is indeed signaling that after a summer of discontent over Iraq followed quickly by the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe, he does not have the stomach for a big fight. He was not willing to spend his dwindling political capital either on behalf of his good friend Gonzales or for a justice in the mold of Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas, the duo whose jurisprudence Bush has often praised. The Miers pick risks looking like a sign of weakness.

It is potentially dangerous to nominate someone without strong support of the conservative wing of the party. It is not that I would like to see such a person on the bench, but, if the Democrats put up a fight the administration will need equal sabre-rattling from the right. Maybe a Democratic fight, if it even gains traction and that is questionable with these Dems, will in-and-of-itself fuel a Republican loyalist response.

But Cook and Dionne are wrong on this one. Any Supreme Court pick is going to be contentious so there is likely no easy road. Picking a candidate without the bona fides that Bill Kristol wanted to see was not an easy pick. Picking a loyalist to the administration that many on the left loathe was not easy. What we see her, as far as the president's priorities, is loyalty to the administration's causes: their version of the war on terror (Gonzales as Attorney General, Condi as Secretary of State) among other causes. Loyalty and Trust to this president is key to this president.

Look to Michael Grunwald, Jo Becker and Amy Goldstein in the Washington Post for why Harriet Miers was the pick of this president:

"There's a deep, deep trust that the president has for Harriet," said Jack Howard, a former deputy assistant to the president for legislative affairs. "She is really close in."

The same could be said -- for good or ill -- about Alberto Gonzales and Condi Rice.


Blogger Bassizzzt said...

Then again, the same could be said for Bill Clinton's cabinet.

I will give you this though - Harriet Miers is a prime example of cronyism; besides, where's her experience as a judge?

10:38 AM  
Blogger copy editor said...

I honestly do not think this is cronyism, per se. I think Bush wants someone who will shape the court in his direction. Now, we know some of what he has said and we know some of what he believes, but we do not have any idea what that direction will actually be. I do not think that is the way to have a Supreme Court justice. Too much legerdemain.

BUT, the line between loyalists and cronies is thin at best.

12:12 PM  
Blogger Bassizzzt said...

Just read a minute ago that perhaps Bush's main strategy is not political but rather one of legacy. Since Supreme Court appointments represent the legacies of presidents, that might be it, and you're dead on about the line between loyalists and cronies being thin.

4:55 PM  
Blogger copy editor said...

I think legacy does play a part as well. He wants someone close to his vest to sit in the court.

But I think zanny things happen to SCOTUS justices brains over the years.

9:57 AM  

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