Blame the Right Wing, or the Concern About the Concern?
Not two hours after the White House withdrew Harriet Miers's Supreme Court nomination yesterday morning, Trent Lott (R-Miss.) walked out of the Senate chamber with a spring in his step.
"I raised red flags the first day," the senator from I-told-you-so said. Asked if there was a sense of relief in the Republican caucus, Lott paused, smiled and, in his barbershop-quartet bass, sang out to disbelieving reporters: "Happy Days Are Here Again!"
Senators came to bury Miers yesterday, not to praise her. Republicans blamed the withdrawal on demands for White House documents. Democrats blamed right-wing ideologues. But few seemed distraught that the nation would be spared the equivalent of a televised bar exam before the Senate Judiciary Committee next month.
As is customary, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) was first to the microphones. The first bulletins on Miers crossed the wires at 8:54 a.m. At 9:32 a.m. Schumer announced a news conference -- for 10 a.m. "Harriet Miers is a fine and capable person, but this was clearly the wrong position for her," he announced.
Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) was not far behind, at 10:22. "I appreciate Harriet Miers's decision to withdraw," the conservative said.
The ostensible reason for the withdrawal -- what Miers called "protection of the prerogatives of the Executive Branch" from senators' demands for White House documents -- fell apart instantly.
"It wasn't only the documents," Miers's White House-assigned shepherd, former senator Dan Coats (R-Ind.), told reporters outside the Senate chamber. "Obviously you hope for unanimous support from your base when the president nominates someone, and that was lacking, as you know. There were legitimate questions being asked about her background because she didn't have a paper trail."
Then there was the prospect of a week of grilling by the Judiciary Committee. "She was," Coats added, "doing very well in her trial preparations."
"Freudian slip," the shepherd explained.
It's understandable that Coats would be off message: Miers told Bush Wednesday night that she was dropping out, but nobody bothered to tell Coats. "I got up this morning looking forward to more consultations," he said. "When I arrived at the White House early, we went into a private office, and we had a discussion."
Reporters, expecting a routine day on the Hill, rushed to the Senate chamber in the morning for an otherwise unremarkable vote on a labor spending bill. A trio of Judiciary Committee Republicans -- Jeff Sessions (Ala.), Mike DeWine (Ohio) and John Cornyn (Tex.) -- gave impromptu news conferences.