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Post Politics Hour
washingtonpost.com's Daily Politics Discussion

Dan Balz
Chief Political Reporter
Monday, October 3, 2005 11:00 AM

Don't want to miss out on the latest buzz in politics? Start each day at wonk central: The Post Politics Hour. Join in each weekday morning at 11 a.m. as a member of The Washington Post's team of White House and Congressional reporters answers questions about the latest in buzz in Washington and The Post's coverage of political news.

Washington Post chief political reporter Dan Balz was online Monday, Oct. 3, at 11 a.m. ET .

The transcript follows.

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Dan Balz: Good morning to everyone on a busy day in Washington. We're kicking off a new feature here, which is a daily chat about politics with members of the Post's political reporting and editing team.

This is one of two additions to the Politics page on washingtonpost.com, the other being the new column by Chris Cillizza called The Fix, which we hope will become a destination point for people interested in the latest political developments. Chris will have fresh material on the site and will update regularly through the day to keep you all abreast of what's happening politically.

We're excited by these changes, which reflect the newspaper's and the web site's commitment to bringing you bright, insightful and lively political coverage. And with that prelude, we'll move to the questions. Thanks for joining.

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Kennesaw, Ga.: Good morning, Mr. Balz. I had expected President Bush to name someone he knew well personally to fill the next vacancy on the Supreme Court; he has a track record of preferring familiar faces for prominent posts if there are any available. Harriet Miers nomination will provoke some references to "cronyism" and questions about the legal views of someone who has never been a judge.

What can you tell us about her, apart from the resume? She has represented major corporate clients like Disney and Microsoft; what kinds of cases has she litigated for them? What did she herself actually do to "clean up" the Texas lottery? John Roberts was acknowledged to be one of Washington's most formidable litigators; does Ms. Miers have a comparable reputation? Lastly, she has interacted with many Senators in connection with judicial nominations -- has she made any strong impressions one way or the other?

Dan Balz: There are a string of questions this morning about President Bush's nomination of White House counsel Harriett Miers to the Supreme Court, many with the same basic question: who is she and what are her qualifications for the high court?

Most of what is known about her at this point is her resume, but very little is known about her judicial philosophy or views on constitutional issues. We have a team of reporters digging into many of the questions you all have raised, but at this point I'm afraid we don't have the answers you're looking for.

The reaction on both sides has been mixed. Some conservatives are very disappointed, others say she is a strong judicial conservative. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has had good things to say about her, but Democrats in general are raising questions about her qualifications and whether cronyism entered into this choice.

She has been a prominent and respected lawyer in Texas and was head of the Texas Bar Association. She has a long history with President Bush. She has done considerable work in corporate law. But she appears to have little constitutional law experience, from what we know. One person has asked whether she has ever argued a case before the court (you'll recall that one of Chief Justice John Roberts's credentials was that he argued 39 cases before the high court). We don't know, but we think not. Hopefully as the day goes on we will have more of these answers.

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Weehawken, N.J.: Thanks for doing this Q&A.

Although many people disagreed with John Roberts' confirmation, few questioned his qualifications. In contrast, Miers is a stunning nomination. She has: no judicial experience; no federal government experience (apart from this administration); little state government experience; and meager academic credentials. Like Roberts, she has no staked positions in any of the major issues of the day; not due to discretion, but because she was never involved in them.

My question: can you think of any SCOTUS nominee with less qualifications or a more inauspicious career than Ms. Miers?

Dan Balz: I'll leave that to members of the Senate and others to decide. But she is not the first person nominated to the court without having been a judge. The late Chief Justice Rehnquist never served as a judge, nor did the late Justice Lewis Powell.

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Chicago, Ill.: No one seems to have picked up on the President's mention of his new Supreme Court nominees work with Exodus Ministries, a group using controversial methods to "convert" homosexuals to a so-called "straight" lifestyle. These "ex-gay" groups have been under attack from many in the health care field, but are the darlings of the Christian right. What is known about her role with this group, and will it be a factor in her confirmation. Regards.

Dan Balz: There are two groups that share that name and from what we are told, she worked with the group that deals with ex-offenders, not the group involved with gays.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you think Dems that want to fight this will take the strategy of painting Miers as another unqualified crony, who like Michael Brown, is getting a position because of past alliances with Bush? It seems it wouldn't be hard to portray her as such and that with the debate on Roberts being about qualifications and not ideology, it looks perfect.

Dan Balz: It's too soon to know exactly what the Democrats' strategy will be on this, but certainly her qualifications and her closeness to the president will be raised by her opponents.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: Where do you look to get a sense of what kind of judge a person will make in a case such as Miers?

Is it legitimate to assume Ms. Miers will give umbridge to corporate over civil interests and Congressional power because of her practice of corporate law?

Dan Balz: She is a blank slate when it comes to this, but some conservatives have said today that they believe she is a "judicial conservative." She has reportedly given some speeches that give some insight to her philosophy, but we have not obtained copies of them, if such copies exist. Democrats will assume that she will tend to side with corporate interests because of her legal work, but so little is known, they will attempt to draw her out more fully on that -- and many other questions.

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Oshkosh, Wis.: You have been a political reporter for some time, so you have a good frame of reference on trends and the state of parties and politics in Washington.

Over the last several years starting with the Trent Lott resignation, leading up to the stepping down of Tom DeLay as House Majority leader, the Republican Party has been taking some public relations hits. Will these blemishes combined with the stalemate in Iraq, the President's low approval ratings plus the slow Katrina response, make it difficult for the country to elect another Republican president in 2008?

Dan Balz: I think the Republicans have problems right now and while they take solace in the fact that the Democrats have significant problems of their own, they will have to deal with this problems directly. President Bush is weakened right now because of Iraq, gas prices, Katrina and the economy. The Republican-controlled Congress is not popular with voters, and now you have ethics clouds hanging over a number of GOP officials. Perhaps as important is that the party's coalition is beginning to splinter and likely will continue to do so as 2008 approaches.

The Republicans, however, have been skilled at the mechanics of campaign politics -- far better than the Democrats -- in recent years. We'll get an indication of how serious the GOP's problems are next year in the midterm elections.

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McLean, Va.: Don't forget, Chief Justice Earl Warren had also never served on the bench before his nomination.

Dan Balz: Good point.

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Seattle, Wash.: I am surprised that I have not heard any reaction from Justice Antonin Scalia regarding being passed over for Chief Justice.

No, I do not expect him to give a press conference -- but I am surprised that nothing has leaked out about his reaction. Cannot imagine that he is happy about it.

Dan Balz: He did not attend the White House swearing in of Chief Justice Roberts last week, but apparently he had a legitimate conflict.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: If you had to speculate (which, I guess, you do) do you think that the Bush administration actually nominated Ms. Miers in the hopes that she will be confirmed?

At first blush, she seems to be an average lawyer and personal friend of President Bush with virtually no qualifications for the job, and an easy target for Senate Democrats to block without looking too political doing it.

What might they gain from starting a fight they could easily lose?

Dan Balz: I don't think the president starts fights he doesn't expect to win. It appears he has a high opinion of Miers and will try to persuade the country she is the right choice. But it certainly does help to be in charge of picking people for important posts. First Cheney, now Miers.

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Arlington, Va.: Do you think Miers will be able to get away with not answering questions the way Roberts largely did? She can make the same claim about not pre-judging cases, but do you think the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee will let her take a pass?

Similarly, will the White House actually release relevant documents or claim Executive Privilege...even without any other background on Miers?

Dan Balz: I'm sure she'll try to refrain from answering questions in the same way Roberts did, but I'd expect many of the Democrats to be even more insistent. As for documents from the White House, the Democrats will try and I assume the White House will resist.

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Clifton, Va.: The Dems lost the last two presidential elections. Spoils go the victor. W has the right to pick who he wants as the next Supreme. The Dems also don't control the Senate. And it doesn't look like this is going to change in '06. So there really isn't a whole lot the Dems can do. Filbuster invokes the nuclear option. Hey Dems go for it and you lose big time!

Dan Balz: You're right: elections matter and that's what Democrats are recognizing. With Roberts, given his qualifications and his performance during the confirmation hearings, it was difficult to make the case that he wasn't qualified to sit on the high court, which is why in the end 22 Democrats voted for him. I doubt that many will support Miers.

As for the nuclear option, both sides may think they can win from that clash. Republicans will describe it as stubborn and obstructionist; Democrats will say if the only way Bush can get someone on the Supreme Court is by changing Senate rules, there will be a political price to pay.

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Jersey City, N.J.: Can you explain Judy Miller's deal that she made with Fitzgerald? Specifically, why would she be worried about answering questions not related to Plame? Why would she think that Fitzgerald would ask her those questions, and what was (is?) she afraid would come out?

It seems a little suspect to be so worried about telling the truth to a Grand Jury when one's job is supposedly to tell the unvarnished truth to the entire nation/world.

Dan Balz: There are a lot of questions we all have about the deal Judy Miller made to get out of jail and testify -- the main one being why this deal wasn't cut long ago, since it is similar to the agreements other reporters who have testified made with the prosecutor.

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Newark, Del.: Since Ms. Miers didn't serve on the bench there isn't much of a judicial record behind her. But would it be fair to say that we could draw conclusions from the other judges that the president has nominated? Not in a general sense but in specifics. Because wasn't Ms. Miers the lead in the selection process for most of the Judicial Nominations from the President? So couldn't we keen her positions on issues based on the positions of those she recommended to the President?

Dan Balz: Conservatives are split about her. Some who know her say they are confident she is a judicial conservative. What that means on specific issues -- Roe v Wade the main one -- isn't clear. But other conservatives see her as an uninspired choice and worry that she has not clearly known philosophy. Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society said her remarks this morning sounded like those of Robert Bork.

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Iowa: Yesterday's article in The Washington Post by Jim VandeHei and Walter Pincus raised some interesting questions about the likely role of senior White House aides in Plamegate. Since Ms. Miers has been White House counsel, would she have been involved in offering legal advice to these individuals as they were questioned by the special prosecutor? Also, would she have been involved in some of the decisions about the legality of torture procedures that were allowed in Iraq?

Dan Balz: The principal advice to any of the White House people involved would have come from their outside lawyers. If she had any involvement, and we don't know that she did, it might have come with regard to questions of executive privilege. Also, she has been White House counsel in the second term. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was White House counsel during the first term.

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Washington, D.C.: Two questions:

1. Would any president other than George W. Bush have even considered Miers as a Supreme Court justice?

2. Assuming the answer to 1 is "no", what does this tell us about Bush?

Dan Balz: 1. Very doubtful.

2. He has confidence in people he has worked with. Look at the elevations of Secretary of State Rice, Secretary of Education Spellings and Attorney General Gonzales. All members of the White House staff in the first term.

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Washington, D.C.: Good morning,

Out of curiosity, if confirmed, would Harriet Miers be the first Justice from a non top-25 law school?

Dan Balz: Nope. Former Chief Justice Warren Burger went to the William Mitchell College of Law in Minnesota.

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Charlotte, N.C.: For Clifton, VA ...

Why would the democrats filibuster Miers? She is not Scalia or Thomas, and as Drudge is reporting right now, used to be a Democrat (Drudge has Ed Gillespie on record admitting that), and has given money to both Gore, and Clinton.

I think most Democrats, like me, are giggling right now.

Dan Balz: I wouldn't giggle too much, at least not until you know how she might rule on cases. Being a Democrat in Texas in the old days wasn't like being a Democrat nationally. There are lots of people who are now staunch Republicans in Texas who started out as conservative Democrats, particularly someone of her generation.

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Washington, D.C.: Patrick Buchanan suggested that what Bush needed now was a nominee who would create a "bench-clearing brawl" in order to move the agenda past Katrina, FEMA, and gas prices. Does Miers have the potential to do just that?

Dan Balz: There are other candidates who would have created a far bigger brawl, among them Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown.

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Chicago, Ill.: As a practicing attorney, I'd like to see more Supreme Court Justices with trial experience (either as a judge or an advocate). Accordingly, I'm heartened by the President's selection of a person who was a litigator in private practice.

While much was made of Chief Justice Roberts' experience as an appellate advocate, little was written about his lack of trial experience. I don't think he ever represented a client in a trial, or even filed a complaint or took a deposition.

I also think that Harriet Miers resume is comparable to that of Justice Lewis Powell, who was president of the American Bar Association and had never been a judge prior to his nomination to the Supreme Court.

Dan Balz: Interesting perspective. Thanks.

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Portland, Ore.: Has the process for Supreme Court nominees changed due to increased partisanship?

It seems to me that interest groups from the right and the left try to pressure the Senators and the Senators are responding with lots of rhetoric, but no filibuster.

Is the process now any different than years past? Is is under more scrutiny? Or has it always been thus?

Dan Balz: The process is much more political and partisan than in the past. Remember that Justice Scalia was confirmed without a dissenting vote. Twenty years ago, a John Roberts probably would have been approved unanimously also.

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Sydney, Australia: Hi Dan, If only one amongst the avalanche of ethical and performance question marks currently engulfing the White House and Republican party at large (Plame/Rove, DeLay, Frist, Abramoff, Ohio 'Coingate', Katrina, Education Propaganda, one battle-ready Iraqi battalion etc.) had occurred during Clinton's presidency, one would surely expect a more vocal public response. Could you comment how the supposedly family values/ethics based Republican government continues to brush off these scandals without significant ramifications?

Dan Balz: I don't think the public is necessarily brushing off these scandals. There's a long way to go on these, and if the allegations turn into convictions, they will take a heavy toll.

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Washington, D.C.: Some will no doubt consider the Miers appoint cronyism. However, have their been crony nominees in the past who were confirmed?

Dan Balz: Justice Abe Fortas was an LBJ crony and nominated as associate justice in 1965. He was later denied elevation to chief justice.

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Dallas, Tex.: Ms. Miers is very very close to Justice Nathan Hecht, the "Scalia" of the Texas Supreme Court. You might want to explore that relationship in your review of her judicial philosophy.

Dan Balz: Thanks. We'll check it out.

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Washington, D.C.: First off, I am very excited about the continued expansion of the discussion topics at Washingtonpost.com. Ok now to my question, why does The Post Web site continue to use the "evil DeLay" photo in every article about him?

Dan Balz: Is that true? We'll get the web team to look into it.

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Long Beach, Calif.: When the CIA leak grand jury ends, do you expect a report that chastises those involved that did not expose themselves to charges, but obviously involved themselves in a political smear job? Or will the report focus strictly on the breaking of laws?

Dan Balz: The million dollar question.

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Washington, D.C.: Dan - How about Senator Byrd looking to make history with number 9? Does he not have the gumption and drive to keep it going or what...

Dan Balz: Just this morning, Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito announced that she will not run against him. She was considered the best candidate the Republicans had to challenge him. See Chris Cillizza's "The Fix" for more details.

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Carrboro, N.C.: Shifting off the Supreme Court and looking to 2008, it sounds outlandish, but what about an Al Gore bid? The comparisons to Nixon's career (absent Nixon's paranoia) are intriguing... I also think Edwards looks formidable now. His poverty focus looks prescient post-Katrina. Thoughts?

Dan Balz: It seems unlikely that Gore will run, but he is still out making the case against Bush. Edwards's focus on poverty before Katrina has given him some added credibility and he's working hard. Right now it's HRC against the field, with opinion in the party sharply divided over whether she can win a general election -- giving hope to lots of others.

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West Bloomfield, Mich.: There are reports that she is pro-life. Where are they coming from?

Dan Balz: This is the last question of the morning and I apologize that I couldn't get to many of you. Remember, we'll be here every morning at 11 with someone from the political team.

We don't know what her personal views are on abortion. She helped lead an effort to get the American Bar Association to rescind its position in support of Roe, but on the grounds that it was inappropriate for the ABA to take a position -- pro or con -- on an issue like that.

Thanks again. Have a good day.

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