President Bush yesterday rejected conservative calls to withdraw his nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court and prepared to reassure skeptical Republicans and persuade the Senate to confirm her for the seat of retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
Bush advisers who once anticipated an all-out war with Democrats over his attempts to reshape the Supreme Court have had to recalibrate their strategy to battle an insurrection among Republicans who contend the president is obligated to nominate a top-flight legal figure with an unmistakably conservative pedigree.
At every point where the White House has hoped it might have turned the corner, it has run into more flak from the right.
Just yesterday, columnist Charles Krauthammer and Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol called on Bush to withdraw the Miers nomination, with Krauthammer deriding her selection as "scandalous" and "a joke." Another icon of the conservative movement, former judge Robert H. Bork, denounced it as "a disaster on every level."
The president made it clear yesterday that he has no intention of backing down. Asked about the calls to withdraw the nomination, he said, "No, she is going to be on the bench, she'll be confirmed. And when she's on the bench, people will see a fantastic woman who is honest, open, humble and capable of being a great Supreme Court judge."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan later dismissed the critics as a tiny handful. "I know sometimes there's a tendency to focus on what one or two individuals may say, but look at what all those individuals who know her so well are saying about her," he said.
But conservatives said the disappointment and even anger is shared by a broad cross section of their movement. Appearing on MSNBC's "The Situation With Tucker Carlson," Bork complained that Miers "has no experience with constitutional law whatever" and called her selection "kind of a slap in the face to the conservatives who've been building up a conservative legal movement for the last 20 years."
Bork, whose own nomination to the high court was defeated in the Senate in 1987 because of his conservative views, added that only White House loyalists are sticking with Miers. "Everybody else I've talked to ranges between disapproval and outrage," he said.
"Well," responded Carlson, "I hope those voicing disapproval and outrage carry the day. I agree with you completely."
Miers, who has spent the week paying courtesy calls on senators, left for Dallas yesterday to focus on filling out a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire that requires her to list many details about her professional experience. The White House said she will spend several days going through files. Bush plans to use his radio address today to promote her nomination.
Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice is among those leading the fight for Miers.
During a conference call with conservatives organized by the White House Thursday, Sekulow said he has three cases pending at the court. "Believe me," he said, "I want Harriet Miers voting on these three critical cases."
Asked whether it was appropriate to lobby on behalf of a nominee who will then rule on cases in which he is an advocate, Sekulow said that because he is not a government official there is no reason why he cannot express his opinions about the nomination.
"I don't know how she's going to vote on a particular case," he said, and he added: "These things never play exactly the way you think. But you'd rather have a conservative on the court."