The Senate Judiciary Committee is likely to summon a leading conservative Christian to explain the private assurances he says he received from the White House about Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, the committee's chairman said yesterday.
Testimony by Focus on the Family founder James C. Dobson would heighten the political and religious overtones of the already-high-stakes confirmation hearing for Miers, scheduled to start two weeks from today.
Dobson is among several evangelical leaders enlisted by the White House to vouch for Miers's conservative credentials among right-leaning groups unhappy with her nomination. He spoke with Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove shortly before President Bush announced the nomination, and later hinted he had received privileged information. "When you know some of the things that I know -- that I probably shouldn't know -- you will understand why I have said, with fear and trepidation, that Harriet Miers will be a good justice," Dobson said told his national radio audience Oct. 5.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said yesterday that his panel is likely to require Dobson and perhaps others to testify about such purported conversations. Asked on CBS's "Face the Nation" whether the committee will "bring some of these people who said they were told things that perhaps they shouldn't have been told, like Mr. Dobson," Specter replied: "my instinct is that they'll be called. And the American people are entitled to clarification."
Specter has expressed interest in Dobson's comments before, but yesterday marked the clearest signal that the broadcaster may be required to face the 18-member committee in public.
The Miers nomination continues to face resistance from liberals concerned about her stated support for a constitutional ban on abortion in most cases, and by conservatives who feel that her resume is thin and her close ties to Bush are the only reason she was tapped. Miers, the White House counsel, was Bush's personal lawyer in Texas in the 1990s.
Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), one of the committee's most conservative members, told "Fox News Sunday" that questions about Miers's views on abortion, affirmative action and other issues obligate the White House to release more information about her than it has provided thus far. "We're going to have to see more information -- not attorney-client-privilege-type information -- but more information of the work product that she was involved in," he said.
Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he is undecided on Miers and would have preferred another nominee. But he said he was not greatly troubled by reports that Miers, as president of the Texas state bar in the early 1990s, had embraced racial and gender set-asides to bring more women and ethnic minorities into the organization. "I think for the concept of affirmative recruitment, and trying to get diversity for the bar association of a state, is completely different than setting, having quotas based on race or requiring hiring based on race," Allen said.
Although some conservative commentators have urged the White House to withdraw Miers's nomination, senators said it is unlikely. "I think they have complete faith in her, as I do," Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) said on "Meet the Press." Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the same program that Bush "does not back away from a fight. . . . If he were to withdraw the nomination, it would be a stunning defeat for George Bush."
Schumer added, however: "I think, if you were to hold the vote today, she would not get a majority, either in the Judiciary Committee or on the [full Senate] floor." He said senators "of both parties and all political stripes" have questions about Miers's "qualifications, independence [and] judicial philosophy."
Specter was more upbeat. "I don't think the nomination is in trouble," he told CBS. He said Miers "has a very, very strong record as a civil lawyer. . . . and I think she has the capacity to handle constitutional law. . . . It's going to depend upon how well she does" at the hearing.
Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers's confirmation hearing is scheduled to begin in two weeks.