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.
Sessions was not distraught. "I was concerned about the, uh, concern," he said. "Probably she was worried about [it], too."
Cornyn, Miers's friend and most ardent Senate supporter, insinuated that the Democrats were to blame. "I would just say it's part of unnecessary contentiousness and partisanship," he argued. When a questioner pointed out that the objections came primarily from Republicans, Cornyn turned angrily. "There is no Republican senator who opposed the nominee," he said. "Your statement was wrong!"
The growls subsided when Cornyn, an hour later, was asked at another news conference about the possibility that he could be nominated to the high court. "Well, you know, if the president calls me, obviously I'll answer the phone or go see him, if he invites me to come to the White House," he said.
Democrats, though they never committed to supporting Miers, lined up to blame the "right wing" (John Kerry), "the far right wing" (Byron Dorgan), "extreme right wing"(Dick Durbin), "extreme partisan pressure" (Mary Landrieu) and "extremists" (Ted Kennedy).
The Democrats got some help making this point from Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who made a terse statement on the Senate floor. Specter -- the man who suggested the nominee needed a "crash course in constitutional law" -- lamented the "one-sided debate" and the "heavy decibel level against her."
Rebutting the White House line, Specter argued that "the Judiciary Committee carefully did not intrude on the president's executive privilege." His three-minute statement over, Specter left the chamber through a back door, evading the scrum of reporters waiting to ambush him.
Lott, the Senate Republican leader Bush helped to dethrone, was happy to talk. And he didn't have anything nice to say. On Bush's nominees: "I'm not going to just roll over and take everything he sends up here." On Bush's consultations: "I don't think he got enough advice from the right people." On Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for the court: "Forget that!"
Asked why Bush chose Miers, Lott replied: "There is Federalist Paper number 76. I invite your attention to it: Be careful about home state, personal friends, cronyism."
Lott had more to say. He branded Bush's aides "all young and inexperienced" and said senators had nobody to call at the White House.
"Karl Rove can't do it all by himself," Lott said. Then a mischievous grin crossed the senator's face, and, alluding to the CIA leak case, he added: "And he may not be there." Theatrically, Lott brushed his hands as if wiping off dust.