Miers withdrawal was the best possible result from a bad situation

By on November 2, 2005

In the letter Harriet Miers wrote to President Bush informing him of her withdrawal as a Supreme Court nominee, she cited an irresolvable impasse between Congress and the executive branch as the reason for her withdrawal. That assertion is so obviously dubious that it is laughable.

What ended up playing out was the “Krauthammer option.” Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer expressed his opposition to Bush’s nomination from the beginning, writing, “If Harriet Miers were not a crony of the president of the United States, her nomination to the Supreme Court would be a joke, as it would have occurred to no one else to nominate her.”

Krauthammer predicted that a face-saving way to get out of the nomination would be for Senators to demand privileged documents from Miers’ time as White House Council while Bush would refuse to acquiesce to Senate demands creating an irreconcilable impasse that would force a withdrawal of the nomination. That ended up becoming the ostensible reason for Miers’ withdrawal.

It is also clear that the real reason for the withdrawal was an unqualified nominee along with the prospect of a brutal and embarrassing confirmation hearing. The initial questionnaire she filled out for the Senate Judiciary Committee was deemed so inadequate by Chairmen Arlen Specter and top-ranking Democrat Patrick Leahy that it had to be re-submitted.

Leahy complained that she answered a two-part question with only one word and said her answers ranged “from incomplete to insulting.” Another bad sign for Miers was the luke-warm response she received after talking with individual Senators. It was understandable that many Senators would be initially skeptical of Miers since she had very little public record of anything to do with constitutional law. But if she was actually a qualified nominee, as Bush purported her to be, then you would think Senators would have been more positive about her after taking with her. That was not the case. Republican Senator Trent Lott said there was little enthusiasm for her nomination among Republicans and revealed that most Senators had “held their fire.”

Although the Miers nomination was a blunder, the withdrawal was the best scenario the Bush team could ask for. If Miers got to the confirmation hearings, it could have turned out to be an embarrassing spectacle for the Bush administration and would have done even more damage to a President at the lowest point during his tenure in office. Miers, herself, could have been embarrassing in her hearing per-formance, but a confirmation hearing would have broughtthe specter of subpoenas for conservative leaders as well. Most notably could have been James Dobson who with a wink and a nod said after a reassuring phone call from Karl Rove, “When you know some of the things that I know, that I probably shouldn’t know, you will understand why I have said … that I believe Harriet Miers will be a good justice.” James Dobson should not be privy to any special information about Miers that no one else is.

If nominating Miers was a gaffe, the timing for her withdrawal was a shrewd recovery. By announcing her withdrawal the day before an indictment was to come down in the C.I.A. leak investigation, Bush assured himself the best chance of Miers receiving as little media attention as possible.

If Bush announces a new Supreme Court nominee soon, as he said he would, he may escape with little damage from the Miers debacle.

Miers wrote to Bush, “I am concerned that the confirmation process presents a burden for the White House and our staff that is not in the best interest of the country.” It was hardly the confirmation process but her nomination itself that burdened the White House and would not have been in the best interest of our country. It was the confirmation process that was shown to be valuable by preventing a crony with weak qualifications to sit on the Supreme Court.


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