Bush: Miers Qualified to be on Top Court
Bush: Miers Qualified to Be on Top Court
Oct 04 11:21 AM US/Eastern
By TOM RAUM
Associated Press Writer
In the face of criticism from the left and right, President Bush insisted Tuesday that Harriet Miers is the best-qualified candidate for the Supreme Court and assured skeptical conservatives that his lawyer-turned-nominee shares his judicial philosophy _ and always will.
"I've known her long enough to know she's not going to change, that 20 years from now she will be the same person with the same judicial philosophy she has today," Bush said. "She'll have more experience. She'll have been a judge, but nevertheless the philosophy won't change, and that's important to me."
Dismissing Democratic charges of cronyism, Bush said: "I picked the best person I could find. People know we're close." Bush has known Miers for more than 10 years, first as his personal lawyer and most recently as a White House counsel.
Bush called the news conference, his first since May, as he struggles to regain political strength sapped by a confluence of events _ high gas prices, a rising death toll in Iraq and a bungled response to Hurricane Katrina. His job approval rating, near the lowest point of his presidency, faces another test with the nomination of Miers.
In a wide-ranging news conference, Bush said he was considering whether the U.S. military should be used to help quarantine part of the country in the event of a pandemic of Avian bird flu. "I'm not predicting an outbreak," he said. "I'm just suggesting to you that we need to be thinking about it."
Then Bush mused out loud: "It's one thing to shut down airplanes, it's another" to quarantine part of the U.S. "And who is best to effect a quarantine?" the president asked. Then he answered: "One option is to use the military."
"I think the president should have all ... assets on the table to deal with something this significant," Bush said.
The president refused to comment on an issue looming over the White House _ the investigation into the leak of a CIA agent's identity. With two top White House officials a focus of the inquiry, Bush was asked whether he would fire anybody indicted in the probe. "I'm not going to talk about the investigation until it's complete," he said.
On Katrina, Bush said he would work with Congress to "make real cuts" in non-security spending to help in rebuilding the Gulf Coast. "The private sector will be the engine that drives the recovery of the Gulf Coast," he said. But he said the nation will continue to spend whatever it takes to support U.S. troops in Iraq.
Bush claimed progress on training Iraqi forces to take over the security of their country _ a key measure for when American troops can begin coming home _ despite last week's statement from the top U.S. commander there that only one Iraqi battalion, down from three, is ready to fight without U.S. help.
"More and more Iraqis are able to take the fight to enemy," the president said.
He said that more than 80 Iraqi army battalions are fighting alongside U.S. troops, and that 30 Iraqi battalions are capable of taking the lead in combat. "That is substantial progress from the way the world was a year ago," he said.
His choice of Miers dominated the news conference, with Bush struggling to please his political base without giving Democrats ammunition to block her confirmation.
Bush said he did not ask Miers or any other candidate about their positions on abortion _ "there is no litmus test" _ even as he gave conservatives his personal assurance that she's one of them.
"I know her character. She's a woman of principle and deep conviction. She shares my philosophy that judges should strictly interpret the laws and the Constitution of the United States, and not legislate from the bench," he said.
While she has never served as a judge, Bush said Miers will bring "a fresh approach" to the bench as a trial lawyer who was a leader in the Texas legal community.
Bush challenged Democrats to avoid a partisan tone in confirmation process. "The decision of whether or not there will be a fight is up to the Democrats," he said, urging Congress to put Miers on the bench by Thanksgiving.
While no senator has come out against the nomination, conservatives and liberals alike are questioning whether she was the most qualified candidate for the high court.
Some Democrats are accusing Bush of cronyism, a charge he faced after the bungled Katrina recovery effort led to the firing of the government top disaster official, a Bush loyalists. Some of Bush's own supports are expressing dismay that he chose a White House lawyer with no judicial experience over several well-documented conservative jurists.
Bush needs to keep conservatives senators in line to push Miers' nomination through the Senate. More broadly, Bush can't afford to alienate his political base now that Democrats and many moderate voters are telling pollsters they're unhappy with his job performance.
Several conservative leaders, including James Dobson of Focus on the Family, have given Miers a qualified endorsement _ saying, in effect, that they have faith in Bush's judgment. Several others, including commentator Rush Limbaugh, have criticized the pick. The White House has enlisted Vice President Dick Cheney and scores of other Bush loyalists to lobby conservatives on Miers' behalf.
Bush did not take the bait when asked about fears of some conservatives that Miers would follow the path of Justice David Souter who was nominated by his father only to be more liberal than expected. "You're going to get me in trouble with my father," Bush said with a chuckle.
"Harriet Miers will stand on her own," he said. "Harriet Miers is going to go up to the Senate and they're going to look at her and determine whether she has the temperament, the intelligence and the philosophy to be an excellent Supreme Court justice _ and she will be."
Polls suggest Bush's political troubles may by hurting Republican chances in next year's elections _ perhaps even the 2008 presidential race. He shrugged off a question about election politics. "2008?" Bush said with a laugh. "My heads not there yet. My heads in 2005."