Archive for Sunday, October 23, 2005

Gaining votes for Miers difficult

October 23, 2005

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— Behind closed doors, the former senator trying to smooth the way for confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers appealed for patience. She is qualified, said Dan Coats, asking that those in the audience wait for hearings before making up their minds.

It was a routine request. Except that Coats, R-Ind., was speaking to a roomful of dubious Republican senators, rather than Democrats, in remarks that underscored Miers' clouded confirmation prospects.

Not that Democrats are lining up to praise the woman President Bush named to succeed Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

"I would say that to this point Ms. Miers' efforts to win support have not been successful," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who has met with the 60-year-old White House counsel.

Democrats were divided on John Roberts' nomination as chief justice this year, while Republicans quickly mobilized into a bloc of 55 votes that assured his elevation from a federal appeals court.

Not so for Miers - at least not yet - as Bush and his aides struggle to quell a revolt by conservatives that erupted instantly after her nomination three weeks ago.

There have been some vaguely positive signs for the administration. Thus far, no Republican senator has announced plans to vote against confirmation. Coats and other officials are struggling to keep it that way, hoping Miers will begin to attract support with a strong performance at her hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Trent Lott, who once spoken derisively about Miers, seemed to signal he was moving toward a vote in her favor. It is "more than likely at some point I'll be satisfied. But I'm not there yet," said Lott, R-Miss.

But in a week that White House officials hoped would mark a turnaround in a ragged confirmation campaign, there also were numerous missteps.

Atop the list was an awkward disagreement between Miers and Sen. Arlen Specter, the Judiciary Committee chairman, about what Miers said in a private meeting.

Specter, R-Pa., told reporters that Miers had backed two Supreme Court rulings that affirmed a constitutional right to privacy and are forerunners to the 1973 case that established abortion rights. In an interview, Coats disputed that, saying she had declined to discuss specific cases, and officials said Miers called Specter to say he had misunderstood.

An aide issued a statement saying the senator "accepts Ms. Miers statement that he misunderstood what she said." That was different from acknowledging he had been wrong, Specter made clear, when he told reporters the next day his own recollection was as he had originally stated it.

Later, at a news conference, Specter said he would review the conversation with Miers in public. "The sooner we get into a hearing room where there's a stenographer and a public record, the better off the process is," the senator said.

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