White House Tries to Quell a Rebellion on the Right
WASHINGTON, Oct. 6 – The White House moved to contain a continuing revolt among conservatives on Thursday over President Bush’s selection of Harriet E. Miers for the Supreme Court. Some conservatives said that Ms. Miers could withdraw, and White House officials countered that the idea was preposterous.
The White House aides said they were now focusing their efforts on the Senate floor. “There’s frustration because people don’t know Harriet and they have all these questions,” said Ed Gillespie, the former Republican party chairman, who is helping shepherd Ms. Miers through her Senate hearings and who was pummeled by angry conservatives at a meeting earlier this week.
Republicans said that White House officials had not anticipated the intensity of the criticism and that conservative groups felt they had not been given adequate warning that Ms. Miers was the president’s pick.
“There might have been more comfort with her if she’d been discussed earlier,” said Grover G. Norquist, an influential conservative. He spoke to reporters in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building shortly after Mr. Bush addressed a gathering of conservatives at a tribute to William F. Buckley Jr. on the 50th anniversary of the founding of his magazine, National Review.
As Ms. Miers continued her meetings with senators on Capitol Hill, the administration stepped up its campaign to try to win her confirmation. The White House official in charge of reaching out to conservatives, Tim Goeglein, organized a conference call on Thursday afternoon to more than 500 conservatives, many of them dubious about the president’s selection, who listened to endorsements of Ms. Miers from some of the president’s closest allies on the right.
Among those extolling Ms. Miers’s conservative credentials were Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the Republican National Committee; James C. Dobson, an evangelical conservative and the founder of the group Focus on the Family; Charles W. Colson, the founder and chairman of Prison Fellowship Ministries; Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention; Jay Sekulow of the evangelical American Center for Law and Justice; and Leonard A. Leo of the Federalist Society.
Mr. Colson urged conservatives to pull together because, he said, “it doesn’t matter if she walked across the Potomac,” the Democrats would still “demand their pound of flesh.”
Dr. Dobson, acknowledging the deep divisions among social conservatives, said he believed the president had been a consistent opponent of abortion.
“This is his personal belief and philosophy and I think probably theology, and I appreciate that,” he said. “I believe he has appointed a woman who is consistent with that.”
At his daily press briefing, Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, announced that Daniel R. Coats, a former Republican senator from Indiana and the former United States ambassador to Germany, would serve as a “public advocate” for Ms. Miers and accompany her on her meetings with senators, much as former Senator Fred Thompson did for Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. Republicans said Mr. Coats was chosen in part because he has strong ties to both parties.
The president made no mention of the conservative rebellion in his tribute to Mr. Buckley and National Review, even though the audience included a number of conservatives who have been harshly critical of his choice of Ms. Miers, most notably the columnist George F. Will, who sat in the front row, and the magazine editor William Kristol, in the back row.
After the event, Mr. Kristol said it was “not out of the question” that Ms. Miers could withdraw.
“She did not come to Washington to be a Supreme Court justice,” he said in a telephone interview as he drove to Richmond, Va. “And she could well decide that this is hurting the president, and could continue to hurt the president, and that the best thing to do would be to step aside and go back to serving the president and let him make another pick.”
In contrast, Mr. Norquist said that he expected her to be confirmed, but that it was impossible to know if she would be as conservative as Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia or as much of a disappointment to the right as Justice David H. Souter.
“If in July all the decisions come down and she executes all the bad people and she votes with Thomas and Scalia, then the president will say, ‘Hey, hey, see,’ ” Mr. Norquist said. “And all the conservatives will go, ‘O.K.’ If she’s more dodgy, and looks more like Souter, people will be disappointed, and there’s not a damn thing they can do about it.”