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White House renews push on Miers

Specter, White House at odds on her position on privacy case

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Harriet Miers
Supreme Court
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George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House began a renewed attempt Monday to rally backing for Harriet Miers, whose nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court has failed to attract widespread support from any part of the political spectrum.

The day kicked off at the White House where President Bush, flanked by six current and former justices of the Texas Supreme Court, addressed reporters.

"They are here to send a message here in Washington that the person I picked to take Sandra Day O'Connor's place is not only a person of high character and integrity but a person who can get the job done," Bush said.

O'Connor, who announced her retirement as associate justice in June, said she would remain on the court until her replacement is confirmed by the Senate.

Bush has described Miers as "a pioneer of law" in Texas, where she was the first woman to become a partner in her Dallas law firm and the first female president of the Dallas and Texas bar associations.

Miers, who has worked for Bush since 1994, most recently as White House counsel, spent much of Monday on Capitol Hill visiting with senators, among them Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter.

After their meeting, Specter told reporters Miers said she believed the 1965 case of Griswold v. Connecticut -- a landmark ruling establishing the right to privacy -- was "rightly decided."

But when the White House took exception to Specter's comments, the Pennsylvania Republican released a statement saying Miers later called him to tell him he had "misunderstood" her answer.

Specter said she told him she had not taken a position on either Griswold or the right to privacy, the legal underpinning for the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

Specter's statement did not withdraw his comments about Miers discussing Griswold with him, nor did it offer a correction. But the statement said the chairman accepted Miers contention "that he misunderstood what she said."

Bush's nomination of Miers has divided even his supporters, many of whom had hoped for a nominee with a clear record of opposition to abortion rights.

Miers has left few clues to her position on that issue in her previous public posts, which include service on the Dallas City Council and as Bush's lottery commissioner when he was governor of Texas.

Even her membership in an evangelical church has failed to ignite support among anti-abortion activists and conservatives.

In a sign of how much anger the nomination has already generated among conservatives, the chairman of the American Conservative Union wrote an opinion piece saying the Bush administration "will find it difficult to muster support on the right without explaining why it should be forthcoming."

"We've swallowed policies we might otherwise have objected to because we've believed that [Bush] and those around him are themselves conservatives trying to do the right thing against sometimes terrible odds," David Keene wrote in The Hill newspaper.

"We've been there for him because we've considered ourselves part of his team. No more."

Praise from Texas

The kickoff event at the White House brought endorsements from the Texas contingent.

"Mr. President, we just all want to thank you for this nomination," said John Hill Jr., a Democrat who was chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court from 1985 to 1988 and served with Miers on the Texas Lottery Commission.

"We are excited about it, and we are here to try and let the people of America know what we all know, which is that she is an absolutely fantastic person and a great lawyer and will make a great judge," he said.

"We actually know Harriet Miers; I hope that still counts for something, somewhere," Hill said. "I'd trust her with my wife and my life."

Miers has never served as a judge, but Hill said that is not a critical drawback.

"You get the briefs, you hear the arguments, you study the facts, you study the law and you try to make a square decision based on the law and the Constitution, and I don't think it matters that much whether you were a judge before," he said.

Among the 18 senators Miers visited Monday were Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee Charles Schumer of New York and and Dianne Feinstein of California.

After their meeting, Schumer said she "offered very, very little" information on her judicial philosophy and declined to answer questions about her views on cases involving the right to privacy and her work inside the White House.

"I didn't learn answers to so many important questions," he said.

But Schumer said Miers "disavowed completely" a published report that two of her friends in Texas had privately assured conservative leaders that she would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.

"She said, 'No, nobody knows my views on Roe v. Wade,'" Schumer said. "She said, 'No one can speak for me on Roe v. Wade.'"

Public reaction mixed

Miers' nomination has attracted only a mixed public reaction. In a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll released Monday, 36 percent of respondents said Bush should withdraw her nomination, versus 46 percent who opposed the idea and 18 percent who said they were unsure.

The poll of 1,012 American adults was carried out Thursday through Sunday.

Forty-four percent of respondents said they felt the Senate should confirm her, 36 percent expressed opposition and 20 percent said they were unsure.

Those questions had a sampling error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Asked their opinion of Miers, 31 percent described it as favorable, 26 percent as unfavorable and 43 percent said they were unsure. That portion had a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.\

In an editorial last week, the conservative weekly magazine National Review called on Miers to withdraw.

"Leaving aside the president and his employees, even Miers' fiercest defenders allow that she was not their top pick -- or even their 10th," the editors said.

An aide to Specter said Monday the senator hoped to reach an agreement by Tuesday with the committee's ranking Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, to start Miers' confirmation hearings as soon as November 7.

But both Republican and Democratic aides said privately the start date could slip to November 14 because Democrats are pushing for an extra week to review Miers' record.

And Specter told reporters Monday night that the start date for the hearings could also slip to give Miers more time to prepare.

"It is unfair to start the hearings before she's ready," Specter said.

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