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Republicans, Democrats confounded by Miers' nomination

WASHINGTON—Harriet Miers' embattled Supreme Court nomination has both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate in a bind.

Their supporters on the left and the right both oppose her, and she's having trouble convincing lawmakers that she's qualified to sit on the nation's highest court.

For Republicans, a vote for or against Miers is a choice between loyalty to the president and loyalty to their conservative base. It means trusting that Bush selected a true conservative when he chose Miers, a Texas ally who's now his White House counsel but has no record of championing conservative causes.

To Democrats, Miers initially appeared to be the type of non-ideological nominee they wanted to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. But after meetings with senators and reports that she's an evangelical Christian who once expressed support for a constitutional amendment to ban most abortions, some Democrats are having second thoughts.

New revelations about Miers' views or her work as a lawyer or White House aide could further complicate her conformation. A land deal in which Miers' family netted more than $100,000 for a small plot of land in Texas, first reported by Knight Ridder on Sunday, is another issue that the Senate Judiciary Committee will have to examine before her confirmation hearings begin in two weeks.

Whether she ends up wearing a justice's black robes depends largely on how well she performs in her confirmations hearings, which are scheduled to begin on Nov. 7. Her meetings with senators haven't inspired a lot of confidence, conceded Senate aides and activists who are working on her behalf.

Her meeting with Sen. Arlen Specter, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was especially damaging. Specter told reporters that Miers had voiced support for key precedents in abortion case law, only to have Miers tell him that he'd misunderstood her.

For Republicans, however, there's a big difference between expressing misgivings about Miers and voting against the president's attempt to put his imprint on the Supreme Court.

The Democrats' strategy is to demand that Miers answer questions and to pressure the White House to turn over documents that shed more light on her work as White House counsel, which the White House has resisted.

Democrats have found allies in Specter and in a handful of other Republicans. Specter and Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, fired off a letter to Miers last week demanding that she expand her answers to a committee questionnaire. Specter said he also asked the White House to turn over documents not covered by attorney-client privilege.

"Them providing this type of information from the White House is almost a risk they assume when you nominate a candidate that's from inside the White House," Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who's been skeptical about Miers' nomination, said on "Fox News Sunday." "We're going to have to see more information—not attorney-client privilege-type information—but more information of the work product that she was involved in the White House that is not of a legal nature but that's of a policy nature."

For now, Democrats are content to watch Republicans fight among themselves. "If she's caught in a circular firing squad with her own army, you let that play out a little bit," said Democratic consultant Jenny Backus.

Democrats, however, realize that at some point they may have to decide whether to form an alliance with conservatives and sink Miers' nomination or help put her on the bench.

The question for Democrats and Republicans alike is what Bush would do if Miers were defeated. Would he retaliate against her conservative opponents by naming a moderate in the mold of O'Connor, or would he try to pacify his conservative base by naming an outspoken conservative jurist in the mold of Antonin Scalia?

"That's something that everybody has to look at and say, `Well, what's the end game here?" said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who's voiced apprehension about Miers' nomination. "If in fact she will not survive this process, what's plan B?"

Some Democrats think that Bush, besieged by the possible indictments of top aides and facing the lowest public approval ratings of his presidency, might withdraw Miers' nomination and wait for a more favorable political environment to name a new nominee. That would keep O'Connor on the court for the time being.

"You make the comparison, do you want two or three years out of Sandra Day O'Connor, or 25 years out of this?" asked Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn. "Based on what we know, the choice looks pretty good—keep Sandra Day O'Connor."

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Harriet Miers

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Harriet Miers

ARCHIVE CARICATURE on KRT Direct (from KRT Faces in the News Library, 202-383-6064): Harriet Miers

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