Bipartisan Reaction to Miers

Many lawmakers on Capitol Hill aren't quite sure what to make of Harriet Miers (search) as President Bush's Supreme Court pick.

Miers, who currently serves as White House counsel, has a record of being an exemplary lawyer but has no judicial experience. Some Republicans are a little unsure about her conservative credentials and some Democrats seemingly supporting her. Members of both parties say they know very little about her.

Bush was expected to address those concerns during a 10:30 a.m. press conference in the Rose Garden on Tuesday.

"Everything I know about Ms. Miers is good but I do not know a great deal about her professional activities or her academic standing or her work in her legal career, which appears to be a very distinguished career," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (search), R-Pa., said Monday. "There needs to be, obviously, a very thorough inquiry into her background as a lawyer and her activities."

Amid some Republicans' fears that Bush would nominate a so-called "activist judge" who would create rights not outlined in the Constitution, the president has portrayed Miers as a strict constructionist, someone who "will strictly interpret our Constitution and laws."

"She will not legislate from the bench," the president said as the 60-year-old former private attorney stood with him in the Oval Office on Monday.

"If confirmed, I recognize that I will have a tremendous responsibility to keep our judicial system strong and to help ensure that the courts meet their obligations to strictly apply the laws and the Constitution," said Miers, who has worked on previous judicial nominations with many of the same senators who now will judge her candidacy.

She immediately began visiting senators in the Capitol, meeting with Specter, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, all of whom had words of praise for her.

In a round of television interviews Tuesday, White House counselor Dan Bartlett sought to reassure conservatives who have expressed concern that Miers might not be conservative enough for their tastes as she had no strong record on hot-button issues like abortion and gay rights.

"What all of these people will find, what the American people will find, is that Harriet Miers shares the president's judicial outlook, she's been a part of his team that's picked judicial candidates like Justice John Roberts" White House counselor Dan Bartlett told FOX News Tuesday morning.

Bartlett said during another television interview that Bush had not asked Miers her views on issues like abortion or gay rights.

"President Bush thinks it's very important not to impose a litmus test on judicial candidates," Bartlett said on NBC's "Today" show.

With Miers' selection, Bush was looking to satisfy conservatives who helped confirm Chief Justice John Roberts (search), without inflaming Democrats who repeatedly warned against the selection of an extreme conservative to succeed Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who has voted to uphold abortion rights and preserve affirmative action.

It seems he has done both, somewhat. Quite a few GOP senators praised Miers, just as they praised Roberts when his nomination was announced by the president.

"My conversations with Harriet Miers indicate that she is a first-rate lawyer and a fine person," said conservative Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., a former prosecutor whose nomination to the federal court was stalled by Democrats.

Democrats said Miers, with no judicial record, will need to answer more questions than Roberts did during his confirmation hearing. Most of her paperwork from her White House days will not be available to the Senate because it falls under executive privilege or lawyer-client privilege.

"If there ever was a time when the hearings are going to make a huge difference, it's now," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

Former presidential adviser David Gergen said "absolutely" there's a reason for both Democrats and Republicans to be a little nervous about how little they know about the nominee.

"She has the thinnest credentials of anyone we've seen in our lifetime," Gergen told FOX News, adding that Miers is somewhat of a "stealth candidate."

"The major reason she appears to be nominated is she's a good and close friend of the president," he continued. "In the past, that has not been sufficient to get on the court."

One concern among some political observers is that the selection of Miers, a close Bush friend and loyalist, will be seen as another example of what Bush detractors have called "cronyism," or putting Bush friends in high positions. Some have cited such so-called "cronyism" in the selection of former Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown, who resigned recently after a firestorm of criticism about his alleged bureaucratic handling of Hurricane Katrina.

Brown took heat from Democrats and Republicans alike for his handling of the disaster and his qualifications for the job came into question. For his part, Brown vehemently denied that he was not fit for the job.

"If the Left gets the idea that this is Michael Brown in skirts, you're going to have hell to pay in the process," Gergen said of Miers and the confirmation process.

"Her vote is going to be the most important vote on the court that's going to be dealing with extremely sensitive issues. The country deserves to know where she stands before the goes to the court," he added.

At the same time, the White House worked aggressively Monday to allay concerns over Miers among conservatives determined to turn the court to the right.

Radio commentator Rush Limbaugh repeatedly challenged Vice President Dick Cheney on why Bush chose Miers over other nominees whose conservative credentials were more clearly based on long records as judges.

But by day's end the White House trumpeted favorable comments from Focus on the Family chairman James Dobson, among other prominent conservatives.

Kyleen Wright, president of an anti-abortion group then known as Texans United for Life, said in an interview that Miers donated $150 to the organization as a "bronze patron" for its annual dinner in 1989.

Frist is pushing to have Miers confirmed by Thanksgiving, a compressed schedule. "She has demonstrated her leadership, her character, her integrity," said Frist, who harbors presidential aspirations in 2008.

But some of the more conservative GOP senators are being reserved when it comes to Miers' nomination.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., an anti-abortion senator who is also considered to be a 2008 presidential candidate, pointedly declined comment specifically on Miers.

"I think there's a lot to learn about this particular nominee," Brownback told FOX News on Tuesday. "She is the swing vote in many of these heat-seeking cases."

Whereas Republicans were more familiar with Roberts when his nomination came before them a few months ago, Brownback said, "this one is less know, that's why I need to take a wait-and see attitude."

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, one of the conservatives newly elected to the Senate in 2004, also said he was reserving judgment.

"It has been my expectation that President Bush would nominate someone in the mold of Justices [Antonin] Scalia and [Clarence] Thomas and it is my hope that Harriet Miers will prove to be such a person," he said. Both Scalia and Thomas have voted to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

Democrats also are sending mixed signals on Miers' nomination, with Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada seemingly supporting Bush's pick of the White House counsel.

"Harriet Miers has served with distinction as a trial lawyer. That's what I am. I'm a trial lawyer," said Reid, standing next to Miers outside the Senate chamber. "So anyone with that background makes me feel good."

Miers was one of the names Reid suggested to Bush during a breakfast meeting two weeks ago, officials said, and the very first words in Reid's news release about Miers were, "I like Harriet Miers."

But other Senate Democrats aren't as gushing about Miers. "The president has selected a loyal political ally without a judicial record to sit on the highest court in the land," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.'s Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.