WASHINGTON – President Bush said Tuesday he hopes Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers (search) will be confirmed by Thanksgiving and called on lawmakers to be "fiscally responsible" in helping the Gulf Coast recover from hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
If confirmed, Miers would take the place of retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (search).
During a press conference in the Rose Garden, when asked if Miers was the most qualified for the job, Bush responded by saying: "Yes, otherwise I wouldn't have put her on."
"She's an enormously accomplished person who's incredibly bright. Secondly, she knows the kind of judge I'm looking for. After all, she was part of the process when I selected Judge [John] Roberts. I don't want somebody on the bench who's going to supplant the legislative process. I'm interested in people who are going to be strict constructionists," Bush continued.
"I know her well enough to say that she's not going to change; 20 years from now, she will be the same person with the same philosophy as today."
There are grumblings from some Republicans that Miers isn't conservative enough and Bush took the easy way out by choosing someone with little to no paper trail. But others are singing her praises.
"A lot of my fellow conservatives are concerned, but they don't know her as I do," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a former Judiciary Committee chairman. "She's going to basically do what the president thinks she should, and that is be a strict constructionist."
Hatch said Tuesday he already has decided to support her confirmation. "I don't need any more. I know her really well. And I intend to support her," he told reporters.
Democrats are saying they know even less about Miers than they did of John Roberts (search) when he came before the Senate for confirmation to be the nation's 17th chief justice last week. Roberts was ultimately confirmed and began his first day on the job on Monday, the opening day of the Supreme Court's fall term. But other Democrats are in favor of Miers.
"With so much at stake, we shouldn't rush to judgment about this or any other nominee, but even at this early stage of the confirmation process, I will say that I am impressed by what I know about Harriet Miers," Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said Tuesday.
"Ms. Miers has not been a judge, but I regard that as a strength, not a weakness," said Reid, a former trial lawyer who recommended Miers to Bush. "In my view, the Supreme Court would benefit from the addition of a justice who has real experience as a practicing lawyer, a nominee with relevant nonjudicial experience."
Abortion is a key issue for both Democrats and Republicans as the confirmation process begins.
Asked whether he has ever discussed the issue of abortion with Miers, Bush said: "I have no litmus test. What matters to me is her judicial philosophy, whether she believes the proper role of the judiciary is relative to the legislative and executive branch....the most important question for me is, 'What kind of judge will she be?' So there's no litmus test."
He said that during his interviews with any potential judge, he has never specifically asked about their views on abortion.
Bush's Tuesday press conference — his first since May — came after a chorus of White House officials both publicly and privately have been saying that, if confirmed, Miers will not disappoint.
"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" and she has shown that she's well qualified, White House counselor Dan Bartlett told FOX News Tuesday morning.
But it's up to the Senate to set the tone of the confirmation hearings, Bush said. He noted that even with Roberts' credentials as he went before the Senate for the chief justice job, and despite the fact many Democrats approved of him for the court, half of the party still voted against him.
"People are going to be amazed at her strength of character and her intellect, but the tone will be set by the people who conduct the hearings and make the speeches and run the television ads," Bush said. "But when it's done, the American people are going to know what I know — that she deserves to be on the bench."
Hurricanes and the War on Terror
In the Rose Garden Tuesday, Bush was also asked about other issues, including the pace of getting Hurricane Katrina (search) victims back on their feet.
Bush has promised that the federal government will pick up most of the tab for the hurricane clean-up, but said Tuesday that it needs to be done in a "fiscally responsible" way.
"Congress needs to pay for as much of the hurricane relief as possible by cutting the spending," on other unnecessary programs, Bush said. "I call on members to make real cuts in non-security spending" in upcoming appropriations bills, he added.
He also called on Congress to help offset the costs being shouldered by local school districts who took in evacuee children, whether they be private or public schools, and once again said he takes full responsibility for any federal government failures in reacting to the storm.
"I command a large, vast administration and people I put in place. I take responsibility for the decisions they made," he said, undoubtedly referring to criticisms aimed at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which ultimately led to the resignation of former FEMA chief Michael Brown (search).
While he said the responsibilities and relationships between federal, state and local governments in responding to natural disasters need to be better defined, he also said a closer look is being given to how FEMA operates. The agency was rolled into the broader Department of Homeland Security a few years ago and many lawmakers have called for it to once again be a separate agency, free from the bureacratic red tape they said plagued recovery and relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina (search).
"I'm not so sure how history will judge the movement of people" before, during and after the storm, Bush said, but when the country eventually looks back "people will be amazed at what happened and how it happened and the responses of thousands of citizens to take in strangers. That's kind of the untold story."
He added: "There's always gonna be frustrations in the immediate aftermath of a storm."
"We've been through a lot, but there's no question in my mind we're going to make this country more secure," he added.
The president said he has "plenty" of political capital left and he plans to use it by getting a budget passed that decreases discretionary spending, passing a plan to overhaul Social Security and making sure American soldiers overseas have what they need to fight the War on Terror.
"And Iraq is part of the War on Terror ... Iraq is part of a larger global struggle," Bush stressed.
A 'Michael Brown in Skirts?'
With Miers' selection, Bush was looking to satisfy conservatives who helped confirm Roberts, without inflaming Democrats who repeatedly warned against the selection of an extreme conservative to O'Connor, who has voted to uphold abortion rights and preserve affirmative action.
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 Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.
Others are being reserved.
"I think there's a lot to learn about this particular nominee," Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., an anti-abortion senator who is also considered to be a 2008 presidential candidate, 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 known, that's why I need to take a wait-and see attitude."
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.
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 FEMA chief Brown, who 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.The Associated Press contributed to this report.