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Senators Want More Info Before Miers Hearings Begin

The senators in charge of Harriet Miers' confirmation are demanding more information from her before hearings begin, one describing the Supreme Court nominee's answers so far as "incomplete to insulting."

Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (search), R-Pa., and senior Democrat Patrick Leahy (search) of Vermont agreed Wednesday to begin Miers' hearings on Nov. 7, but also jointly sent a letter to the White House counsel asking her to more fully answer a questionnaire she turned in Tuesday.

The two senators also plan to ask the White House to provide information about Miers' work for President Bush (search), something the White House has said previously it will not do. "A number of Republicans have asked for non-privileged information," Specter said at a news conference.

Miers returned a 57-page questionnaire to the Senate answering questions about her legal career and background and such issues as how she would deal with court cases involving the Bush administration if confirmed as the replacement for retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (search).

Specter and Leahy said both Republicans and Democrats on the committee felt she did not tell them enough.

"The comments I have heard range from incomplete to insulting," Leahy said.

"Senator Leahy and I took a look at it and agreed that it was insufficient," Specter said.

Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino said the White House appreciated the timing of the hearings, had received the senators' letter and would respond soon.

Perino said of Miers: "From the first day when she was nominated, she told Senator Specter that she had years of files to go through and she would work to finish the questionnaire as soon as possible, but she would likely have to send follow-ups to provide additional information."

The senators said an official request for "non-privileged" information from the White House would come after they saw Miers' response to their new questions.

Among other things, they want her to explain more about her temporary Washington, D.C., bar suspension for nonpayment of dues and for her to double-check that she submitted all of her litigated work to the committee.

"The committee has, for example, identified additional cases not included in your original response," they said.

Specter and Leahy also want her to explain specifically how she would handle cases dealing with the Bush administration, where she now serves in the important legal post of White House counsel. In her questionnaire response, Miers said she would comply with the "spirit and letter of the law ... the Code of Conduct for United States Judges and other applicable requirements."

Specter and Leahy responded: "We are aware of the statutes and codes that generally govern these matters, but recusal decisions of Supreme Court justices are more complicated because they are not subject to further review. The committee would like you to address the issues specific to your situation."

The two committee leaders want the answers from Miers before Wednesday, Oct. 26, another bump in the road for the 60-year-old White House counsel. "I think it's been a chaotic process, very candidly," Specter said.

Bush picked Miers, whose private law practice consisted almost entirely of representing corporate clients, to be O'Connor's replacement three weeks ago. Many Republicans had hoped Bush would pick a prominent conservative with a record on abortion and other issues.

While no Senate Republicans have publicly opposed her nomination, the reaction among the chamber's conservatives has been mostly tepid.

Democrats who support abortion rights also are beginning to question Miers after the revelation that she pledged unflagging opposition to abortion as a candidate for the Dallas City Council in 1989. She backed a constitutional amendment to ban the procedure in most cases and promised to appear at "pro-life rallies and special events."

O'Connor has cast the pivotal vote in a string of 5-4 rulings in recent years that sustained abortion rights, upheld affirmative action and limited the application of the death penalty.

Specter refused to guarantee when a vote would occur.

"There is a keen interest in many quarters on concluding before Thanksgiving, and that's a fine target if it can be accomplished," he said. "But we're going to do it right. We're not going to do it fast."

Democrats and Republicans have refused to give up their rights to hold up Miers' confirmation vote in committee, which was done for now-Chief Justice John Roberts, Leahy said. That means that her committee vote could come as late as two weeks after the completion of the hearings.

"I think that's appropriate," Leahy said. "This is not a John Roberts where we've had a whole lot of material — still not as much as I would have liked — but a whole lot of material, the August recess time to go through it, and a person of a different nature."

Senators have yet to get the confidential FBI background report on Miers, Specter said, and the American Bar Association rating of her suitability to serve as a justice will probably be finished right before hearings begin.