House right adds its voice to opposition

As conservatives in the Senate choose their words carefully about the nomination of Harriet Miers, some of their House counterparts are expressing dismay with President Bush’s choice.

As conservatives in the Senate choose their words carefully about the nomination of Harriet Miers, some of their House counterparts are expressing dismay with President Bush’s choice.

House Republicans lack a vote on the Supreme Court nominee, but that did not stop them from opining when asked about her yesterday.

Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), head of the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC), said, “I have reserved judgment, but I was disappointed that the president did not choose a known conservative jurist to fill the associate-justice position.”

Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), the first lawmaker to oppose Miers, was less reserved. He claimed that her intellect is not up to the task of serving on the high court and reiterated his fierce opposition yesterday.

Tancredo said that while House members may not be able to vote on Miers, their reputation for being closer to the parties’ bases than the Senate means the lower chamber has a duty to give input.

“I’d hope they’d listen” in the Senate, Tancredo said, “but they won’t.”

The RSC debated the Miers nomination at recent meetings and decided that the group would not take a formal position, leaving individual members to sound off as they see fit.

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), by contrast,  waded into the John Roberts nomination by opposing him. The CBC has one Senate member, Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who voted against the Roberts nomination.

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a leader in the RSC, said that rising conservative discontent likely would come up at a group meeting scheduled for yesterday but that the RSC would stay noncommittal.

“There’s a lot of concern out there,” Flake said. “I personally think it’s been a missed opportunity.”

Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), a future hopeful in GOP leadership, said Miers deserves a fair hearing but remarked wistfully on the smooth confirmation of Roberts to the court’s chief-justice post.

“The Roberts nomination was such a stroke of genius,” Wamp said. “Roberts went as well for the country and for the process as anyone possibly could have. Obviously, the next one wasn’t going to be perfect.”

Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) sounded a similar note of uncertainty.

“My strong opinion is that maybe the original choice to appoint [Miers] may have needed a little further consideration,” said Akin, who remarked on the “increased level of sensitivity” in the party over Miers. “It just seems like, coming off Roberts, things were going so well, and to have this controversy, it’s kind of frustrating.”

Akin echoed the worst fears of many in the conservative base in raising the specter of Justice David Souter, who was appointed by the first President Bush but has a centrist and sometimes liberal record on the court.

“In the past, threats of liberal [opposition] torpedoing judges have caused the president to pick people inconsistent with Republican ideology. My concern is that we don’t repeat the same mistake,” Akin said.

Akin and other House conservatives stressed the need to remain above the Senate fray and let Miers’s hearings determine her fate. But that did not stop one influential House conservative from welcoming the idea that Senate requests for documents from Miers’s time as White House counsel might create an irresolvable executive-privilege claim, leading to her withdrawal.

“That’s exactly what I’ve hoped,” the conservative said. “[Bush] has always legitimately and jealously guarded executive privilege. He could simply say, ‘If that’s what they require,’” there would be no choice but to pull Miers from consideration.

Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.), also an RSC member, diplomatically pointed out that the House has no official role to play in judicial confirmation.

“I think what people are really somewhat concerned about is the wait-and-see approach” that nearly every Senate Republican has chosen, Hayworth said. “It’s not the dynamic some people had envisioned for this.”

Since Bush tapped Miers on Oct. 3, conservative pundits and interest groups have been lining up to question her qualifications for the nation’s highest court. The right-wing rebellion has snowballed into grassroots and online fundraising drives urging Senate Republicans to oppose Miers’s confirmation, a movement that could be strengthened by burgeoning discomfort from House conservatives.

More in House

Right voices opposition to funding plan

Read more »