Sens.: Aides don't speak for us on Miers

Congressional aides who raised objections to Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers in a published report last week were way out of line, according to two senior Republican senators who support her.

“The staff should not be speaking out of school,” Republican Conference Vice Chairwoman Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), a leading Miers backer, said yesterday as she left the Capitol to attend a bicameral leadership meeting at the White House.

“They’re undermining their own senators, and that should not be allowed,” said Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a former Judiciary Committee chairman who still sits on the panel.

Hatch said he had spoken to his staff about the matter but did not elaborate.

The New York Times reported last week that, according to aides to six of the 10 Republicans on the panel, lawyers for committee members are dissatisfied with President Bush’s selection to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. The aides were not named.

The reaction from high-profile Miers supporters came as the White House and its allies in Congress continue a campaign to quash an insurrection among party activists and pundits and as the top two lawmakers on the Judiciary Committee sent a letter asking Miers to clarify statements made in a questionnaire delivered to the panel Tuesday. It also coincided with word that the Miers hearings would begin Nov. 7.

“I think we need to expedite her hearings,” said Hutchison, who argued the nominee should be given the chance to defend herself as soon as possible.

The Times reported that opposition to the nomination was rampant at two meetings on Miers, one just among staff and one that included former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie.

“You could say there is pretty much uniform disappointment with the nomination at the staff level,” the Times quoted a committee aide as saying. “It is clear there is quite a bit of skepticism, and even some flashes of hostility.”

Hatch said such commentary on Miers does not portend a negative outcome

“They’re not the senators, nor do they speak for the senators,” Hatch said. “That’s not right, what they did.”

A Senate leadership aide agreed.

“That’s not really a staffer’s role,” the aide said.

Though Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) announced the Nov. 7 start date for committee hearings yesterday, it was not clear when they would end. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Bush have pushed for a confirmation vote by Thanksgiving, but that date could easily slip.

A day after panel Democrats blasted Miers for not providing as much information as they would have liked in her committee questionnaire, Specter and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vt.), fired off a letter asking Miers to supplement eight of her answers.

Specter and Leahy demanded to know more about any assurances members of the administration may have given to individuals or outside groups about how Miers might rule.

“This would include any and all communications, including those about which there have been recent press reports, in which friends and supporters of yours, among others, were said to have been asked by the White House to assure certain individuals about your views,” they wrote. “If you do not have first-hand knowledge of these communications, please endeavor to determine what sorts of communications, if any, took place.”

Specter and Leahy also asked for more detailed answers on the suspension of Miers’s license to practice law in the District of Columbia, her involvement in formulating policy at various jobs in the public and private sectors, what constitutional issues she dealt with as White House counsel and potential conflicts of interest.

“Your answers to our questions are essential to the committee’s process of thoroughly reviewing your record prior to making our recommendation to the full Senate on your nomination,” they wrote.

Talking points distributed to Democrats by Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Miers had not provided enough information on the Judiciary questionnaire and would need to be more forthcoming.

“Ms. Miers has a heavy burden at her confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee to demonstrate her commitment to protecting the constitutional rights and freedoms Americans have relied on for generations,” the talking points read.

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