Shortly after President Bush tapped White House counsel Harriet Miers to replace retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, ABC News chief congressional correspondent Linda Douglass predicted that the Miers nominaton will create a "split" among Senate Democrats. And the Republicans? Douglass did not mention possible divisions within the GOP, nor did she mention specific warnings before the nomination by some Republican senators that they will be looking for more concrete answers regarding the nominee's position on particular issues than they required of newly confirmed Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.
On the October 3 broadcast of ABC's Good Morning America, anchor George Stephanopoulos suggested that, in nominating Miers, President Bush had hoped "to do what he did with John Roberts and split the Democratic Party." Later in the broadcast, host Charlie Gibson solicited comments on the nomination from Douglass, who stated Stephanopoulos's theory as fact. "[T]here will clearly be a split among the Democrats," Douglass reported, "and that's the last thing they want, since they sent a very confused message, in their view, about John Roberts." Douglass went on to depict Senate Democrats as already fractured in their response to the Miers nomination: "So they are clearly lining up reasons to oppose her. But it is not clear they are going to be able to agree on what those are."
But while Douglass baselessly stated that a "split" Democratic response is inevitable, she did not mention recent statements by several Senate Republicans that in anticipation of a nomination that suggested the possibility of dissention within their own ranks. A September 25 New York Times article headlined "Next Court Nominee May Face Challenges From GOP" reported that "both socially conservative and more liberal Republican senators say they may vote against confirmation of the next nominee if the pick leans too far to the left or the right on prominent issues like abortion rights." According to the article, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), a member of the Judiciary Committee, has said he would oppose a second nominee who was not "solid and known" on social issues such as "abortion, same-sex marriage and religion in public life." The Times further noted that Sens. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) stated that they would more strictly scrutinize the views of Bush's second nominee.
From the October 3 broadcast of ABC's Good Morning America:
STEPHANOPOULOS: First of all, she is a woman. And the president was under a tremendous amount of pressure, including from the first lady and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, to pick a woman for the Sandra Day O'Connor seat. Number two, she is close to the president. And he believes she is a solid conservative. We have already seen some leading voices in the conservative movement come out this morning and support her. Third, in part because she hasn't been a judge, she doesn't have all that much of a paper trail. So it will be difficult for the senators to pin her down on some of these most controversial issues like abortion. And then finally, I think the president believes he has a prospect of splitting the Democrats and getting a fairly smooth confirmation. The Democratic leader in the Senate, Harry Reid [D-NV], actually urged President Bush to consider Harriet Miers. Other Democrats are not signaling that kind of acceptance right now. But there were some signals from the Democrats that she would be someone worthy of consideration. So the president believes he will be able to do what he did with John Roberts and split the Democratic Party.
GIBSON: George, I'm curious. The president had said to conservative backers that he would name to the court a conservative in the mold of Justice [Antonin] Scalia, Justice [Clarence] Thomas. Does he have any sense that she's in that mold? Has he broken any promises to the conservatives?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, that's going to be one of the big questions, Charlie. I think President Bush believes she's a conservative and also believes, quite firmly, that she is pro-life. They point out, for example, her allies, that she was involved with Texans for Life, and she's expressed those views privately. But I think there's no question that Harriet Miers is not in the mold of sort of an intellectual pioneer in the way that Justice Scalia is, or someone that is going to, you know, be in the vanguard of the conservative movement on the court. Or, at least, there is no evidence right now that she has that capability.
GIBSON: All right, George Stephanapoulos. Thanks very much. I want to turn to Linda Douglass on Capitol Hill. She covers Capitol Hill for us. Linda, the president was very careful to point out that he consulted with 80 senators on this. We understand that the minority leader in the Senate, Senator Reid, top Democrat in the Senate, had signaled that Miers might be somebody that was acceptable. So do you think she will sail through?
DOUGLASS: Well, as George says, there will clearly be a split among the Democrats, and that's the last thing they want, since they sent a very confused message, in their view, about John Roberts -- half of them voting for him, and half voting against him. There was certainly urging by the Democrats that they choose somebody -- that the president choose somebody -- who has not been in the so-called judicial monastery, and she fits that bill. But already we are hearing from Democrats that they are concerned that her views are not known. They are questioning her intellectual heft. Some of the liberal groups are already suggesting she might be a crony of the president's. That's a theme you have been hearing from Democrats about some of the appointments in government. So they are clearly lining up to find reasons to oppose her. But it's not clear they are going to be able to agree on what those are.