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Not satisfied with President Bush’s word, conservative senators and others questioned Wednesday whether Harriet Miers was the best Supreme Court nominee a self-proclaimed conservative Republican president could find. “I guess they thought we’d all just say ‘Whoopee!’ but that’s not the way it works around here anymore,” said Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss. He insisted there were many potential nominees more qualified than Miers. The White House and congressional GOP leaders — weakened by the Hurricane Katrina recovery, high gas prices, the war in Iraq and investigations of House and Senate majority leaders Tom DeLay and Bill Frist — now find themselves defending Bush’s decision to elevate his 60-year-old White House counsel to the Supreme Court. Several conservatives, from Lott, a former Senate majority leader, to columnist George Will to John Thune, R-S.D., one of the newest conservative senators, continued to question Bush’s decision even after the president made an impassioned defense of Miers in the Rose Garden on Tuesday. “I just don’t know her,” Lott said Wednesday. “I’m not going to jump out there and say this is a wonderful choice.” Added Thune: “A lot of folks were saying, ‘Why wasn’t it a Luttig, a Priscilla Owen, a Janice Rogers Brown, somebody that we know?’ Conservatives see this as having enormous stakes and I think that’s why there is so much weight attached to this, and a lot of anxiety and uncertainty about where she’s going to come down.” Owen, Brown and J. Michael Luttig are all appeals court judges. Miers is to replace Sandra Day O’Connor, whose Supreme Court vote has been key on issues including abortion and affirmative action. Senate Republicans are looking to start Miers’ confirmation hearings in early November, with an eye on getting her final confirmation vote by Thanksgiving. “She’s not a lightning rod,” said Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, the Senate’s senior Democrat. “I was concerned that the president might send up someone who just automatically would bring about a filibuster, but he didn’t do that.” With 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats and independent, Miers is expected to be confirmed by the Senate unless something unexpected happens before the vote. “Conservatives are learning more everyday about Harriet Miers, about her history and I would remind you there was concern over Judge Roberts in the beginning,” said former Republican Party chairman Ed Gillespie, who said he would shepherd Miers through the Senate in the same way that former Sen. Fred Thompson did for Chief Justice John Roberts. “This is not uncommon in the nomination-confirmation process. It’s kind of the natural cycle.” White House spokesman Scott McClellan suggested that support for Miers would grow once senators looked “at her record of accomplishment.” In fact a number of Republican senators, including Judiciary Committee members Orrin Hatch of Utah, John Cornyn of Texas and Mike DeWine of Ohio, have come forward saying they plan to support confirmation. “I see absolutely no reason that I would not vote for her,” DeWine said following an hour-long meeting with Miers Wednesday. “The only reason I’m not announcing it today is I think we always need to have hearings.” Still, Thune said, “For conservatives, she is going to have to be very forthcoming in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee to give them the comfort level that they need, the confidence level that she is going to be a judge in the mold that the president indicated: a Scalia or Thomas.” Democrats are watching the Republican squabbling while working on document requests for Miers’ work, once Bush officially sends her nomination to the Senate. They are not above trying to make the situation worse for the GOP. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, pointed out after meeting with Miers that she has not authorized anyone in the White House to speak for her views. The White House has been trumpeting favorable comments on Miers by Focus on the Family chairman James Dobson. “I said, ‘Would you disavow people who send out assurances that they know how you’re going to vote?’ She said, ‘Absolutely,’” said Leahy. “She said, ‘I will be my own person, I will be independent. Nobody has the authority or right or ability to tell how I’m going to vote.’” Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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