WASHINGTON - The White House downplayed a growing conservative backlash against President Bush's second nominee to the Supreme Court, Harriet Miers, calling it similar to the initial response conservatives gave the president's first nominee, John Roberts Jr., and insisting that critics of the White House counsel and former Dallas attorney will change their minds once they study her personal and professional work.
One week after Mr. Bush began taking heat from his conservative base for choosing a little-known administration lawyer to succeed Justice O'Connor on the court, White House officials expressed confidence that Ms. Miers would impress members of the Senate's Judiciary Committee and be confirmed by the full Senate. The prediction came even as Republican members of the committee have expressed doubts about Ms. Miers.
Two Republicans on the committee, Senator Brownback, of Kansas, and Senator Coburn, of Oklahoma, have both expressed doubts in the past week about whether they will vote for the nominee based on her scant record on constitutional issues. And the committee's Republican chairman, Senator Specter, of Pennsylvania, said on ABC over the weekend that Ms. Miers would need to study up. "The jurisprudence is very complicated," he said."
But a spokesman for the White House, Jim Dyke, said much of the criticism leveled against the nominee is the result of false impressions. Reiterating the initial White House response to criticism of Ms. Miers, Mr. Dyke said that conservatives would back off as the process unfolds. He said the White House takes seriously the criticism of Republican senators in particular but remains confident that Ms. Miers will impress them during the hearing.
"I think anytime you see people you believe to have a judicial philosophy that's consistent with the president and consistent with the nominee's talking that way, sure, that's a concern," Mr. Dyke said. "But once people understand who the nominee is, especially those with a strict constructionist philosophy, you have to believe that if that's their objective, then they are a yes vote."
Ms. Miers, who traveled to Dallas over the weekend to review past speeches and legal cases, flew back to Washington last night ahead of continued meetings with senators this week. President Bush told reporters Friday that Ms. Miers would be confirmed by the Senate even as conservative commentators such as the editor of the Weekly Standard, William Kristol, turned up the heat by calling on Mr. Bush to withdraw her name.
One high-level Democratic aide, who asked not to be identified, said the White House comparisons of this nomination to the nomination of Chief Justice Roberts suggests that it does not understand conservative criticism of the Miers pick. The aide predicted, however, that the White House would not bend to criticism even if it continues to heighten in coming weeks.
"If they're not engaging their critics, they should turn that around real quick," the aide said. "But this administration rarely if ever admits they are wrong. I think it's unlikely you will see any effort by the White House to withdraw her nomination."
Conservatives are also unlikely to budge. A former counsel to Senator Hatch, a Republican of Utah, who has been one of the most vocal critics of the pick, Manuel Miranda, predicted that Ms. Miers would not make it past the Senate.
He said Republicans have already made it clear that they will not defend the nominee. "Democrats now know that if they attack, no one that matters will mount a defense," Mr. Miranda said. "That's why I now think that she's unconfirmable and will have to be withdrawn."