President Bush is promising to consult with senators on a Supreme Court nominee, although he says he’ll also hold fast to his determination to “find people of a certain temperament” to serve on the bench.
Bush didn’t say during a Rose Garden news conference on Tuesday how early in the process those talks would come or whether he would seek advice from Democrats as well as Republicans.
Still, Bush’s comments went further than the White House usually goes when discussing a possible Supreme Court vacancy. Many court watchers expect Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who is battling thyroid cancer, to step down soon, perhaps when the court session concludes at the end of June. The White House generally has declined to comment on grounds that such a vacancy doesn’t now exist.
Without mentioning Rehnquist, Bush told reporters: “Here’s my process. One, I’m obviously going to spend a lot of time reviewing the records of a variety of people and looking at their opinions and their character, and will consult with members of the United States Senate at the appropriate time.
“I know there’s been a lot of talk about consultation between the White House and the Senate,” he added.
Democratic senators, in particular, have complained that Bush doesn’t seek their input when nominating federal judges.
On other matters, Bush disputed a suggestion that he was losing clout and momentum early in his second term after a string of setbacks in Congress. He vowed to keep pushing the Republican-led Congress for Social Security overhaul and renewed his intention to veto a bill on stem-cell research.
He also defended his administration’s treatment of war-on-terror detainees, rejecting as “absurd” a human rights group’s suggestion last week that the U.S.-run prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had become “the gulag of our times.”
Bush’s comments on judicial nominees were his first extended ones since a Senate compromise last week that led to confirmation on his nomination of Priscilla Owen as a federal appeals court judge and cleared the way for up-or-down votes on several other appellate nominations.
Under the compromise drafted by 14 centrist senators, with seven from each party, Democrats promised to forgo filibuster tactics except in “extraordinary circumstances.”
However, Republicans have since accused Democrats of reneging on the spirit of the agreement by forcing a delay on the confirmation of John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Asked specifically whether the process he will use for picking a Supreme Court nominee would be affected by that agreement forged by the 14 moderate senators, Bush said, “Well, that depends on whether or not the Senate will give my person an up-or-down vote.”
Citing the “extraordinary circumstances” clause, Bush said, “I don’t know what that means … I guess we’re about to find out when it comes to other appellate judges.”
“I look forward to talking to members of the Senate about the Supreme Court process to get their opinions as well, and will do so,” Bush said. “But, obviously … I told the American people I would find people of a certain temperament that would serve on the bench, and I intend to do that, but we will consult with the Senate.”
On the lack of apparent public support for his Social Security plan four months after he unveiled it, Bush said Americans are at least aware now of Social Security’s financial difficulties. He predicted he would eventually prevail.
“It’s like water cutting through a rock. It’s just a matter of time,” he said. “In the meantime, the people are watching Washington, and nothing’s happening, except you got a president who’s willing to talk about the issue.”
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., replied that Bush should “stop caving to the demands of the far right” if he is serious about bipartisan accomplishment on any issue.
“Democrats stand in the commonsense center, ready to take up this work,” Reid said.