No Way Out

Following Monday’s Cabinet meeting, a reporter asked President Bush if the White House was working on a contingency plan for the withdrawal of Harriet Miers’ nomination.

A number of influential conservatives wish the president would do just that to avoid a brutal confirmation fight over a Supreme Court nominee they consider unqualified.

The fight could leave the Bush’s base shaken and divided. Over the weekend, Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he might summon James Dobson, a leading evangelical conservative, to testify about private assurances from the White House on where Miers stands on certain issues.

Bush did not answer the reporter’s question, choosing instead to address the issue of a request by Specter’s committee for legal opinions and memorandums drafted by Miers as White House counsel.

Responding to that request, said Bush, “would make it impossible for me and other presidents to be able to make sound decisions. They may ask for paperwork about the decision-making process, what her recommendations were, and that would breach very important confidentiality. And it’s a red line I’m not willing to cross. People can learn about Harriet Miers through hearings, but we are not going to destroy this business about people being able to walk into the Oval Office and say, ‘Mr. President, here’s my advice to you, here’s what I think is important.’ ”

It is a dilemma for Bush. He is a true believer in the doctrine of executive privilege, that certain White House communications must be privileged to protect the president’s ability to get candid advice from his aides. On the other hand, the senators have a point, too. They have very little to go on from her pre-White House legal career to judge her fitness for the high court. At the worst, Bush has handed an easy out — they just don’t know enough about her — for fence-sitting senators.

Surely someone in the vetting process must have anticipated this problem. It’s why appointing your personal attorney and White House aide to the Supreme Court is not such a great idea.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)