Thursday, October 13, 2005

Bush Criticized Over Emphasis on Religion of Nominee

President Bush prompted criticism from the right and the left on Wednesday after he said White House officials had told conservative supporters about the religious beliefs of his latest Supreme Court nominee, Harriet E. Miers, as part of an "outreach effort" to explain who she is.

"People ask me why I picked Harriet Miers," Mr. Bush told reporters in the Oval Office. "They want to know Harriet Miers's background, they want to know as much as they possibly can before they form opinions. And part of Harriet Miers's life is her religion."

Mr. Bush made his comments only weeks after some conservatives declared that any discussion of the religion of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. should be off limits in his confirmation process and that questions about his views amounted to an unconstitutional "religious test" of his faith as a Roman Catholic.

The president spoke on the same day that James C. Dobson, the founder of the conservative evangelical group Focus on the Family, said in remarks broadcast on his organization's radio program that Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's chief political adviser, had assured him that Ms. Miers was an evangelical Christian and a member of "a very conservative church, which is almost universally pro-life."
Mr. Dobson set off the frenzy last week when he said that he was supporting Ms. Miers because of something he had been told in confidence by the White House, a statement that led Democrats and Republicans alike to threaten to call him before the Judiciary Committee to testify.
The White House efforts to promote Ms. Miers's faith were criticized on Wednesday not only by groups on the left and the right, but also by Senator Richard J. Durbin, the Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. Some religious conservatives denounced Mr. Durbin when he tried to have a private discussion with Chief Justice Roberts about their shared Catholic religion during Chief Justice Roberts's confirmation process.

"The White House is basically saying that because of Harriet Miers's religious beliefs, you can trust her," Mr. Durbin said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. "That to me is a complete reversal not only of the history of choosing Supreme Court nominees, but of where the White House was weeks ago with the nomination of John Roberts."

I was completely unsurprised that Chimpy opted to nominate an obsequious career hack to the highest court in the land, even as his approval ratings fell below the political Mendoza line, and I am completely unsurprised to learn that Miers's religion may have figured prominently in the selection. What I am surprised by is the extent to which they have been unable to keep the base in line, and the ham-handed way in which they're going about damage control. Karl Rove clearly has his mind on other matters these days, and we may be getting a glimpse of how the West Wing will operate after the Turd Blossom cleans out his desk.


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