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Senate Democrats Meet Nominee Miers


Harriet Miers met yesterday with three members of the committee that will consider her nomination. The hearings are scheduled for next month. As NPR's David Welna reports, Republicans are divided while Democrats are moving gingerly.

DAVID WELNA reporting:

New York Democrat Charles Schumer may be the most brash and outspoken member of his party on the Senate Judiciary Committee, but Schumer chose his words carefully yesterday after an hourlong meeting with Harriet Miers in his Senate office.

Senator CHARLES SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): Based on what I heard in the office, I couldn't tell you how I would vote on Harriet Miers because she offered very, very little in terms of her own experience in the government and very, very little on her judicial philosophy. To be very honest with you, I just have no idea what it is.

WELNA: Schumer said he did question Miers about published assertions by two Texas judges that she would oppose the Roe vs. Wade decision upholding a woman's right to abortion. Her answer, he said, was that no one knows how she'd rule on Roe vs. Wade. According to Schumer, Miers said she could not recall discussing the case with anyone. Schumer said Miers demurred when he asked her about two landmark Supreme Court cases involving a right to privacy. He said she agreed to a later meeting with him where he intends to follow up on those unanswered constitutional questions.

Sen. SCHUMER: I'm going to give her a break. She is not a constitutional lawyer. She never purported to be a constitutional lawyer. But she clearly needs some time to learn about these cases, become familiar with these cases, and then give the American people her views.

WELNA: Emerging from a later meeting with California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who's the only woman on the judiciary panel, Miers had just seven words for the crowd of reporters awaiting her.

Ms. HARRIET MIERS (Supreme Court Nominee): It's a great day. Thanks. Bye-bye.

WELNA: Feinstein described Miers as, quote, `rather shy.' And while she did not reveal what they talked about, she made clear that the Roe vs. Wade decision on abortion was what she called a big threshold issue for her.

Senator DIANNE FEINSTEIN (Democrat, California): I ran as a pro-choice Democrat and she fills Sandra Day O'Connor's shoes. They are critical shoes as you look at matters involving choice.

WELNA: Many other Senate Democrats have taken a similarly cautious wait-and-see stance on Miers. But their leader, Harry Reid, yesterday, continued praising this woman who's nomination he says he recommended, a nomination that's triggered an angry revolt by many conservative Republicans.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): I don't agree with much of what President Bush does, but I think his direction for this Supreme Court nomination is very, very good.

WELNA: Such words may also be the sort of damning praise that deepens the division among Republicans. Congressional expert James Thurber of American University says most Democrats are following Reid's admonition to keep their powder dry.

Mr. JAMES THURBER (American University): That's keeping their political capital in reserve until they find out who she is and until they find out what this battle is going to be like and whether it moves onto another nominee.

WELNA: Indeed, the fog of uncertainty surrounding Miers' nomination has only grown thicker during the two weeks since President Bush chose his one-time private lawyer to sit on the Supreme Court. Yesterday on the Senate floor, Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist pleaded for patience.

Senator BILL FRIST (Republican, Tennessee): I urge all of my colleagues to let her be heard and to resist a rush to judgment. Like all judicial nominees, Harriet Miers deserves a fair up-or-down vote.

WELNA: It's a refrain Frist has often used to scold Democrats, but this time his words were clearly meant to quiet unhappy conservative Republicans. There were even problems yesterday with Arlen Specter, the moderate Republican chair of the Judiciary Committee. After meeting with Miers, Specter told reporters she'd expressed support for a court ruling on privacy that laid the groundwork for Roe vs. Wade. That prompted Miers' spokesman to say Specter was wrong and that Miers did not comment on specific cases. Specter's spokesman said he accepted Miers' contention that he'd misunderstood what she'd said. David Welna, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.