Bush Gets Democratic Input On Supreme Court Nominee
In a season where virtually every news story seems to have something to do with heightened polarization, it was a refreshing change to read about this seeming olive branch extended by the White House:
In their first meeting with President Bush over the Supreme Court vacancy, Democrats went so far Tuesday as to offer names for consideration while senators of both parties encouraged the president to look beyond the federal judiciary for candidates.
“It would be good to have some diversity,” said Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who said a nominee from outside the federal courts could bring new points of view and broader experience to the court than someone promoted from the federal bench.
The breakfast meeting marked a new phase in the politically charged effort to fill the first Supreme Court vacancy in more than a decade, allowing direct talks between the president and the lawmakers over moving forward with the nomination as well as the schedule for potentially combative hearings.
Can we say the words: At long last? Surely the White House will do what it wants to do in the end, but seeing a President meet with members of the opposition to discuss something like a Supreme Court nomination brings back feelings of nostalgia: it’s the way things have operated for years where Presidents and the opposition at least had a dialog. MORE:
Besides Mr. Specter, the president met with Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader; Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic leader; and Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the senior Democrat on the judiciary panel. Vice President Dick Cheney and Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff, also attended.
Despite calls by Democrats for Mr. Bush to identify some of the people on his short list, lawmakers and other officials said he did not reveal any of his favorites and spent much of the private White House session listening to the views of the senators on a replacement for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
“They’ve got strong opinions, and I wanted to hear them,” Mr. Bush told reporters after the meeting, which ran roughly an hour. “And they have shared some opinions with me.”
This and other news stories mentioned Laura Bush’s preference ( a woman) and mentioned the names of some judges that were discussed. But Mr. Bush’s most stark choice is this: will he go for a nominee that has some Democratic support or pick one who is more polarizing? Polarizing does NOT just necessarily mean conservative since there are many conservatives who wouldn’t set off a firestorm:
In more general terms, Senators Reid and Leahy also sought to discourage the president from naming an extremely conservative candidate who would engender strong opposition from Democrats and provoke a bitter confirmation fight.
“We’re at a time in the history of this country where we’ve had enough discussion, debate and contention on judges,” Mr. Reid said. “Senator Frist and I want to avoid that, as the two leaders of the Senate.”
While Democrats were clamoring for a nominee who could draw broad support, a leading conservative group came out against the idea of such a “consensus” pick.
“In this case, ‘consensus’ would mean compromise,” said an e-mail message distributed Tuesday by Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice and one of four conservative leaders who met with Mr. Card to discuss support for the president’s eventual nominee. Mr. Sekulow encouraged recipients to sign an Internet petition against a consensus candidate.
That etches the choices pretty sharply: a consensus candidate who might pick up some Democratic support, thus being a candidate who could actually unify the country, or a no-compromise candidate particularly pleasing to the GWB’s base who could provoke a divisive battle and accentuate polarization.
Which is preferable: unity (consensus) or ideological adherence (division)? Those who seek unity feel choices need the widest support as possible; those who seek ideological adherence believe compromise waters down vital principles.
It’s Bush’s call — but the dialog with Democrats means no one can accuse him of simply ignoring other Senators.