Here’s an Idea: Wait for a Vote

Yesterday, the White House handed out to reporters a Texans United for Life survey completed by Harriet Miers in 1989 — which was among the boxes of documents responding to a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire — in which Miers supported banning abortion except to protect the life of a pregnant woman.

As the Los Angeles Times reports today, this particular document “was released to news reporters before the rest of the documents, suggesting supporters of Miers’ nomination sought to draw public attention to it” — a wish that was granted, as many news outlets ran stories focusing on the survey and what it did or didn’t do to Republican support for Miers.

According to the Washington Times’ account, the unveiling of the Texas survey brought many concerned conservatives back into the White House fold and put the administration back on more familiar and comfortable footing — battling liberals. “By yesterday afternoon — after the administration released the [survey] — many of the concerns held by conservative senators began to lift,” the Times’ Charles Hurt writes. “Several Democrats on Capital Hill expressed alarm about [Miers’ apparent anti-abortion] position and the White House — finally into a fight with liberals after weeks of fighting with fellow conservatives — downplayed [the survey’s] significance …,” reports Hurt, seeming rather relieved (“finally!”) himself. The Los Angles Times’ Maura Reynolds also sees Republicans rallying as of yesterday in her piece headlined, “Republicans Warming Up to Miers.”

The Washington Post’s take is far less sunny. “Right Remains Unsure of Miers” reads the headline on’s front page this morning for Amy Goldstein and Charles Babington’s piece in which the duo reports that “yesterday’s disclosure did not appear to quell doubts among some conservatives that Miers … is a sound choice …” The New York Times’ David Kirkpatrick also leads with the news that the “disclosure … failed to assuage the concerns of some conservative Republicans.” Newsday, too, reports that “… even the anti-abortion pledge [Miers] made 16 years ago did not appear to immediately rally wary Republican senators.”

To back up its glass-half-full interpretation, the Washington Times first offers readers a partial quote from one lawmaker: “‘I took some comfort from’ [Miers’] stated position on abortion, said Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, a member of the Judiciary Committee and one of the conservatives most skeptical of Miss Miers. Mr. Brownback said he expects her to minimize the questionnaire by saying it reflects a political position rather than foreshadows how she would rule on Roe. V. Wade. Still, he added, ‘it does reveal some of her beliefs and intentions.’”

And yet, the New York Times quotes this same Sen. Brownback to support its doubts-not-quelled take (emphasis ours): “But Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican on the committee who has threatened to vote against Ms. Miers if he fears that she might uphold abortion rights, said the survey did not resolve his concerns. ‘It is a piece of evidence,’ Mr. Brownback said, adding that it is not as indicative of her legal views as a judicial opinion or a law review article might have been.”

The Washington Times offers two additional less-than-effusive partial quotes from two other Republican senators to support its “concerns lifting” thesis. (Sen. Jeff Sessions said that “wholesale desertion of the Miers nomination by conservative Republicans such as himself is unlikely” and Sen. John Thune exited a meeting with Miers yesterday “saying he felt a ‘level of comfort’ with her.”) The Los Angeles Times’ Reynolds also quotes Sen. Thune — the only specific evidence she gives of any Republican “warming” to Miers. But deeper in her story, Reynolds actually quotes two Republicans — one being Thune himself — expressing nagging doubts about Miers. And Newsday, too, includes a quote from Thune to support its “doubts linger” interpretation.

So which is it? Are the concerns of conservative senators like Brownback and Thune “lifting” or did yesterday’s revelations “fail to assuage” their doubts? Are Senators Brownback and Thune prepared to support Miers or are they this close to voting “no” on the nominee?

What about a story that concedes that how doubtful a senator is or isn’t about a Supreme Court nominee will only be known for sure on the day that the Senate actually votes on that nominee and that everything else is just speculation — something that every politician is skilled at fueling and that most reporters can’t seem to resist reporting?

Liz Cox Barrett

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.