Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan October 27, 2005
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 27, 2005
Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
9:04 A.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good morning, everybody. You have the letter from Harriet Miers and you also have the statement by the President. I'm here to kind of answer whatever other questions you might have. I also want to give you a couple of tick-tock items.
She called the President last night at 8:30 p.m. He was in the residence when she called him, to inform her -- inform him of her decision. This morning, shortly after 8:30 a.m., she walked into the Oval Office and handed the President her letter of resignation, which you have a copy of in your hand.
And I think probably it's best just to go to questions from there.
Q What was the real trigger for her withdrawing? Was it the issue of documents and the fight that you're going to have in the Senate over executive privilege, or was it all of the opposition she was taking from the right? What was it?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you hit on it in the beginning of your question. I mean, she recognized that the process was headed toward an unresolvable impasse. There are a combination of factors that created what is now an unresolvable conflict. She recognizes she cannot reveal confidential advice or documents during her time serving in the executive branch. She cannot answer questions on specific issues in Supreme Court cases that previous nominees, like Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Ginsburg and others have, rightly, declined to answer, and even those who didn't come from the court, as well.
And senators had made it clear that she would be required to cross those lines in the confirmation process, given her different and unique record that she has and the fact that she does not have a judicial record or other substantial public writings, opinions or briefs on constitutional matters. And she has -- and the President talks about it again in his letter -- her legal experience is primarily as a practicing attorney and as a high-level government official. Much of her constitutional experience is confidential and protected from disclosure by the executive branch. And given today's confirmation process, I think it's those combination of factors that are almost unique to her record that have created this conflict. And we recognize --
Q Couldn't you just --
MR. McCLELLAN: No. She recognized this, and we recognized this from her meetings with senators and other discussions that the White House team had with members of the Senate. And we recognized that she would be required to cross those lines that should not be crossed in order to satisfy senators about her judicial philosophy. And so it was --
Q How could you not see that coming, though? I mean, if you knew that all of her legal background was confidential --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, one of the things the President took into consideration was the -- in consultation with senators -- was that you should look outside the court. And there are people who have come from outside the court that have previously gone through this process. But I think that we recognize that today's confirmation process, the culture of today's confirmation process makes it very difficult for somebody with a different background from those who have served on the bench, or who have worked on constitutional issues --
Q Scott, what's the President's reaction? And what does he do now?
MR. McCLELLAN: He is deeply disappointed in the process. He will move forward in a timely manner to name a new nominee, as he indicated in his letter -- or as indicated in his statement.
Q Would that be Miers? Would she maintain her role as the person to seek out --
MR. McCLELLAN: She is going to continue as White House Counsel, and as she indicates in her letter to the President, she looks forward to continuing to help him select people to the bench that have a conservative judicial philosophy, so I fully expect her to be involved, as she was before.
Q Is he also deeply disappointed in the way some of his own allies have treated her and him?
MR. McCLELLAN: We've always been focused on the Senate, not on the outside commentary or outside groups. Our focus has always been on the United States Senate. And it was the discussions that we had had, and the meetings that Harriet Miers had had with senators that led us to the belief that this was simply a conflict that could not be resolved.
Q You can't ignore what the Bill Kristols, the Charles Krauthammers, people who were supportive of him on so many other things have said about this. Has it had -- are you just calling this background noise, has it not had any effect on this?
MR. McCLELLAN: The focus was always on the Senate. And it was Harriet Miers that came to this decision. She made a courageous decision, and the President has only grown deeper in his admiration and respect for her during this process.
Q Did he talk about this with her at all before?
MR. McCLELLAN: Sorry?
Q Did he talk about this at all --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, this was a decision that she came to.
Q He never -- it never came up?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, she was not asked to -- this was a decision she came to.
Q Why is he disappointed with the process --
MR. McCLELLAN: And I think it shows the type of person that she is. She is someone who is very selfless and wise, and she recognized that it was more important to protect this important separation of powers and principle than it was to move forward on her personal ambition.
Q Scott, why is the President disappointed with the process? Because it's inconceivable that you could put forward a nominee whose background and expertise in constitutional law you can't illuminate to the people who have to confirm her.
MR. McCLELLAN: Harriet Miers is an extraordinarily well-qualified individual. And the President reiterated that in his statement that you all now have. And there have been people who have not previously served on the Court that have been confirmed to the nation's highest court. They --
Q Right -- can look into their background.
MR. McCLELLAN: There are people -- well, no, I just pointed out that even previous nominees like -- I mean, look at Chief Justice Rehnquist, or Justice White, or Justice Powell. I mean, they were people that didn't come from the court and they weren't required to answer certain questions. But senators were making it clear to us that because of her unique record that they were going to require her to cross certain lines, and she was not willing to cross those lines.
Q It was specifically in the meetings with the senators that kind of tipped things --
MR. McCLELLAN: Meetings and discussions. It was both her meetings and discussions that members of the White House staff had with senators, as well, as part of your consultations during the confirmation --
Q That gave you an indication that she would have to cross that line?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- during the confirmation process. But, remember, one of the things the senators emphasized at the beginning to the President was that he should look for a different perspective on the court, someone from outside the court. So that's what -- and he is -- he has a lot of respect and admiration for Harriet Miers, and that has only grown by her decision.
Q Scott, forgive me if you did this before I walked in, but as recently as yesterday, you know, you were really standing by this thing. When did she make this decision --
MR. McCLELLAN: Last night, at 8:30 p.m. she called the President. He was in the residence and she called him to inform him of her decision. And then I also mentioned at the top of this gaggle that she walked into the Oval Office shortly after 8:30 a.m. this morning and personally handed him the letter of resignation that you have.
Q What was his reaction? What was his reaction? What did he say? Did any --
MR. McCLELLAN: It's what I just said. I mean, he is --
Q -- what he said to her?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think he just has tremendous respect for Harriet Miers and expressed that to her, as well.
Q So she's going to continue as White House Counsel --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.
Q -- as long as she wants?
MR. McCLELLAN: She is continuing as White House Counsel.
Q Is he sorry that she had to go through this?
MR. McCLELLAN: Everybody serves as -- at the pleasure of the President.
Q Well, I mean --
MR. McCLELLAN: So I don't want to --
Q -- basically, she's got her old job back?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's right. It's still her current job, her current job.
Q Right, no harm, no foul.
MR. McCLELLAN: But now she'll be able to return to the day-to-day responsibilities.
Q Is he sorry she had to go through this, Scott?
Q Are we going to hear from the President, himself, in person, on this? And, two, does this mean that you're not going to nominate someone from outside the judicial world to fill that vacancy now? Are you chastened by this experience?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President is going to move forward in a timely manner. He's going to select someone who he feels is the best person for the position. And I don't want to speculate before that, but as I indicated, we fully recognize the culture of today's confirmation process. And we have gone through this experience and that is taken into account, I think.
Q Is he going to speak on it -- is he going to speak on it?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't expect him to at this point.
Q Not today?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's why we put out the statement from the President. But I'll keep -- I'll be with him, so I'll keep you posted.
Q So he met with her last night at 8:30 p.m., that's when he learned --
MR. McCLELLAN: She called him last night.
Q She called him?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. He was in the residence.
Q What about this whole idea that Harriet was a stalking horse for an ultra-conservative nominee that will now be named?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's an interesting conspiracy theory. The President nominated her because he believes she was the best person to fill the position and based on the consultations he had with members of the Senate, who said he should look outside the court.
Q Scott, how much of a difference did it make in this that some of the President's own staunchest supporters didn't want to fight for her or even --
MR. McCLELLAN: I had said, I think before you walked in, Terry, that our focus was always on the Senate, not on the outside commentary.
Q Scott, it was quite an ordeal for her. Is he sorry that she had to be raked through this the way she was? So many things came up and --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think all of us here at the White House share the President's sentiment and are deeply disappointed by the process, because we all know Harriet Miers very well and all of us that know her have only the deepest respect for her and know what an extraordinarily capable individual she is. We look forward to continuing to work with her here at the White House.
Q Has it taken a toll on the President and on her, personally, the questions raised about her intellect and her law firm and everything else that has come up?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President is well-aware of the political environment here in Washington, D.C., and his job is to continue to move forward on what the American people care about. And that's what he's going to do. And he will move forward quickly to fill this vacancy.
Q Is it safe to say the next nominee is not going to be a White House employee? (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: He will let you know who the next nominee is in due course.
Q And, Scott, just to be clear, she is going to take on the job that she had before, to help the President vet the next candidate, the next nominee?
MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't had a discussion with her about it in any detail, but I fully expect her to continue to be involved like she was before.
Q Scott, had Republican senators, senior Republicans urged the President or urged Harriet Miers to turn down this nomination, stop this nomination?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q Had he heard, or had she heard from any of the senior Republican senators to do this, not to go forward with this nomination? Was this at the urging of any --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me check on that. I don't know that we had specifically heard that from members of the Senate. I mean, obviously, they had expressed their views publicly. I think that those are the same views that they were expressing privately to us during the confirmation process. And that's what became clear to us in the consultations that members of the team that were supporting her confirmation heard, and that she heard in some of her meetings with members of the Senate --
Q Well, what did they say --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- so I don't know of any such request.
Q Well, what did they say, basically, if we can't get this information there's no sense in going --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I mean, senators -- it's what I said earlier, that senators had made it clear that they were going to require her to cross certain lines that we don't think should be crossed.
Q But did some senior senators on your side say, if you can't give us this information, there's no sense in even taking this any further? I mean, that sort of suggestion to withdraw her?
MR. McCLELLAN: I've not heard that. I've not heard it characterized that way.
Q -- like saying -- did they sort of couch it in --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, John, I just said I've not heard it characterized that way. I mean, if I find out differently or additional information, I'll keep you posted.
Q Did anyone on the Hill know that you were withdrawing her nomination?
MR. McCLELLAN: Thanks.
Q Thanks, Scott.
END 9:18 A.M. EDT