The Moment of Truth

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, July 5, 2005; 1:12 PM

President Bush's choice for the Supreme Court will go a long way toward answering two seminal questions:

What kind of man is George W. Bush?


What kind of country is Bush's America?

The White House has been amazingly successful at putting up rhetorical screens that make it harder than one might expect for the public to answer those two questions, four and a half years into his presidency.

But in deciding on a replacement for retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Bush will make a resounding statement that no amount of spin can obscure.

His choice should leave little doubt in the minds of most Americans about how far right he stands on the political spectrum and whether he is at heart a uniter or a divider.

Even more importantly, in replacing a swing vote on the court, Bush has the opportunity not just to tip the court's balance but to fundamentally change America by altering the way this country defines the most basic human rights.

How Far Will He Go?

Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post: "For more than three decades, the right has been ascendant in America. A Republican Party fueled by the energy and activism of its religious and social conservatives has seized control of the executive and legislative branches of government in Washington and has seen its strength widen and deepen across the country.

"The Supreme Court is the lone branch of government where conservatives have been unable to gain the dominant voice, to the great frustration of those on the right. . . .

"The choice ahead for Bush in selecting a successor to O'Connor may prove to be the most important domestic decision of his presidency, given its potential impact on abortion and other issues and rivaling Iraq in its ability to split the country. He will soon decide just how far to try to push the court in a different direction."

Douglas Jehl writes in the New York Times: "At the White House, the moment presents Mr. Bush with an opportunity to define at last, more than four years into his presidency, whether he is a pragmatic, flexible conservative, as he has portrayed himself in two campaigns, or a more ideological one, determined to move the court much further rightward. It is a juncture officials have been planning for."

Kathy Kiely writes in USA Today: "The person he picks to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court will help determine how he's viewed in history books. The selection could resolve a question in contemporary American politics: How conservative is George Bush?"

Linda Feldmann writes in the Christian Science Monitor: "In a presidency most noteworthy for its wars, George W. Bush now faces a defining moment on a different battlefield: the judiciary."

The Stakes

Tom Brune and Deborah Barfield Berry write in Newsday: "The impact of Bush's choice for a replacement will be immense on the court, American law and the nation, say legal scholars and partisan activists, and it will directly affect issues that are on the fault line of the cultural divide.

"Activists on both sides already are ginning up support and predicting potential seismic shifts in future narrow rulings on touchy issues such as affirmative action, abortion, religion and civil liberties."

Charles Lane writes in The Washington Post that it won't take long for O'Connor's replacement to have an effect: "The abortion rights of teenagers, administration efforts to override a state right-to-die law, and the military's 'don't ask, don't tell' policy are all on the docket for the court term that begins Oct. 3."

Confrontation or Conciliation?

Craig Gordon writes in Newsday: "President George W. Bush's first chance to fill a Supreme Court vacancy confronts him with a high-stakes choice - confrontation or conciliation - as he decides just how aggressively to remake the court in his party's image.

"Does he choose a reliably conservative jurist with little in the way of sharp-edged positions or rhetoric in the hopes of winning bipartisan support? Or does he make a more provocative pick to electrify his evangelical Christian base and possibly goad the Democrats into a showdown?

"If history is any guide, Bush prefers the poke in the eye at Democrats to the pat on the back, especially on matters of great importance to his conservative supporters. And there is nothing more important to them now than solidifying conservative control over the third and final branch of U.S. government for decades to come."

Ron Hutcheson writes for Knight Ridder Newspapers: "By picking a staunch conservative to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Bush could do more to advance the conservative agenda than he has been able to accomplish in five years in the White House. But he also would risk a divisive battle in the Senate and a potential backlash from Americans who favor a middle-ground approach to abortion, gay rights, affirmative action and other hot-button social issues."

Susan Milligan writes in the Boston Globe: "Some Democratic senators said yesterday that they were prepared to filibuster a Supreme Court nominee they find unacceptable, and urged President Bush to name a 'mainstream conservative' to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor."

The Process: Bush's View

Judy Keen writes in USA Today: "President Bush said Monday that special-interest groups running TV ads and mobilizing supporters for a fight over his choice of a successor to Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor should 'tone down the heated rhetoric.' He forcefully defended Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, a prospect criticized by conservatives.

" 'Al Gonzales is a great friend of mine,' Bush said in a phone interview. 'When a friend gets attacked, I don't like it.' . . .

"He said he's considering -- 'a good-sized' number of prospects. 'I will begin to hone in on a handful of candidates over the course of the next few weeks,' he said. Then, he said, he will interview them himself.

"Asked whether women and minorities are on his list, Bush said, 'Of course there's a diverse group of citizens.' "

Here are excerpts of Keen's interview with Bush.

The Process: At the White House

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "The lights were on in the office of Harriet E. Miers, the White House counsel, through the holiday weekend as she prepared final dossiers for President Bush on the handful of leading contenders to succeed Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court. . . .

"Mr. Bush will continue to review background information on the leading contenders on a trip to Europe this week. He spent the weekend at Camp David reading through files of some of the candidates, administration officials said. . . .

"One Republican ally of the White House said Mr. Bush's top advisers were considering the merits of announcing a nominee as late as August, which would give opposition groups less time to attack and shorten a battle that is expected to dominate Washington, and Mr. Bush's agenda, through the summer."

How the White House Found Out

Mark Silva writes in the Chicago Tribune: "First word of a vacancy on the Supreme Court arrived Thursday morning at the White House: A sealed envelope was on its way Friday.

"But not until that envelope arrived in the hands of the Supreme Court's chief marshal, the White House said Friday, did the president or anyone on his staff know it was Justice Sandra Day O'Connor who was stepping down -- not ailing Chief Justice William Rehnquist, whose retirement was anticipated for weeks."

At Friday's gaggle, press secretary Scott McClellan explained:

"Q You knew it was somebody, but not her, until this morning?

"MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we knew that the Court had a letter to deliver to us, and it was this morning when the marshal informed Harriet that it was relating to Justice O'Connor.

"Q So was everybody going crazy with speculation here last night? Really, I mean --

"MR. McCLELLAN: No, I mean, I think it was a -- I mean, it was a small group of individuals, obviously --

"Q All right, not 'everybody,' just the small group.

"MR. McCLELLAN: -- that knew that something might be delivered."

The O'Connor Effect

Neil A. Lewis writes in the New York Times: "President Bush is expected to select a nominee to the Supreme Court from a list of candidates that is, with few exceptions, a small roster of sitting federal appeals court judges, Republican and former White House officials have said."

But, Lewis writes: "That compilation was prepared with the assumption that Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist would retire and create the vacancy, not Justice O'Connor, which could change the political calculations."

For instance: "Both current and former officials have said Mr. Bush would like to place Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales on the court, but would do so now only if he believed he had just one chance.

"One senior Republican adviser said the surprise resignation of Justice O'Connor meant Mr. Bush could have a high degree of confidence that he would have another vacancy to fill before his term ended."

Consulting With Democrats?

Ronald Brownstein and Edwin Chen write in the Los Angeles Times: "The White House plans to solicit opinions this week from senators in both parties, a senior White House aide said Saturday. . . .

"While Bush spends most of the week at meetings in Europe, senior White House officials will canvass Democratic and Republican senators for recommendations to fill the vacancy created when Justice Sandra Day O'Connor announced her retirement Friday, said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

" 'It will be senior White House staff consulting with senators in both parties,' the official said. 'White House staff will be asking senators for their ideas about good candidates to be nominated.' "

But John D. McKinnon and Christopher Cooper write in the Wall Street Journal that "Bush's track record -- and a nearly unbroken record of presidential precedent -- suggest that in the end, lawmakers will have little say in whom the president nominates."

Reading Tea Leaves

David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times: "Suddenly, the code words Mr. Bush has refined in four and a half years since he took office are about to be examined as never before. As he considers his choices for filling the first Supreme Court vacancy of his presidency, he can expect that his every utterance on judicial philosophy will be freighted with new meaning."

As for whether he might go for a conciliatory choice, Sanger writes that in a 2001 interview, "Mr. Bush made it clear that in his mind, confirmation battles were not to be avoided. . . .

"This weekend a senior aide to Mr. Bush, who would not allow his name to be used in describing the president's thinking and who cautioned that he had no idea whom the president was going to pick, said Mr. Bush believed that 'more than ever.' "

Nedra Pickler writes for the Associated Press: "Bush has said he admires Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, the two most conservative members of today's generally conservative court. Both would overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion, drop racial affirmative action and allow almost any government aid to religious schools."

Social What? War Where?

Julie Hirschfeld Davis writes in the Baltimore Sun: "For Bush, the prospect of spending the next couple of months advancing a replacement for retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is like an icy drink on an oppressively hot day.

"In the instant that Bush received word that there would be a court vacancy, he went from a president facing sagging poll numbers and a languid and unpredictable summer to one about to make one of the most important decisions of his presidency, highlighting issues that animate his base and absorb the attention of the nation."

Valerie Plame Watch

Enter Karl Rove.

Carol D. Leonnig writes in The Washington Post: "Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political adviser, spoke with Time magazine's Matthew Cooper during a critical week in July 2003 when Cooper was reporting on a public critic of the Bush administration who was also the husband of a CIA operative, his lawyer confirmed yesterday.

"Rove is identified in Cooper's notes from that time period, which Time turned over Friday to special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald -- under court order. Fitzgerald is investigating whether senior administration officials leaked CIA operative Valerie Plame's name to reporters in July 2003 as retaliation after her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, publicly accused the Bush administration of twisting intelligence to justify a war with Iraq.

"Rove's lawyer said Rove never identified Plame to Cooper in those conversations. More significantly, Robert Luskin said, Fitzgerald assured him in October and again last week that Rove is not a target of his investigation."

Michael Isikoff writes in Newsweek: "Initially, Fitzgerald's focus was on Novak's sourcing, since Novak was the first to out Plame. But according to Luskin, Rove's lawyer, Rove spoke to Cooper three or four days before Novak's column appeared. Luskin told Newsweek that Rove 'never knowingly disclosed classified information' and that 'he did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA.' . . .

"But one of the two lawyers representing a witness sympathetic to the White House told Newsweek that there was growing 'concern' in the White House that the prosecutor is interested in Rove. Fitzgerald declined to comment."

Richard B. Schmitt writes in the Los Angeles Times that "the disclosure raised new questions about Rove and the precise role of the White House in the apparent national security breach as Cooper and another reporter, Judith Miller of the New York Times, faced imminent jail terms."

Scott Shane of the New York Times talks to Wilson about Plame. "That the leaker appears willing to permit journalists to be incarcerated rather than taking public responsibility for his actions simply shows the leaker's 'cravenness and cowardice,' Mr. Wilson said."

Independence Day

Mark Silva writes in the Chicago Tribune: "With a flag-draped clock tower for a backdrop in a politically friendly state on a sunny 4th of July, President Bush defended the war in Iraq as part of a grand American quest for freedom spanning 'from Bunker Hill to Baghdad.' "

Here's the text of Bush's speech.

And even on the Fourth of July, Bush events are ticket-only.

Heading to the G-8

Bush arrives in Copenhagen late tonight for a quick stop in Denmark on the way to the G-8 summit in Scotland. Tomorrow morning (about 4 a.m. ET), Bush and the Danish prime minister will hold a joint press availability. The G8 meeting is Thursday and Friday.

Warren Vieth writes in the Los Angeles Times: "President Bush, whose foreign policy is viewed in some countries as ill-conceived and arrogant, heads to an international summit this week intent on convincing the world that he knows the meaning of consensus."

William Douglas writes for Knight Ridder Newspapers: "President Bush and the leaders of seven other major industrialized nations will hold a two-day summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, starting Wednesday, all eight of them so weakened politically by waning popularity back home that they may not be able to do much."

Movement on Climate Change?

Here's an excerpt from the transcript of Bush's interview on British ITV television's "Tonight with Trevor McDonald."

"TONIGHT: Do you accept that climate change is man-made, sir?

"PRESIDENT BUSH: To a certain extent it is, obviously. I mean, if fossil fuels create greenhouse gases, we're burning fossil fuel, as is a lot of other countries. You know, look, there was a debate over Kyoto, and I made the decision - as did a lot of other people in this country, by the way - that the Kyoto treaty didn't suit our needs. In other words, the Kyoto treaty would have wrecked our economy, if I can be blunt. . . .

"TONIGHT: But Mr President, if I may, the predictions about global warming - and I hear what you say - are very dire. The UK's chief scientist says that it probably poses a bigger threat than global terrorism. Isn't it, therefore, irresponsible for you to say, as you've done, that you walked away from Kyoto and you won't order cuts in carbon dioxide emissions because it would damage America's economy?

"PRESIDENT BUSH: I walked away from Kyoto because it would damage America's economy, you bet. It would have destroyed our economy. It was a lousy deal for the American economy. I felt there was a better way. And that's why --

"TONIGHT [interrupting]: But is that putting American industrial economic interests above the global interests of the environment?

"PRESIDENT BUSH: No, I think you can do both. See, I think you can grow your economy and at the same time do a better job of harnessing greenhouse gases. That's exactly what I intend to talk to our partners about."

John Daniszewski and Ron DePasquale write in the Los Angeles Times: "As world leaders prepared for a major summit, President Bush said Monday that he would not substantially change his stance on global warming to reward British Prime Minister Tony Blair for his support of the war in Iraq."

But Ewen MacAskill writes in the Guardian: "The United States is edging towards important concessions on climate change at this week's G8 summit, it has been revealed.

"US President George Bush is now ready to concede that climate change has scientific basis, and that collective action is required over global warming. Until now, Mr Bush has adopted an intransigent position, insisting there is no scientific basis to conclude that there is such a phenomenon as global warming.

"The move was signalled during last weekend's 'sherpas' meeting at Lancaster House in London, where officials met to work on a draft agreement ahead of this week's summit in Gleneagles. One of the diplomats involved in the negotiations confirmed today that the US sherpa had moved and accepted a draft text in which the existence of the problem is recognised."

MacAskill sees some signs of movement in the ITV interview -- and, furthermore, notes that it was recorded almost a week ago, several days before the meeting of the sherpas.

Bush's Book?

Richard Wolffe and Tamara Lipper write in Newsweek: "George W. Bush is mulling his own book, according to one senior aide and one former administration official. . . .

"Nothing is on paper, and President Bush has yet to decide who will physically write his book, but he has discussed his ideas with a handful of aides in casual conversations over the last few years."

But here's a hitch: "In order to command an advance like Clinton's (or even Hillary Clinton's; she was paid a reported $8 million), President Bush -- averse to second-guessing himself -- would have to show publishers a willingness to be candid about his time in office, according to the publishing source."

Live Online

Don't miss Washington Post White House correspondent Peter Baker Live Online tomorrow at 1 p.m. ET.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

Bush turns 59 tomorrow.

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