As the furor over the Harriet Miers nomination has grown, I’ve been wondering when somebody would finally produce an insider account of how, mechanically, the choice was made. Sure, there are plenty of theories, but not much in the way of actual information.That changed today. While it’s not exactly a tick-tock account, John Fund in the Wall Street Journal provides a peek behind the veil, and in particular helps us understand why the White House seemed to be blind-sided by the powerfully negative reaction.Read it yourself, but the basic story line is this: the moment John Roberts was nominated to become Chief Justice, Bush and his staff decided O’Connor’s replacement would be a woman. Miers started the usual intensive vetting process for the women on the short list. Andy Card suggested to Bush that Miers herself be considered. Bush agreed. Card ordered Miers’ deputy, William Kelley (who had just been hired) to carry out a quiet vetting of Miers “behind her back.” Kelley soon came back with a green light. Card formally proposed her nomination to Bush; POTUS signed off; Laura Bush jumped on board. Card told the rest of the staff, and angrily overrode objections. Total secrecy about the pick was imposed. It was announced according to a rigid schedule, and then all hell broke loose.The two things that really stand out about this account are:(1) Where was the Helmsman, Karl Rove in all this? Fund doesn’t say, though there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence kicking around that the post-decision political vetting of Miers was even more haphazard than the vetting of her qualifications for the Court. Is this because Rove was distracted by other tasks (e.g., overseeing Katrina recovery and trying to avoid an indictment)? Or was it because nobody, even Rove, wanted to raise objections about an appointment to which Bush was very committed personally? Or, worse yet, did Rove simply think he could quickly sell Miers to conservatives on grounds of the usual Machine loyalty, underestimating the growing unhappiness of the Right with W.’s overall performance? All of these factors may have come into play.(2) Card’s back-door vetting of Miers by her own deputy almost guaranteed a sloppy process. As Fund points out, the conflicts-of-interest this step imposed on Kelley were formidable–investigating his own boss behind her back for a position that might pave the way to his own promotion, knowing all the while the risks of becoming the messenger who would be shot for bearing bad news about Bush’s close friend. And presumably, Kelley had to do a lot of this on his own, without the resources or time available to Miers in her own, official vetting process. That’s the big irony here: the famously process-obsessed perfectionist Miers got her big break from a process that glaringly diverged from her own standards.And the price she and the White House are paying for that lapse in discipline grows higher every day.I normally wouldn’t quote from one of those columns now sequestered by the New York Times as “premium content,” but David Brooks today penned a pitiless dissection of Miers’ columns for the Texas Bar Journal in the early ’90s that illustrates the kind of material a serious vetting of her would have revealed. He supplies paragraph after paragraph of samplings from “the largest body of public writing we have from her,” and even aside from Miers’ mangled syntax and a fatal addiction to passive verb constructions, it’s not a pretty sight. (My own favorite: “When consensus of diverse leadership can be achieved on issues of importance, the greatest impact can be achieved.” Word up.)As Brooks himself concludes: “I don’t know if by mere quotation I can fully convey the relentless march of vapid abstractions that mark Miers’ prose. Nearly every idea is vague and depersonalized. Nearly every debatable point is elided.”And so it goes, another predictably negative revelation about a nominee whose main distinguising features are her work habits, a genial personality, and a devotion to church, family and most of all W.My gut feeling is that Bush let her down by exposing her to this ridicule. And though it’s hard to tell at this point, he may be exposing Harriet Miers and himself to a humiliating experience in the Senate.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
It’s one of the more comical aspects of the deadly serious game of chicken that House Republicans are playing on the debt limit, but it’s worth pointing out, as I did at New York:
As the United States lurches toward a possible debt default thanks to House Republican hostage-taking on legislation needed to extend or suspend the debt limit, it’s increasingly evident that (as my colleague Jonathan Chait observed) the hostage-taker is strangely reluctant to name a ransom. Indeed, the initial Democratic strategy in this complicated chess game was simply to force House Republicans to say exactly what kind of spending cuts they propose to make in exchange for allowing a debt-limit measure to wobble its way to Joe Biden’s desk.
It’s easy to mock GOP lawmakers for the brainlessness, or maybe cowardice, of their effort to make Democrats identify the spending cuts their opponents want. The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell tans the elephant’s hide with considerable panache:
“Republicans have Very Serious budget demands. Unfortunately, they can’t identify what any of those demands are.
“They say they want to reduce deficits — but meanwhile have ruled out virtually every path for doing so (cuts to defense, cuts to entitlements, wiping out nondefense discretionary spending, or raising taxes). …
“Republicans say they want lower deficits — in fact, they have pledged to balance the budget (that is, no deficit at all) within seven or 10 years. But they have not laid out any plausible mathematical path for arriving at that destination. They promise to cut ‘wasteful spending’ … but can’t agree on what counts as ‘waste.’”
In so quickly reaching this predictable dead end in answering the world’s easiest math problem, Republicans have one plausible line of defense: It’s how much of the public feels about fiscal matters as well. They really don’t like deficits and (especially) debt. But they really don’t like the kind of spending cuts that Republicans are talking about either (tax increases, of course, are categorically off the table for the GOP and have been since the George H.W. Bush “Read my lips: No new taxes” debacle).
A September 2022 poll from the deficit scolds of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation found that Americans are up in arms about all the borrowing:
“A 31-month high of 83% of voters are urging the president and Congress to spend more time addressing the national debt, with the biggest jump among those under age 35 (8 points to 85%).
“More than eight-in-ten voters (81%) also said that their concern about the national debt has increased. Nearly three-in-four voters (74%) feel the national debt should be a top-three priority for the president and Congress, including 65% of Democrats, 74% of independents, and 86% of Republicans.”
From 40,000 feet, all that red ink looks pretty alarming, it seems. More recently, this very week, the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal found a majority of Americans stamping their feet about it:
“Most Americans oppose raising the federal debt ceiling without accompanying cuts to federal spending, a new RMG Research poll finds.
“Sixty-one percent of 1,000 registered voters in the survey said Congress should either raise the debt ceiling with spending cuts (45%) or refuse to raise the ceiling at all (16%). Only about a quarter (24%) said Congress should raise the ceiling without accompanying spending cuts.”
To House Republicans, the great symbol of runaway spending is the “monstrous” $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill passed by Congress in December. Many of them claimed during the fight over Kevin McCarthy’s Speakership bid that “the American people” were outraged by the measure despite the fact that it cleared the Senate, House, and White House. Perhaps they were thinking of a Twitter poll conducted by Elon Musk that showed that 75 percent of respondents opposed the omnibus bill.
The sad truth is, however, that the more specific you are in identifying items in one of those “monstrous” bills, the more support they command from the public. In 2021, Gallup published a summary of public-opinion research on what was then a $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Democratic budget-reconciliation proposal (soon whittled way down to $2.2 trillion and then to a net-negative figure in the ultimately enacted Inflation Reduction Act) and found that its provisions were very popular despite the debt they required:
“[S]everal recent polls … ask about the bill in a broad, umbrella fashion, and all find majority support. A Quinnipiac poll conducted July 27-Aug. 2 asked, ‘Do you support or oppose a $3.5 trillion spending bill on social programs such as child care, education, family tax breaks and expanding Medicare for seniors?’ and found 62% support, 32% opposition. A Monmouth University poll conducted July 21-26 asked about both the initial infrastructure bill and the new $3.5 trillion bill, describing the latter this way: ‘A plan to expand access to healthcare and child care, and provide paid leave and college tuition support.’ The results were similar to the Quinnipiac poll, with 63% in favor and 35% opposed …
“A progressive think tank, Data for Progress, conducted an online poll among likely voters July 30-Aug. 2, with a much more detailed 130-word description of the bill, including in the question wording a bulleted list of six specific proposals in the plan, the $3.5 trillion price tag and even a description of the ‘reconciliation’ procedure necessary to pass it. All of this (and the online mode, and the sample of likely voters as opposed to national adults) also didn’t seem to make much difference; 66% of likely voters in their sample supported the plan as described, while 26% opposed it — similar to the Quinnipiac and Monmouth results.”
So the minute you get into the particulars of Democratic-proposed spending bills, public concerns about debts and deficits tend to fade. And oh — there’s another problem for Republicans on the fiscal front: voters like the idea of higher taxes on the wealthy and on corporations to pay for popular spending measures.
The lesson for Republicans is clear: Their crusade for fiscal discipline is popular, so long as it is very general and you exclude higher taxes on the rich as a possible solution. No wonder politicians like McCarthy want Democrats to be the ones who name the GOP’s price for letting the U.S. economy get through the year without calamity.