WASHINGTON — Republican members of the Senate on Sunday braced for partisan controversy about President Bush's next Supreme Court nominee, and at least one GOP senator urged the White House to bring in new advisors, given the problems with the previous nominee as well as the ongoing investigation into the leak of a CIA official's identity.
"You should always be looking for ... new blood, new energy, qualified staff, new people in administration. I'm not talking about wholesale changes, but you've got to reach out and bring in more advice and counsel," Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said on "Fox News Sunday."
"You know, maybe that's why we did have the Harriet Miers nomination," Lott added. "Maybe there wasn't enough consultation or enough good, strong people ... advising the president. But he will deal with that problem and he'll do it next week."
Bush is expected to name his latest choice to succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor as early as today. He leaves Thursday on a five-day trip to Latin America.
He first nominated then-Judge John G. Roberts Jr. to the seat, but when Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist died Sept. 3, Bush switched Roberts' nomination to chief justice. Roberts was confirmed Sept. 29.
On Oct. 3, Bush nominated his White House counsel and longtime confidante, Harriet E. Miers. She withdrew from consideration Thursday amid criticism that she knew too little about constitutional law and concern among social conservatives that her background suggested liberal views on abortion.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Sunday that Bush ought to pick a Supreme Court candidate with appeal beyond the political right.
"The president should come forward with some middle-of-the-road person, somebody that is going to be a good Supreme Court justice, not somebody that's going to be writing the law from the bench," Reid said on ABC's "This Week." The American people "can see through this so clearly."
A popular nominee could help shore up Bush's support in his base, counteracting poll ratings in a slump under the pressure of the failed Miers nomination, high oil prices, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the war in Iraq.
Speculation is centering on two conservative U.S. Court of Appeals judges: Samuel A. Alito Jr. of the 3rd Circuit in Philadelphia and J. Michael Luttig of the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Va.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) expressed concern Sunday that Democrats might filibuster a staunchly conservative nominee.
"I'm very worried about that," he told CNN's "Late Edition." "The topic which dominates the discussion, as we all know, is a woman's right to choose. And you have both sides poles apart and insistent on finding some answer to that question in advance of the hearing, which no one is entitled to."
This year, a bipartisan compromise brokered by 14 senators resulted in an agreement by Democrats to forestall filibusters of Bush's judicial nominees except in "extraordinary circumstances" -- a term that so far has remained undefined.
Bush must navigate these political straits while his top advisor, Karl Rove, remains in legal jeopardy in the CIA leak case.
On Sunday, Democrats focused attention on Rove and on the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, whose chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, resigned Friday after being indicted on perjury, obstruction of justice and other charges in the investigation. Rove has not been charged but remains under investigation in the unmasking of CIA operative Valerie Plame, whose husband is a prominent Iraq war critic.
"While, again, there's no existing evidence here that Karl Rove is about to be indicted ... the president has to make a determination as to whether or not he wants to be preoccupied with legal issues around the White House," Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) said on "Fox News Sunday."
Reid pushed harder against Rove. "He's still around. He should be let go," Reid said on CNN's "Late Edition."
Lott contended that any decision about the future of the president's top aide "should be in the hands of Karl Rove as much as anybody."
Democrats also kept the spotlight on Cheney -- who, according to the indictment, told Libby that Plame worked for the CIA's counter-proliferation division. Plame's husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, contends that her identity was leaked to discredit his contention that the administration twisted intelligence on Iraqi weapons to justify the war.
"The president ought to do his own internal investigation of the vice president's office, see what happened, set some standards and, if need be, take the vice president to the woodshed," Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
On the same program, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) agreed that Cheney's office should be examined, but he said it was natural to think that the White House would provide a strong response to a critic like Wilson.