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Bush Names Miers as Supreme Court Nominee; John Roberts Begins First Day on Supreme Court; Tour Boat Tragedy

Aired October 3, 2005 - 11:59   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's check the stories "Now in the News."
Federal investigators are in upstate New York to search for clues in a tour boat tragedy. The boat capsized and sank yesterday in a lake in the Adirondack Mountains, about 50 miles north of Albany. Twenty people were killed. The boat was carrying a group of elderly tourists from Michigan. We'll have a live report just ahead on that story.

There's a new report out showing the FBI's priorities have shifted dramatically since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The report found the number of criminal cases opened by the FBI has dropped by nearly half. The Justice Department says this is a reflection of the agency's shift towards stopping terrorist attacks.

The decline was the steepest in drug investigations and extended to a number of other areas, including organized crime, bank robberies and civil rights. After 9/11, the FBI was reorganized with counterterrorism as its top priority.

To the Middle East now. Palestinian policemen vent their anger after their station was fired on over the weekend by Hamas militants. A group of policemen staged a protest earlier today at the Palestinian legislative council building in Gaza City. They fired guns in the air and then entered the building, demanding help from Palestinian leaders.

I'm Daryn Kagan at CNN Center in Atlanta.

It is the first Monday in October, and the Supreme Court is in session. A historic day at the high court, beginning with the investiture of Chief Justice John Roberts and the president's choice of White House counsel Harriet Miers to replace Judge Sandra Day O'Connor.

We'll check in at the Supreme Court in a moment. First, let's find out more about Harriet Miers.

Our White House Correspondent Dana Bash joins us live outside the White House.

Dana, hello.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Daryn. And you know, Harriet Miers was picked in classic George Bush style. She is somebody who comes from his inner circle of trusted loyalists.

She is now his counsel, the chief counsel here at the White House, was deputy chief of staff back in Texas. She was a litigator, represented mostly corporations. But she also worked with the president when he was governor. In fact, he picked her -- first chose her to be chairwoman of the Texas State Lottery Commission when he was governor.

What she does not have is any judicial experience at all. She's never been a judge on any bench, state or federal.

Now, today, Mr. Bush actually defended that as a plus.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've come to agree with the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who wrote about the importance of having judges who are drawn from a wide diversity of professional backgrounds. Justice Rehnquist himself came to the Supreme Court without prior experience on the bench, as did more than 35 other men, including Byron White.


BASH: Now, Republican rank and file, they were hoping the president would pick somebody who was perhaps more tried and true, somebody who had a conservative record, clearly would, from their point of view, their hope, actually help tip the balance of the court. Of course, Harriet Miers is now replacing Sandra Day O'Connor, who has been very much a swing group.

One conservative group actually came out calling her an unqualified choice, the most unqualified since Abe Fortas. But White House officials note that it was Democrats who actually urged the president to "think outside the monastery." That is sort of judicial slang, if you will, for thinking outside the bench.

And actually, Senator Harry Reid, the top Democrat in the Senate, according to White House officials, actually broached her name as being somebody who would be acceptable in a private meeting with the White House. Now, we haven't actually heard that publicly from Harry Reid yet, but interesting to note, taking a step back, listening to how the White House is defending Harriet Miers, is there was a time, Daryn, when some observers would think that George W. Bush, hearing the name from a Democrat, that would be a death now for the nominee.

It sort of is a sign of the times for this president, where he is in his approval rating, where he is politically in this town, that that was actually a plus for him to hear from Democrats in terms of making his decision. Because obviously, he's got to get this nominee through and he needs Democratic support, in addition to some moderate Republicans.

KAGAN: Dana, meanwhile, we're hearing people say, "Oh, she pulled a Cheney." What do they mean by that? BASH: Well, this is not the first time that somebody who was leading a search process for President Bush, or for George W. Bush, I should say, actually became the pick. You talked about Dick Cheney. Dick Cheney was the person in charge of finding a vice presidential candidate for the then Governor Bush. And, in fact, of course, as we now know, he picked Cheney.

And that's precisely what happened here. What we're told from Bush officials is that Harriet Miers was actually under consideration even as she was helping find John Roberts.

The president started thinking about her in the summer. And, in fact, what the president did was he had other aides go and do the kind of due diligence that needs to happen for a pick for the Supreme Court while she was looking at her candidates.

But we do know, Daryn, that the president actually finally asked her last night in a private meeting here. It was the fourth private meeting to discuss the potential for her to go to the Supreme Court. The first was just on September 21.

KAGAN: Dana Bash, live at the White House.

Dana, thank you.

BASH: Thank you.

KAGAN: Harriet Miers, as we were mentioning, was on that search committee for Supreme Court candidates and helped select Chief Justice John Roberts. Right now she's making the rounds on Capitol Hill.

Our correspondent Joe Johns is outside the Supreme Court, and he joins us with more.

Hi, Joe.


The selling of this nominee has already begun. She has already gone to the Capitol meeting with certain Republicans. Some conservative already keeping their powder dry on Harriet Miers. A wait and see attitude, we're told, from Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas.

Interesting, though, you were talking just a minute ago with Dana about Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, minority leader. He put out a statement that says, "I like Harriet Miers. As White House counsel, she's worked with me in a courteous and professional manner. I'm also impressed with the fact that she was a trailblazer for women as managing partner of a major Dallas law firm, and as the first woman president of the Texas Bar Association."

He goes on, "In my view, the Supreme Court would benefit from the addition of a judge who has real experience as a practicing lawyer."

So the question, of course, what would be the timetable for confirmation hearings and trying to get Harriet Miers effectively on the United States Supreme Court? Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, talked about that earlier today at a news conference with the nominee.


SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: Extensive consultation has gone under way. The president has reached out to over 80 United States senator in a bipartisan way. And so we're very excited about this process.

And with that, as I mentioned earlier, it will be dignified. It will be civil. It will be disciplined. And I'm sure it will be tough in many ways. But we look forward to the confirmation, working as hard as we possibly can by Thanksgiving.



SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Because the president hasn't nominated somebody from the hard, hard extreme doesn't absolve us of our responsibility to find out what the views of the nominee are.


JOHNS: So, the focus, of course, is mainly on the Democrats, because they're the ones who would put up the opposition, if any.

The only woman Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee which will do the confirmation hearings also put out a statement. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, she said, "Well, I'm pleased that the president has named a woman to succeeds Sandra Day O'Connor. It remains critically important that the Senate Judiciary Committee, and, indeed, the American people learn more about her positions on some of the most important issues facing our nation."

Daryn, back to you.

KAGAN: Joe Johns at the Supreme Court.

Thank you.

By the way, here are a couple things you might not know about Harriet Miers, the president's choice to replace Sandra Day O'Connor.

She's a lawyer, 60 years old, White House counsel since 2004. And the president calls her a trusted adviser.

Miers worked as a private attorney in Texas. She counted (ph) her clients. Among them, George W. Bush.

Our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, joining us now.

We're going to get to Harriet Miers in just a moment. You had a very special opportunity this morning that gives you a glimpse into the world of John Roberts.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: I sure did. It was really a wonderful ceremony, very brief in the Supreme Court, just a few blocks away from our bureau here. In a four-minute ceremony, with President Bush looking on silently, John Roberts took the judicial oath, pledging to do equal justice for the rich and the poor.

The senior associate justice, John Paul Stephens, read the oath to him. And then it was over in just a couple minutes. And then I'm just back from hearing the first argument of John Roberts' career as chief justice of the United States.

KAGAN: And the case was -- and how did it go?

TOOBIN: And the case was -- boy, Daryn, I was so embarrassed.

KAGAN: Sorry.

TOOBIN: Of course I should have known that.

KAGAN: You're always so prepared.

TOOBIN: But I was -- I let you down. But now I know.

KAGAN: OK. The case?

TOOBIN: The case -- and it was actually -- it shows how even low-profile Supreme Court cases have a great deal of impact on people's lives. Under federal law, if you're a -- if you're a worker in, say, a factory, does the time you spend putting on and off your uniform, before and after your shift -- do you get paid for it?

Now, it's not like a sexy legal issue like, you know, a First Amendment case. But it has a tremendous impact on what people are paid in the real world and how much companies have to pay them. That's the case. Very spirited argument.

Chief Justice Roberts participated actively, asked a lot of good questions of both sides. A very interesting case. Won't have a ruling probably for a couple of months. That's usually how long it takes.

KAGAN: Not just the kind of case, but the number of cases. There seems to be some indication that under John Roberts this court will take more cases.

TOOBIN: That could be. One of the interesting hallmarks of Chief Justice Rehnquist's tenure was the very big drop in cases.

Under Warren Burger, the previous chief justice, the Supreme Court decided about 100 -- 150 cases a year. Under Rehnquist, it was more like 80. There's some thought that a young, vigorous Chief Justice Roberts will say, hey, you know, we've got more time to fill, we've got cases to decide, let's bring that total up. And the orders released today granting (INAUDIBLE) suggests that may be possible. KAGAN: And then one quick question on Harriet Miers. The focus on her because she's will succeed Sandra Day O'Connor, who has played such a pivotal role on this court in recent years.

TOOBIN: You know, it really is -- even though chief justice is, you know, the title that we all think about, in many respects, disappointment is more important to the actual results reached by the Supreme Court. Because Chief Justice Rehnquist was a reliable conservative.

Sandra Day O'Connor by the time she retired was not a reliable thing. She is the person who was the vote who saved affirmative action. In the partial birth abortion case in 2000, she voted to strike that down, the ban on partial birth abortion.

So, you know, she has been the swing vote in so many different cases, in Bush v. Gore. Who her replacement is, if Harriet Miers is confirmed, what her views are can determine a lot more about how the Supreme Court rules in many ways than John Roberts' role -- vote will.

KAGAN: All right. Jeffrey Toobin, thank you.

Want to listen in now to Senator Arlen Specter. He is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He's taking questions.


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: One of the things that I talked to her about was the complexity of a Supreme Court nomination hearing, because these -- there are a lot of complicated issues. And I said to her, "You've got a pretty good roadmap of what went on with Chief Justice Roberts, where you have the specific interests." And I said to her, "Take a look at the situation and the roadmap and make an evaluation as to what time you need."

It's more -- it's as much a matter as to what time Ms. Miers needs as it is as to what time the senators need. And I asked her to get back to me as to where she would feel comfortable with a starting hearing date. But her practice has not involved any of those -- those issues.

QUESTION: The majority, if not all of her work here in Washington, has been at the White House. A lot of that information would fall under executive privilege. Have you all started discussions with the White House on what type of information you can get from her, from her working for President Bush here?

SPECTER: Well, it's more than executive privilege. It's really lawyer-client privilege, which is -- as White House counsel, or executive privilege when she was a deputy chief of staff.

I went over with her in some detail papers which she has generated to see what would be appropriate for disclosure. And I really think there's very little to start with. And on first blush, it would be... KAGAN: Listening in to Arlen Specter, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. So he will reside over the confirmation hearing that we expect. Well, we don't have a date on it yet for Harriet Miers. So be looking for that.

We move on now. How many more big hurricanes will we have to dodge this year? A new prediction for what's ahead this hurricane season. It's not even close to being over. That's coming up on CNN LIVE TODAY.

And just ahead, what caused a deadly boating accident on New York's Lake George? We'll have the latest on the search for answers in a live report.


KAGAN: To upstate New York now. It was a postcard-perfect day for sailing and it turned tragic. Twenty people lost their lives yesterday when a tour boat capsized on a lake about 50 miles north of Albany. The boat was carrying a group of elderly people from Michigan.

Our Susan Lisovicz has the latest now. She is at Lake George in upstate New York -- Susan.


Well, the apparent serenity of this picture belies the fact that this is also a place of intense activity. The salvage efforts continuing this afternoon, the salvage efforts for the Ethan Allen, which lies submerged 70 feet under Lake George.

That boat a critical piece of the investigation as to how a boat in, as you mentioned, picture-perfect conditions could suddenly capsize and sink. Twenty people died as a result of that accident.

Just minutes ago, we heard from the NTSB officials, saying that nothing at this point has been ruled out.


MARK ROSENKER, NTSB: It's much too early to determine what happened out on that -- on that lake.


ROSENKER: When we bring the vessel up today, before we actually bring it up, there will be documentation of the vessel on the floor: cameras, diagrams, a verbal description. We'll bring that vessel up. At that point, additional documentation will occur.

We are engineering -- professionals will go through that. The vessel will be towed to a secure location, where we will go through that vessel with a fine tooth comb, I assure you.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LISOVICZ: NTSB officials have already casually, informally talked to the pilot. A more formal conversation will be taking place tomorrow. But so have officials from the Warren County Sheriff's Department, who earlier held their own briefing. And they had this to say about the captain's recollections just before the boat capsized.


SHERIFF LARRY CLEVELAND, WARREN COUNTY, NEW YORK: He tells us that the boat got into some waves and a wake. He attempted to steer out of it. And in doing so, the boat pitched over, and to its side, and rolled over.


LISOVICZ: And one of the sad ironies, Daryn, is that this appears to be carbon-copy conditions from what we saw yesterday: clear skies, sunny, bonny (ph) conditions. And that, of course, enables the salvage efforts. We are hoping that the Ethan Allen will rise to the surface later this afternoon.

Back to you.

KAGAN: So you say that it certainly wasn't the weather that was a factor, probably. And you were telling us earlier, Susan, that under New York State law, these people didn't have to wear life vests, and indeed, they weren't.

LISOVICZ: That's right. And that's, you know, really, one of the great sort of contradictions, I think, when you're out in a lake like Lake George.

It's a very deep lake. It's a glacial lake. Where this boat capsized was 70 feet.

These people, infirm as they may have been, they may have felt that this was really just a very gentle ride around the lake. And they had every expectation of that.

But among the things that investigators are looking at is the weight of boat, because this boat was almost at full capacity. Many adults, 47 passengers and the captain, the only crew member. And that there was a lot of boat traffic.

It was a gorgeous day, so everything from canoeists, to cigarette boats, to bigger tour boats were on the lake. And that could have contributed some heavy wakes.

We've also heard that the captain may have been trying to steer away from that. And when he was turning, hit the wake, and that further destabilized the boat. But really, there are many more questions than answers at this point.

KAGAN: We will look forward to some of those answers. Susan Lisovicz, thank you. Today, some important steps along the road to recovery in Louisiana. Some schools are reopening for the first time since Katrina. More on that story just ahead on CNN LIVE TODAY.


KAGAN: Let's go ahead and check on Wall Street. The markets getting close to being open about three hours so far this week. And not the best start to the week.

You can see the Dow is down 32 points. Nasdaq, though, is in positive territory. Nasdaq is up four points.

Let's go live now to the White House. White House spokesman Scott Mcclellan with today's briefing. Let's listen.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president was pleased to offer the Supreme Court nomination to Harriet Miers last night, and pleased that she agreed and accepted it.

Harriet Miers has a distinguished legal career and a record of accomplishment. The National Law Journal has recognized her on a number of occasions as one of the nation's most powerful attorneys and one of the top 50 women attorneys in the nation.

She's worked at the highest levels of government, most recently and currently as counsel to the president in the White House. She helped manage a 400-person law firm in Texas. She's clerked for a federal district judge. She has tried cases before state and federal courts, including trying cases before appellate courts on a broad range of issues.

Harriet has been a trailblazer for women in the legal profession. She was the first woman elected president of the Texas Bar Association. She has been a leader in the American Bar Association.

She is someone who is exceptionally well qualified to serve on our nation's highest court. She has earned the respect and admiration of the legal profession, and she will earn the respect and admiration of the American people. We are confident of that.

The president was looking exactly for someone with her qualifications and experience and judgment. She has great legal ability and good judgment. She is someone of the highest integrity, who will faithfully interpret our Constitution and our laws.

Just to give you a little bit more information on how this came about, the president was pleased to get the input and advice of the United States Senate. We consulted with more than 80 senators. The president took their advice very seriously.

There were two things that stood out to the president in those consultations: one, that Republicans and Democrats alike had suggested Harriet Miers by name as someone that would serve well on the United States Supreme Court; and, two, that the president should consider someone that is not a judge, someone that would bring some unique and different perspective to our court.

As you are all aware, there are a number of justices that have served with exception and served with distinction that were not previously members of the bench or had not previously served on the bench.

Chief Justice Rehnquist is one. Justice Byron White is another one.

The president -- and remember, we consulted with more than 70 senators in the first round, when the president was considering the first vacancy. This process was really a continuation of that first. There were a number of people considered. There were a number of people interviewed during this whole nomination process.

There's a committee that the president had set up the first time around, with Andy Card, Harriet Miers, Judge Gonzales, the vice president, Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and Chief of Staff to the Vice President Scooter Libby.

The president considered a diverse group of potential nominees. He was looking at people from all walks of life. This is not a position that Harriet sought. She was someone who, as I mentioned, was involved in the selection process.

But as others on this committee were looking at credentials and qualifications, and the president as well, they recognized that she was someone who had the kind of qualifications and experience and judgment that was needed to serve on the nation's highest court.

And the president met with Harriet on four separate occasions to discuss the vacancy with her specifically, including on September 21st, was the first, and September 28th and 29th. He met with her last night over dinner in the residence. And that was when he formally offered her the position. The president had called Andy Card just before 7 last night to let him know that he had made a final decision. Andy Card informed the vice president. And then this morning, the president called Chief Justice Roberts around 7 a.m. to let him now about the decision.

MCCLELLAN: And he spoke with Justice O'Connor around 7:15 A.M. to let her know about the decision as well.

And, as you all are aware, Harriet has been over at the Capitol meeting with leaders of the Senate to begin the consultations during the confirmation process.

And she met earlier with Senator Frist and Senator Specter and Senator Stevens and had good discussions with them. She's scheduled to be meeting with Senator Reid this afternoon. And we've also reached out to Senator Leahy to set up a time that will be good for him to visit with her as well.

And with that, I will be glad to go to questions.

QUESTION: Some conservatives appear to be less than thrilled with this nomination. One noted conservative columnist said that he had expected the president to pick someone with a visible and distinguished constitutionalist track record, a suggestion that the president flinched from a fight on constitutional philosophy, that this appears to be a combination of cronyism and capitulation on the part of the president.

What would the president say to his conservative base to allay them...

MCCLELLAN: Well, I think you ought to look at those who know Harriet Miers well, because they have said other things than what you just cited. There are a number of people who have praised her for her great legal ability and her sound judgment and her extensive experience.

She is someone, as I just mentioned, who brings great legal ability to this position. She is someone who has earned the respect of the legal community.

The president was looking for someone who has a philosophy of strictly interpreting our Constitution and our laws, and she is someone who is committed to do that. She will look at the law and she will apply the law.

And I think that that's what the American people want on the bench.

She was nominated by the president because she is the best person, in his mind, to fill this vacancy. QUESTION: How would you describe her? Is she a bedrock conservative? Ideological conservative? Moderate? What words would you...

MCCLELLAN: Well, I would describe her the way I did. As you know, ideology, religion, politics -- things of that nature -- don't really have a place when it comes to making decisions on our highest court.

MCCLELLAN: The decisions should be based on the law. Harriet Miers will apply the law. She will look at the law, look at the facts of the case, and then apply the law. That's what she's committed to doing, and that's what the American people want on the bench.

QUESTION: Scott, she's a total stealth candidate, with no paper trail. Do you think...

MCCLELLAN: I disagree with your characterization, because she is someone who has a very distinguished career and a long record of accomplishment.

QUESTION: Let's say that, without judicial experience, without having taken public positions on issues, you're concerned that that will give Democrats in the Senate more desire to take a very long time at looking into her background...

MCCLELLAN: Well, let me back up. And we appreciate Leader Frist expressing his commitment to move forward in a timely manner and have this confirmation completed by Thanksgiving. Senator Specter made it clear that he was going to move forward on a thorough confirmation process. We welcome that. Harriet looks forward to sitting down with members of the Senate and visiting with them in person. She welcomes the opportunity to go through the confirmation process and answer their questions. I know that she is very much looking forward to that.

This is our nation's highest court, and it should be a thorough process. The president went through a very thorough and deliberate process when selecting her, and we would expect nothing less. We hope it'll move forward in a prompt and timely manner and that they will remain committed to moving forward in a civil and dignified way, as Senator Frist and Senator Specter expressed their commitment to doing so earlier today.

But let me back up, because I think it's important to look at the court. There are a number of justices who have served on the United States Supreme Court that had no prior judicial experience. I think that is a strength that can be brought to the court. It'll help offer a broader perspective and bring some broader experience to the court.

That was something the president did consider as he was making this selection. Neither Chief Justice Rehnquist, nor Justice White had prior judicial experience when they were appointed to the bench, but they both became two of the most distinguished and respected justices in recent memory, and they served for 30-plus years with great excellence. And so I think you have to look at that.

But there have been, I think, some 38 people appointed to the highest court that did not have prior judicial experience. But she does have experience as a practicing lawyer, very extensive experience, and that is something that the president considered as well.

QUESTION: Harry Reid said that he likes it. Are you encouraged by the comment from the...

MCCLELLAN: Well, as I said, there are Democrats and Republicans alike who suggested that she would be a good nominee, and we did take those into consideration. I'm not going to get into any individual discussions. I'll let them speak for themselves. But I think you've heard from a number of senators, Republican and Democrat, who said that the president should look outside the bench for when he makes this selection.

QUESTION: To what extent did the president's personal friendship with Harriet Miers have an impact on his ultimate decision? And those who say that it is sort of the appearance of cronyism that -- did this relationship give her an advantage and the fact that she was heading the search group?

MCCLELLAN: Well, the president knows her well. He has known her for some time now. But the decision was based on who is the best person to fill this vacancy. And she has the qualifications and experience needed to do an outstanding job on the United States Supreme Court. And that's why the president selected her. QUESTION: Was he rewarding a friend?

MCCLELLAN: No, I said he was appointing someone who will make an outstanding Supreme Court justice. And all you have to do is go and look at her record and what she brings to the court. She brings very diverse and broad experience that will be very helpful to the court.

QUESTION: Scott, you mentioned her legal experience. Part of that experience is that she was the president's personal lawyer. Can you tell us some of the matters that she would have represented the president in? I understand there was a real estate matter. Did she get involved in the National Guard stuff, the jury duties? Can you...

MCCLELLAN: There will be a confirmation process.

No, I don't have specifics on that in front of me. She did, originally, I think, serve as counsel to the president's gubernatorial committee that was set up when he was first running for governor back in '93. And I think it was some time after that that she did represent him in some personal matters.

QUESTION: And you can get us details on what those matters were?

MCCLELLAN: I'll work on getting you more information. Obviously, that will be something that I'm sure will come up during the confirmation process.

QUESTION: And something else will come up and I just want to let you have the opportunity to answer it directly and Kelly (ph) was getting at it. What do you say when people say he put his own lawyer on the Supreme Court? That's definitional cronyism.

MCCLELLAN: I'll say, look at her record. As I said, she is someone that he knows well. Look at her record. Her record is one of being a trailblazer for women in the legal profession and a record of being a tough and strong litigator who has represented clients before state and federal courts on a broad range of issues.

She is someone who brings the exact kind of experience and qualifications needed on our nation's highest court. And that's why the president selected her.

QUESTION: She's going to obey the law of the land...

MCCLELLAN: You're taking the Les mode now.

QUESTION: She's going to pay strong attention to the law of the land, which means she should support the Roe v. Wade. And also what policies has she participated in in the White House that are already on the record? Can you say what her participation has been?

MCCLELLAN: Well, she's been very involved in the policy process here at the White House. She started as the staff secretary for the president when he first came into office. Then she became the deputy chief of staff. And then just about six, seven months ago, the president named her his White House counsel. MCCLELLAN: So she's been very involved in policy matters here at the White House. That was part of her role. And that's one of the strengths is that she has served within the administration at some of the highest levels of government.

The two justices I mentioned earlier, Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice White...

QUESTION: No, I'm asking...

MCCLELLAN: No, but I'm pointing out: They were members of the administration prior to being nominated to the bench.

QUESTION: Well, what policies...

MCCLELLAN: So it's helpful that she has that kind of broad experience. She has served as city councilwoman in Dallas. She has served as a state official on the Texas Lottery Commission. She helped clean it up when it needed cleaning up.

And she is someone who has produced positive results.

QUESTION: Can we assume that his policy -- that she had a big strong hand in policies that we've watched since 2001?

MCCLELLAN: Well, she's been very involved in the policy process here. She's been a senior member of the president's White House staff.

QUESTION: The treatment of prisoners of war, for example?

MCCLELLAN: Well, the general counsel of the White House during the time you're referring to was Attorney General Gonzales.


MCCLELLAN: No, he's answered those questions before the court. I think she's going back to some of the previous directives that were issued.

QUESTION: She gave money to Al Gore, Benson in the '80s. Do you have any information that she was ever registered as a Democrat?

MCCLELLAN: I don't know what her affiliation was back then. I do come from Texas and I do know that there were not a lot of Republicans back in the '70s and early '80s in Texas. And most of the elected officials, on certainly a state-wide level, were Democrats at the time. They were conservative Democrats and liberal Democrats.

And I think that, since probably about 1988, she has contributed exclusively to Republicans as an individual.

QUESTION: So you don't know what -- before that, you don't know her affiliation before that?

MCCLELLAN: No. I was just pointing out the history of Texas. MCCLELLAN: Many of us in Texas grew up Democrats, because there weren't many Republicans elected to state-wide office. Many of the elections were decided in the primaries. So I think those contributions go back to primary time.

QUESTION: You gave money to Al Gore?

MCCLELLAN: I did not.


When I became 18, I was a Republican and voting Republican and proud of it.

QUESTION: Back on Helen's question...

MCCLELLAN: Proud to support the president's father, too.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: ... people are trying to zero in on her opinions. They're concerned -- granted, she doesn't have any paper trail from the bench, or hadn't -- but they want to know specifically what her thoughts are...

KAGAN: We've been listening into the White House press briefing. White House spokesman Scott McClellan answering questions, and some defense of Harriet Miers. She is the woman who President Bush has now nominated to succeed Sandra Day O'Connor. More on her just ahead with our Candy Crowley.

And coming up, we're going to find out a little bit more about the president's pick for the High Court. We are back in just a moment.



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And, once again, one person stood out as exceptionally well-suited to sit on the highest court of our nation. This morning, I'm proud to announce that I'm nominating Harriet Ellen Miers to serve as the associate justice of the Supreme Court.

HARRIET MIERS, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: If confirmed, I recognize that I will have a tremendous responsibility to keep our judicial system strong and to help ensure that the courts meet their obligations to strictly apply the laws in the Constitution.


KAGAN: And there's a new chief justice today, a new nominee. Many are wondering what changes lie ahead for the High Court. Joining us now with some insight and analysis, our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley. Candy, good to have you back. CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Thanks.

KAGAN: A lot of people saying Harriet Miers is a blank slate, and yet with that short acceptance speech with the nomination, she does give a clue as to the direction she might head, by saying a strict interpretation of the laws and the Constitution.

CROWLEY: Sure, it's a clue, but it's also a signal. I mean, that's a phrase that resonates in the conservative community. A strict constructionist is one who does not, as conservatives believe liberal judges do, make law from the bench. This particularly as it applies to Roe V. Wade is one of the things that conservatives are interested in.

Because that was a definite signal. And I think, you know, certainly does try to presage what actually happened, which is that some conservatives looked at this and said, wait a second, we don't know a thing about this woman. Why can't we have someone we know is a conservative?

KAGAN: All right, basically saying President Bush wussed out?

CROWLEY: Well, either that, or looked at it and though, who can I get through? You know, the fact of the matter is that conservatives have always felt that they -- that this was their chance to put somebody there that would not be Sandra Day O'Connor, that would be more reliably conservative than Sandra Day O'Connor was.

Now what they have is someone they're not sure about. What's interesting is that this has sort of endeared her to some of the liberals, Chuck Schumer on Capitol Hill, the senator from New York, and a liberal said, well, you know, my first reaction is, it could have been worse.

KAGAN: Which is a high compliment from him.

CROWLEY: Exactly, exactly. I mean, that means the door is open. So it will be interesting to watch all of this play out as everybody learns more about her.

KAGAN: And another Democratic senator, Dianne Feinstein, the only woman on the Senate Judiciary Committee, came out earlier today and said, I don't see anything wrong with the woman. Basically, it looks OK. And that's from Dianne Feinstein, who voted no against John Roberts. But one thing you are hearing about Harriet Miers -- this is a woman who has never been a judge. Good entry-level job, being a justice on this U.S. Supreme Court.

CROWLEY: Well, and I think that's why you see Scott McClellan pushing back so hard, and why you've indeed seen others who support Miers saying, look, we need to go no farther than Chief Justice Rehnquist for someone who did not have any judicial experience. It is not often the case that someone is nominated who has no judicial experience, but it's happened before. I think some -- according to Scott McClellan, some 30 times. We've been looking into that. And there certainly are Byron White -- there is Abe Fortas, which may or may not be some precedent they want to look at. But also Rehnquist. So the White House is looking at her broader experience, saying, look, this kind of experience can really bring, you know, some health to the court, can give it a broader look. She's a lawyer, she looks at things from a lawyer's point of view. And that's not all bad, and it's been done before.

KAGAN: Yes, and clearly, I mean, whatever you think about the woman, she clearly is accomplished and very experienced in the legal profession. Candy, thank you. Good to have you with us here again.

Quick break. We're back after this.


KAGAN: We check in on Indonesia now. Authorities there say they are now looking for three accomplishes they believe helped stage suicide bombings on Bali over the weekend. Twenty-two people died in the attacks, including three alleged bombers. More than 100 were wounded.

Police hope someone may recognize this man. Although very difficult to see. There we go. He was carrying a backpack. And this is amateur video. It was shot seconds before the explosion at a restaurant in the tourist center of Kuta.

Found in the bombing aftermath, investigators believe they have recovered the heads of three suicide bombers. Pictures of the heads were published in today's Indonesian newspapers. No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but suspicion immediately falls on Al Qaeda and linked regional terror group, linked to several deadly bombings, including the 2002 attacks in Bali that killed 202 people.

It has been five weeks now since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. Today, there are more signs of recovery, with some schools in the metropolitan area opening their doors again today.

The latest now from CNN's Dan Lothian in the New Orleans suburb of Gretna.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): The 2005 school year had already been under way for one week before Hurricane Katrina hit. Now today, for the first time in Jefferson Parish, students started showing up for classes again. Administrators say it was a difficult task to get the schools cleaned up, to get those major repairs done, but only 10 of the 80 schools were not reopened because the damage was too extensive.

Some of the students will have to double up. They have to go to other schools because their schools are still closed, and they're also, in Jefferson Parish, taking in students from neighboring, parishes where the destruction was so massive that they still can't reopen their classrooms. We had a chance to talk to one student who was just happy to be back.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It felt good, because I've been waiting for it.

LOTHIAN: You miss your old school?


LOTHIAN: When do you think you'll be able to go back there?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They say we ought to be going back November 1st. That's what I was told.

LOTHIAN: How do you feel about the fact that now you'll have to have an extra hour of school to make up for it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It doesn't matter. As long as I make up for it, because I'm ready to get out of school in about one more year.

LOTHIAN: In order to make up for lost time, one hour will be added to each school day for the next 150 days.

Dan Lothian, CNN, Gretna, Louisiana.


KAGAN: The pumps continue to drain floodwaters from New Orleans,and across the region, work goes on to repair the levees damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Coming up, we're going to get updates on Wall Street and weather.

Right now, a quick break.



KAGAN: It has been a very active Atlantic hurricane season, and it is not over yet. Hurricane expert William Gray is out with his updated forecast. Gray is a professor at Colorado State University. He predicts three more main storms. He says he expects to hurricanes, and one of them major. Hurricane season runs through the end of November.


KAGAN:: That wraps up this hour of LIVE TODAY.

A lot more ahead on CNN's "LIVE FROM" with Kyra Phillips. That starts right now.


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