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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Harriet Miers Withdraws Her Nomination For The Supreme Court

Aired October 27, 2005 - 10:01   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: This is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information from around the world are arriving all the time. Happening now, a stunning turn for a White House already in turmoil. Harriet Miers withdraws her Supreme Court nomination. It's 10:00 a.m. here in Washington. In the next three hours we'll have special coverage on what went wrong, what happens next and what this means for the Bush administration.
In the Miers nomination, conservatives took on the president. Now it seems those conservatives won. How much sway will the right hold when Mr. Bush chooses a replacement for Miers.

And an extra measure of political misery. The Miers debacle comes even as top White House officials face possible charges in the CIA leak probe. We're on watch at the courthouse for any announcements on indictments.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The opposition to Harriet Miers' nomination was open, angry and growing by the day. Now, a little over a week before her confirmation hearings were due to begin, Miers and the Bush administration have thrown in the towel. We being our extensive coverage of this striking setback for the president over at the White House and on Capitol Hill. First let's head over to our White House Correspondent Dana Bash.

Dana, walk us through what exactly happened this morning.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This morning is when President Bush got this letter from Harriet Miers who apparently brought it in to the Oval Office. This is the letter formally telling the president that she was going withdraw her nomination because she said it is clear that she's concerned that the confirmation process presents a burden for the White House and our staff and it's not in the best interest of the country.

But this comes after a phone call, we understand at about 8:30 last night with the president, Miers then first saying that she was going to withdraw. The White House very much this morning trying to make the case that this was a Harriet Miers' decision. That she sort of saw the writing on the wall. That she understood that this is a process that was getting bogged down.

But as you can imagine, Wolf, it's clearly not that simple. We do know that there were that the intensity of the already intense criticism, especially from within the president's own party, has gotten much, much higher. The word from the White House had, throughout this process been, it's all about the votes. It's all about making sure that senators are not going oppose her. And they were taking solace in the fact that they didn't have any official opposition.

Well, that became -- it became clear that that was not the case anymore. That the votes probably would not be there for her and that became clear even late yesterday when there was a meeting with the vice president and some of the people here at the White House who have been involved in the process. And actually was last night that the White House got a call. The call that we had all been sort of watching and waiting to see what would happen from the Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist saying, look, this is not -- just not going happen. So that is what we understand now.

Moving forward, Wolf, Harriet Miers, of course, is the sitting White House counsel and she will stay in that role, we understand, to try to find her replacement. She will be still working through the process to figure out who the president will put forward next. And the White House says that that will happen very son. But, Wolf, there is really no other way to describe this as really a stunning political development. One that if people who are watching George W. Bush, watching the Republican Party, probably never would have imagined could have happened until the series of events that have lead up to this, this morning.

BLITZER: Dana, stand by. I want to go up to The Hill right away, Capitol Hill, and get some immediate reaction. What Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, are saying up there. Our Congressional Correspondent Ed Henry is standing by.

What's the immediate reaction on The Hill, Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Wolf.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist went on the Senate floor this morning to inform the Senate officially that, in fact, Harriet Miers had withdrawn. And as Dana Bash just mentioned a moment ago, he had called White House Chief of Staff Andy Card last night and had basically said the votes were not going to be there, something had to be done. In talking to people close to Frist, that came after a lot of rank and file Republican had come to Frist over the last few days saying that the opposition to Miers was intensifying.

It also came on the heels of a meeting yesterday here in the Capitol. It was in the ceremonial office of Vice President Cheney. It involved White House Adviser Ed Gillespie, who has been leading the fight for this nomination, Leonard Leo of the conservative Federalists Society, and also Texas Senator John Cornyn, a close friend of Harriet Miers. The mood in there was pretty grim. I understand that they basically came to the realization that these one-on-one meetings were basically not working. They had to do something quickly.

Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed, stand by. Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democrat from New York state, is speaking right now. Let's listen in and get his reaction.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: I would make two or three other points.

Number one, I, you know, the -- I think something is shown here today. Not a single Republican senator called for Harriet Miers' withdrawal. It was the very extreme wing of the president's party and that brought about the withdrawal. If the president continues to listen to that extreme wing on judicial nominations or everything else, it can only spell trouble for his presidency and for America. So that's issue number one.

Issue number two. The president now should take his time. When we do it again, the president should do it right. Slowly, deliberately, carefully with real consultation and real consensus. One of the reasons that Harriet Miers was chosen is -- or one of the reasons for this problem, this mistake, is that there was no real consultation. There was no real reaching out and discussion of names back and forth. They would ask us, well who do you like, but they wouldn't discuss things at all. The reason President Clinton's nominations went very well with a Senate that was not controlled even by his own party was that he had real consultation.

And finally, I find the pretext that Harriet Miers withdraw because the White House wouldn't give up documents to be just that, a pretext. The White House offered a nominee who had no record except for the documents and then said, we won't give you the documents. It was sort of like saying, the president kept saying the more you learn about Harriet Miers, the more you'll like her and then said I'm not going let you learn about her. So I find Barney Frank used to talk about the Houdini syndrome, where someone tied themselves in a knot and then said, I can't get out. I can't free myself. That's what sort of happened here.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to break away from Senator Chuck Schumer of New York state. He's the senior senator from New York, John King just reminded me here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Joining us on the phone right now, Judge Robert Bork, the former nominee who himself was defeated way back in 1987 during the Reagan administration.

You were a fierce opponent of this nominee. You thought she was not necessarily the best choice. How do you react to this decision this morning by Harriet Miers, Judge Bork, for her to withdraw her nomination?

ROBERT BORK, FAILED SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: I think it was appropriate. You know, she was not, I didn't think, a lot of people didn't think, really qualified. I think we all have to have some sympathy for her because she was thrust into a position as a nominee she shouldn't have been put in and, as a result, got rather beaten up in the press and elsewhere. But that said, I think it was appropriate for her to withdraw.

BLITZER: You were opposed to her nomination from day one. Remind our viewers why you didn't think she was qualified. The first woman to lead the Texas Bar Association. The first woman who headed a major law firm in Texas and Dallas where she practiced. White House counsel. A long confidant of the president and clearly a conservative.

BORK: Well, I'm not so sure she was clearly a conservative in that sense. She had positions on affirmative action and probably on pro-choice in the abortion issue that would I would not call conservative judicial positions. But bar association presidencies are achieved through loyal service to the bar association. They're not rewards for legal excellence.

She probably is a very good lawyer at some thing, but I think she when you plunge her into constitutional law, which is what she was about to be pulled into, she had no experience that we know of and I don't think she had any particular background. And apparently when she went to have conversations with senators, she did not impress any of them.

BLITZER: Do you have someone in mind now that you'd like to see the president put forward?

BORK: Oh, there are a number of people I'd like to see him put forward. But if I mention them, that would probably be the kiss of death. No I was we just heard Senator Schumer talking about the president looking to the extreme right wing. The fact is, what Schumer calls the extreme right wing are the kind of judges who would try to apply the Constitution as it was understood by those who wrote it. That's not extreme, that's the standard way that lawyers and judges interpret any legal document. But I understand why Senator Schumer who himself is quite far to the left would start accusing people who would stick to the actual Constitution as extremist.

BLITZER: All right. Judge Bork, thanks for spending a few moments with us on this day. Judge Robert Bork, a former Supreme Court nominee. His nomination was defeated by the U.S. Senate back in 1987. We'll check back with you, Judge Bork.

The president of the United States over at Andrews Air Force Base right now getting ready to fly down to Florida to tour the damage resulting from Hurricane Wilma. These are live pictures we're getting in as the president boards Air Force One to make that two and a half hour or so flight down to Florida. He's going to be touring the situation with his brother, the governor of Florida, and presumably other top officials. The acting FEMA director, the secretary of Homeland Security, among others.

The president issuing a statement earlier in response to the letter from Harriet Miers asking that her name be withdrawn. Candy Crowley and John King are here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

First of all, Candy, let's digest what we just heard from Robert Bork. He wants the president clearly to go forward with the strict conservative who would be acceptable to him and others who so strongly, within the conservative movement, opposed Harriet Miers. CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A strict conservative with a record. That was I mean, that was the problem here. The more they learned about Harriet Miers, the more conservatives became convinced that she, in fact, was not conservative. But the fact of the matter was, their original objection to her was twofold.

The first was that she if she was conservative, there was nothing out there to prove it since she had no judicial record and very few papers out there to read. And their second problem really was, they don't want just a conservative, they want a conservative with heft. They want someone that can sit on the Supreme Court and argue with some of the greatest minds in the country on the liberal side. So they need someone that can not just be a conservative, but can take the cause to the court.

BLITZER: Can be a leader in the sense of Antonin Scalia, someone along those lines.

John, stand by for a moment. Senator Dick Durbin, himself a member of the Judiciary Committee, a Democrat from Illinois, is joining us now from Capitol Hill.

Senator Durbin, you spoke to me yesterday here in THE SITUATION ROOM and you said simply, you didn't know enough about this woman to make a judgment whether she was qualified to serve on the Supreme Court. What's your reaction?

SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D) ILLINOIS: Well, if you look at it, in politics, there's always a good reason and a real reason. The good reason given by the White House for the Miers withdrawal was the document issue. The real reason, of course, was the opposition from the radical right wing of the Republican Party.

This Miers resignation or nomination was not about documents, it was about Dobson. And I think we have to really call on the president now to show real leadership even within his own party. If he's going to pick a nominee now who makes the extreme right wing of his party happy, then, frankly, I don't think the American people are going to be that happy about it.

BLITZER: Senator Durbin, what happens now from the Democratic perspective?

DURBIN: Well, we have to wait and see. We're going to start the process all over again. It takes anywhere - usually from six to eight weeks for us to at least look at the background of a proposed Supreme Court nominee. If the president made an announcement tomorrow, it's unlikely that anything would be done before the first of the year. We have to be watchful and make certain that we protect the basic issue here. This really isn't an issue about the bragging rights in a political battle, this is an issue about the constitutional rights of Americans to be protected in the Supreme Court. And I hope the president gives us a nominee who appeals across the board to people in the -- in all parts of the political spectrum in America.

BLITZER: Senator Durbin, John King is here with me, our chief national correspondent, and Candy Crowley. I want John to weigh in as well.

John, you have a question for Senator Durbin?

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Senator Durbin, as candid as you can be about the repositioning here, the Democrats, I think, were prepared, some Democrats anyway, were prepared down the road to oppose Harriet Miers because of things that at least some Christian conservatives were saying about reassurances on abortion and the like. You didn't have to play your cards here. The Democrats didn't have to play their cards here. Now you're blaming the radical right and I think the right wing of the party certainly opposed this nomination. But this, in many way, in my view, the bigger issue is that as the right opposed the president, the Republicans in the Senate did not stand with the president.

DURBIN: I think that's true. It really was a vote of no confidence in the president, at least in this particular issue. If his Republican senators had stood up and Senator McConnell predicted two weeks ago that they would. He said that Harriet Miers would have every single Republican senatorial vote before it was all over. They weren't ready to stand by the president. I think it reflects the nominee and it also reflects the standing of the president with the American people at this moment.

BLITZER: Candy, you have a question for Senator Durbin?

CROWLEY: Senator Durbin, I have heard the phrase radical right now in most of the Democratic response to it. And it occurs to me that the part of this is positioning for the next bid. That if you can blame this on the radical right -- if the president comes out and he puts a conservative out there, that you are sort of setting the stage for, oh here's another example of the president being a prisoner of the radical right. What do you want him to put out there? Do you have a problem with a conservative judge?

DURBIN: Not at all. Sandra Day O'Connor was a conservative judge and yet over the last 15 or 20 years with 193 5-4 decisions on the Supreme Court, she was the deciding vote in 75 percent of the cases. That's why the seat is so important. But it also reflects the fact that a mainstream conservative like Sandra Day O'Connor would be acceptable to Democrats and Republicans in the United States Senate.

But that isn't what the people who are criticizing Harriet Miers are looking for. They want somebody who is certifiable on their most important issues. Who will not stand up and defend the right of privacy in America today. I think that is the kind of nominee who would be in for rough sledding in the Senate.

BLITZER: One final question, Senator Durbin. How important is it that the president find another woman to put before the Senate Judiciary Committee?

DURBIN: I think the president made a very important point with the Miers nomination that filling Sandra Day O'Connor's vacancy with a woman was appropriate. I hope that among the many, many qualified women in America, that he will choose one as the nominee. BLITZER: Senator Durbin, thanks very much for joining us. Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Joining us now on the phone is Ann Coulter, a very conservative, outspoken commentator. Very critical of the liberals. Many would call you, Ann, a member of that radical right that so many of the Democrats are referring to today. You didn't like this nominee this nomination. What's your reaction?

ANN COULTER, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: Yes, I was just going to say that, speaking for the radical right wing, I find it quite hilarious to hear these Democrats thinking that to get it right now the president is going to have to respond to them.

Wait a second. What's this we, pale face. They didn't make a peep about this nomination. This is an absolutely historic, stunning event. I mean through somewhat unfortunate circumstances, this does show the power of the radical right wing, as Democrats call it, normal Americans, as I call it, in this country.

I mean, you can't imagine in eight years of Clinton when he was constantly hosing liberals, they never staged a turnaround like this. And, by the way, you know, what led to this problem? A, Bush listening to the Democrats. Harry Reid recommended Harriet Miers. And, number two, this insistence that he nominate a girl.

Well, that didn't really work out so well. So the idea that now Bush must turn around and respond to the very people who led him into this mess I think is preposterous. I also think it's worth saying, this is a great thing Harriet Miers has done. She has serve her president and her country well today.

BLITZER: Let me read to you what Harry Reed, the Democratic leader in the House or in the Senate, the minority leader, said in a statement. He said, "the radical right wing of the Republican party killed the Harriet Miers nomination." He went on to say, as you pointed out, "I had recommended that the president consider nominating Miss Miers because I was impressed with her record of achievement as the managing partner of a major Texas law firm and the first woman president of the Texas Bar Association." He goes on and says, Ann, "in choosing a replacement for Miss Miers, President Bush should not reward the bad behavior of his right wing base."

You want to respond quickly to that last point?

COULTER: Well, I think I've said it, he's the right wing base has just shown its power. And, as I say, and it's unfortunate circumstances. But what got Bush in trouble was listening to Democrats in the first place.

BLITZER: Let me bring John King and Candy Crowley, Ann, into this conversation.

John, how important is it for the president to find a woman or a minority to succeed to replace Harriet Miers? KING: Well the president, from day one of this, once John Roberts became the chief justice nominee, focused on women for this pick. So one would assume he had a list in front of him that lead him to Harriet Miers. He will go back to that list.

How important is it? That will be part of the politics. I think the bigger question, I think, and I'd like to ask Ann this question if she's still listening in is, she is a movement conservative. The movement conservatives say we advance our principles at all cost, even if we lose.

Now, to advance the movement in the long run, there are many Republicans looking at the 2006 elections saying, we've got to find peace. Tom DeLay was in trouble. The president is at probably the weakest point of his presidency. This CIA leak investigation is wrapping up. The Iraq war is unpopular.

I'd like to ask Ann about the tension in the party, if you will, and the pragmatists who say, let's have d'etat and the movement conservatives who say, no, we will fight even if we lose temporarily.

COULTER: Yes, you're exactly right in your description. And I think what happened today demonstrates that the movement conservatives, or the radical right wing as we're being called, is the one with the power in this relationship. The power in the country.

That is to say, as I have been arguing since the Roberts nomination. Yes, it would be fine if Bush nominated a wonderful, qualified conservative like Janice Rogers Brown. Even if she's defeated, that is a victory for Republicans. Yes, get the Democrats on record explaining that what they mean by right wing activist is, you know, parental notification before a 12-year-old has an abortion or, you know, not finding a right to partial birth abortion in the Constitution, not finding a right to gay marriage in the Constitution.

Yes, let's have that fight. The Democrats don't want to have that fight, which is why they keep arguing, you know, in the dark about things like filibusters and document production. Yes, fine, let's have that fight. For one thing, we win in the end, we win in the 2006 elections, even if the nominee goes down. But I think today it shows that nominee will not go down.

BLITZER: Let me read to everyone the actual text of the letter that Harriet Miers wrote to the president.

"Dear, Mr. President, I write to withdraw as a nominee to serve as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States. I have been greatly honored and humbled by the confidence that you have shown in me, and have appreciated immensely your support and the support of many others. However, I am concerned that confirmation process presents a burden for the White House and our staff that is not in the best interest of the country. As you know, members of the Senate have indicated their intention to seek documents about my service in the White House in order to judge whether to support me." She goes on to say, "I have been informed repeatedly that in lieu of records, I would be expected to testify about my service in the White House to demonstrate is my experience and judicial philosophy."

Continuing. "While I believe that my lengthy career provides sufficient evidence for consideration of my nomination, I am convinced the efforts to obtain Executive Branch materials and information will continue. As I stated in my acceptance remarks in the Oval Office, the strength and independence of our three branches of government are critical to the continued success of this great Nation. Repeatedly in the course of the process of confirmation for nominees for other positions, I have steadfastly maintained that independence of the Executive Branch be preserved and its confidential documents and information not be released to further a confirmation process."

She wraps up by saying, "I feel compelled to adhere to this position, especially related to my nomination. Protection of the prerogatives of the Executive Branch and continued pursuit of my confirmation are in tension. I have decided that seeking my confirmation should yield. I share your commitment to appointing judge with a conservative judicial philosophy, and I look forward to continuing to support your efforts to provide the American people judges who will interpret the law, not make it. I am most grateful for the opportunity to have served your Administration and this country. Most respectfully, Harriet Ellen Miers."

A long letter and we're going to read the president's response in a moment.

But Candy Crowley, this was all foretold, foreshadowed only last Friday in a column by Charles Cronhamer (ph) writing in "The Washington Post," a conservative himself, saying, you know what, there's a face-saving exit strategy for the president and Harriet Miers over this issue of confidentiality, of her documents, that the Senate wants documents related to her service as White House counsel and that's precisely what has now happened.

CROWLEY: It has. I will tell you, and I think Ann would probably confirm that conservatives, those who had opposed Miers, had also foreseen that she would withdraw. Not necessarily like this, but what they had said and what they had outlined to Bush supporters is, listen, we're not going go to mat for this woman. What you've done here is you put someone forth and the one thing we know about her is that she's anti-abortion. The one thing that will set the Democrats off.

So if you have a filibuster, you don't have our support for trying to break that filibuster or having what they used to call the nuclear option. So they felt that the only way off this road that was set on this path by Harriet Miers was that she would withdraw. Now they didn't see it this way, but I think there has been, since a week, two weeks into this nomination, when some of her record began to come out and the conservative anxiety about her grew stronger, it was very clear and the buzz was very clear that she would withdraw under some circumstance.

BLITZER: Let me get your quick reaction to that, Ann Coulter.

COULTER: Yes. And, I mean, I should say I've been reading a lot of Harriet Miers' writings over the past few weeks and I think her letter today is the most eloquent and powerful thing I've seen written by her. I also think that the reason given for her withdrawal really doesn't matter. I mean the face-saving issue. It really doesn't matter.

We're conservatives. We're not gloating. We support this president. He made a mistake. It's been corrected. I don't care what the reasons are. I don't care about the timing. The mistake has been corrected, we can move on now. The conservatives aren't going to be gloating over this. We're just happy it's over.

BLITZER: Ann Coulter, thanks very much for spending a few moments with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM, our special coverage of the Harriet Miers withdrawal.

We're going to continue this coverage. We'll take a quick break. We're standing by to hear from the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter, get his reaction to what has happened. The hearings were supposed to start November 7th, the confirmation hearings. They will not be starting on November 7th. Our coverage will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The president of the United States getting ready to take off from Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, D.C. We've got some live pictures coming in. I want to show our viewers, always a majestic sight indeed. A huge 747, Air Force One, taking the president down to Florida. He'll tour some of the damage, the destruction from Hurricane Wilma that occurred earlier in the week. He'll be getting a first-hand report from his brother, Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, and other top officials, federal, state and local. We'll stay on top of that story.

We're also staying on top of another huge story, a very big story here in Washington. Earlier today, Harriet Miers, the White House counsel, announced she was stepping down, withdrawing, withdrawing her nomination to become an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. She will remain on as White House counsel, as the president's lawyer, the White House counsel, but she will no longer be a nominee. Her confirmation hearings had been set to begin November 7th. They will not begin. The president now resuming his search for a new nominee.

And we're also standing by here to hear directly from the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter, for his reaction. That's coming up soon.

Another developing story we're watching, that CIA leak investigation. Our Bob Franken is over at the courthouse here in Washington. You're picking up some new developments, Bob?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, I want to point out that CNN's justice correspondent Kelli Arena has confirmed that there is no announcement expected today on the decisions that are going to be made by this grand jury, meaning that it won't be a double dose of jarring news for this administration today. Kelli has been told by reliable sources, knowledgeable sources, that the grand jury got its presentation yesterday on the facts of the CIA investigation, and that decisions will be announced tomorrow, raising the possibility that there could be, as I said, jarring news that hits the administration two days in a row. This could be an investigation that has involved an awful lot of testimony about two of the top aides of the president, Karl Rove, his chief political aid, the deputy White House chief of staff and Scooter Libby, who is the vice president's chief of staff. Rove, the deputy chief of staff for the White House.

There have been a lot of reporting that they have been a large focus of this investigation. We would expect that tomorrow the special prosecutor would announce whether there are going to be indictments or whether there are going to be indictments, or whether there will be no indictments. There is also quite a bit of discussion about how much this has preoccupied the White House, and perhaps even Karl Rove.

Rove has always been instrumental in seeing that something like the Supreme Court nomination was handled in a very thorough way before it was made, and there has been quite a bit of discussion about the possibility that because of the distractions of this, that this was perhaps handled more tentatively than it might have been in the past. In any case, the White House is waiting to see if tomorrow is going to bring better news or not -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Bob, we're going to check back with you, Bob Franken over at the courthouse. And let me be precise in reporting what our Kelli Arena, our justice correspondent, has learned. According to a lawyer, she says, involved in the CIA leak case, the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, summarized his case before the grand jury yesterday. The source tells our Kelli Arena that Fitzgerald is expected to announce tomorrow the results of his investigation and whether or not he has brought any indictments.

Two lawyers, she says, involved in the case. One of the things Fitzgerald is focusing on is whether Karl Rove the White House deputy chief of staff, the top political adviser to the president, committed perjury.

Dana Bash is over at the White House with a full plate of news going on. Dana, a lot of people are going suspect that there might be some connection, the timing between today's Harriet Miers' withdrawal and the point of indictments tomorrow. I think that speculation will go forward, but tell us what you're hearing.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, you know, in a town and in politics that talks -- a political town, I should say, that talks a lot about timing, and expectations and how to play a story and how to not play a story, I'm sure that will be talked about whether or not Harriet Miers' withdrawal had anything to do with this.

But as we've heard from Ed Henry on the Hill and we're hearing here at the White House, a lot of it also, we understand, has to do with the fact that Harriet Miers continued to go on with her meetings with senators, with key Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee, that simply did not go well. And they realized that coupled with the whole concept of her not being able to answer some questions that they wanted, whether or not it was document-related or not, which was key questions that key senators had about her judicial philosophy and her background, that really had a major part of the timing here, I think.

But also, Wolf, I think it's interesting to point out, you know, Bob was talking about Karl Rove and whether or not he was distracted, and he, of course, is a key player in this and just about everything that goes on around here with regard to the president's political strategy. This is certainly something that we've been asking time and time again. You know, we talked to a couple of senior officials who were in that small group of people who were helping the president decide on who his nominee should be. They all insist that Rove was very much involved from the beginning, and you know, one said, the day that Karl Rove is distracted is the day he takes his last breath.

Having said that, Wolf, there is certainly a feeling when you talk to people who are here at the White House, and even more so, those who are close to the White House, even some former senior officials, they see what is going on here as some missteps because of a tired staff, a staff that has been here a very long time, five years, and maybe a too insular staff, and that is part of this problem and that's part of the other problems that the president is having all at the same time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Good point. Thanks, Dana. We're going to get back to you. We just heard from Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat. Let's hear from a Republican senator, Sam Brownback, joining us. He's a member of the Judiciary Committee as well.

Let me quote to you, senator, and what you said, and I'm referring to a quote in the "Kansas City Star" on October 5th, referring to Harriet Miers and her nomination. You said, it seems like a missed opportunity. Here's the swing vote. You've got a lot of really bright jurists known on these topics, and this is worth fighting about. What's your reaction to the withdrawal today?

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R), KANSAS: Well, I think this is a very tough move for the White House to do, for the president, for Harriet Miers, and I have a great deal of respect for their willingness to do this at this point. We were at an impasse on documents.

You can look at the big picture, but at the end of day we were at an impasse on documents. We needed information of what she'd worked on in the White House. They were unwilling to provide it for executive privilege, and we were at this impasse, and I think at the end of day that just brought the whole thing on down.

BLITZER: So you think that this whole document issue was the real problem, or was this was just a face-saving way out of what turned out to be a messy and controversial nomination?

BROWNBACK: Well, this had been a difficult nomination, there's no question about that, but at the end of day you have to focus specifics up here, what happens, and at the end of day we were not get the documents that we believed we need to give good advice and consent on this nominee. I said a week ago this is the sort of risk you assume with the nominee that's in a current White House, and yet they couldn't provide this sort of information.

The pill was getting bigger for this nominee, not smaller, to pass through, to pass over, but, still, at the end of day it was about the documents.

BLITZER: All right, Senator, Candy Crowley and John King are with me here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Candy, you have a question for Senator Brownback?

CROWLEY: Candy, one of the things I hear a lot talking to your colleagues on the Hill, certainly talking to some members of the conservative movement off the Hill, is that the White House has become, as Dana pointed out, too, insular, that the problem wasn't that Karl Rove made a misstep here with Harriet Miers, or that he didn't see the conservative objections coming, but that nobody's talking to the president outside of about four or five people telling him what's going on. Do you feel that the White House needs to reach out a little more to you all? Have they been, do you think, too insular?

BROWNBACK: I don't know that I can really pass judgment on that. I do think it is a wise thing to do to reach out to the body of the Senate, and to reach out to your own party ahead of time on something that's so big, and so central and was so central to the campaign, and that's the Supreme Court. The president ran on it. It really motivated a lot of the people that voted for the president, and it did seem like on this one there wasn't sufficient understanding of who people wanted to put forth.

Plus, it was a real thought that when President Clinton was in office, he put forth Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had been the general counsel for the ACLU, openly, notoriously liberal jurist to go on the court. Why shouldn't the president put forward clearly somebody in a Scalia-Thomas mold, and let's have a debate in the country, that it's time to have that kind of debate.

BLITZER: One argument you could make, that when Ruth Bader Ginsburg was put forward, the Democrats still controlled the Senate. The Republicans control the Senate now, but if you put forward a really conservative jurist, the Democrats could impose a filibuster. You would need 60 votes to break that filibuster, Senator Brownback, and you might not get it, and you only have 55 Republicans, and there's no guarantee all 55 would stay with a very, very conservative nominee.

BROWNBACK: Well, and you're saying a very, very conservative nominee.

BLITZER: Someone who...

BROWNBACK: I think there a number of people that are already on the circuit court that would be conservative, but I don't think you could at all categorize as very, very conservative.

Plus, if the Democrats force a filibuster, we would need to change the rule, and that would require 51 votes. That would be their choice if they want to go to that level of extraordinary step to make a requirement of a super-majority to go on the Supreme Court, and then we would have to have that debate, and it looks like we may well be headed to that, to be able to get a nominee put forward along the lines of what President Bush campaigned for.

BLITZER: That's the -- John King, the so-called nuclear option that Senator Brownback's talking about.

KING: It is the nuclear option. Senator, I want to go back to this document issue, and I want you to try to help me, as candidly as you can, sort through the politics of the moment. Because Republicans in the Senate and the party supported this president when he fought all the way to the Supreme Court to protect the Dick Cheney Energy Task Force documents. The Republicans on the committee and in the Senate supported this president when they wanted documents from when John Roberts served in the Justice Department and the White House said they were out of bounds.

The Republicans on the committee supported this president when Alberto Gonzales was going from White House counsel to attorney general of the United States. Democrats wanted documents from his days as White House counsel. The Republicans said out of bounds. The president has the right to that private advice.

Suddenly, it is the Republicans saying give us those documents, the very documents in past nomination fights you have agreed with the president should not be brought into play. The political environment has changed, has it not, Senator? And forgive me, but you're among the senators who are exploring running for president. You don't want to make the base of the party mad right now, do you?

BROWNBACK: Well, you asked about five questions there. On this particular nominee, and that's what I hope we could focus in on, we were talking about the swing vote of the Supreme Court that's ruled in so many issues, that I certainly believe and many people in this country believe, should be left up to legislative bodies and shouldn't be constitutionalized by a five-member ruling group on the court. So you were talking about that and we were talking about the individual who we didn't have a set of background records on to know or where they would look at it...

KING: So, the principle -- excuse me, let me interrupt, Senator, I'm sorry...

BROWNBACK: So I think that's appropriate for us to look on the constitutional issues. And we were not asking for documents regarding the attorney-client privilege or privileged communications. We were saying, show us documents of policy issues, discussions, so we can get some framework of her policy views.

KING: That same issue has come up before, though. So it is a different test of that principle when you're involving a swing seat on the Supreme Court? And who defines a swing seat?

BROWNBACK: Well, this is a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court that we are talking about in this particular case. And I think this one merits -- and we did not have any background of records. You can look at John Roberts and say OK, now, that's a similar position that's on the Supreme Court. And yet we had very similar documents from when he worked in the White House, courtesy of the Reagan Library. Really, we're getting a very limited set, but a similar set of information that we had for John Roberts' lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land. I think that's a fairly consistent picture.

BLITZER: Senator Brownback, we have to leave it right there. Senator Sam Brownback. He's a member of the Judiciary Committee. I appreciate your joining us on this day, senator. We'll check back with you.

We're getting a statement in from Senator Ted Kennedy, reacting to the Miers withdrawal, among other things. Senator Kennedy says, "The only voices heard in the process were the voices of the extreme factions of the president's own political party. They had a litmus test" -- litmus test -- "and before giving her a fair chance to have her own voice heard, they decided Harriet Miers didn't meet it. That's not what the Supreme Court is about." Senator Ted Kennedy's -- part of his statement.

Candy Crowley, give us your immediate assessment of what we just heard from Senator Brownback, who as John accurately points out, is thinking about running for the Republican presidential nomination.

CROWLEY: Well, I think, you know, clearly, the conservatives think they have won. And the next nominee is going to be someone that they're going to wholly embrace, because that's who the president is going to be at. You hear that from Sam Brownback, you heard that from Ann Coulter.

What is also interesting that this will be done even more in the context of an election year 2006. And going back to Ann Coulter and putting it on top of, as an overlay, to Senator Brownback, what you have are people saying we don't care if it's turned down. We'll take the fight to the election.

BLITZER: Senator Specter, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, on the floor now. Let's listen.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA), JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN: Amendment 2193. This amendment provides $10 million for the tele-health programs within the Department of Education and the amendment is fully offset. And I believe it has been agreed to by my distinguished ranking member, Senator Harkin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The amendment is pending, the senator from Iowa has recognized...

BLITZER: All right. We're going to monitor this. I suspect within a few seconds, he's going to start giving his reaction to the Harriet Miers' withdrawal. Once he does and gets away from other Senate business, we'll go back to Senator Specter or that. You -- I interrupted you, Candy. You wanted to finish.

CROWLEY: That's just -- I was almost -- just to say that the fact is that movement conservatives do not care if a conservative is put up and defeated. In fact, they say, we'll take it to the next election. The same can be said for those who are running. They are happy to take that to the election. It is a different way to look at it than the way the president's looking at it.

BLITZER: John.

KING: We're going into this year with so much uncertainty. The president's ratings are down, the ratings of the Republicans in Congress are down. Democrats think they are ascendant, but at the same time, even many Democrats will privately tell you, saying no is not enough to win an election. So I think what we're going to have with this nomination going down, with the leak investigation going, reaching a conclusion tomorrow, presumably, Iraq, the death toll, hitting 2,000.

Both parties now I think are going to use this period between now and the end of the year to take a deep breath -- the president obviously has to deal with this in the meantime -- and sort of reposition themselves going into the next year. And I think Candy's exactly right. Conservatives, at least through the mid part of the year, until you actually get about to the mechanics of turning out voters, would love to have an ideological fight. The question is, does the president want to have it with them?

BLITZER: All right. We're going to take a quick break. We'll stand by to hear what Senator Specter has to say about all of this. We also are getting some brand new poll numbers into CNN on Harriet Miers. Our Bill Schneider standing by with those numbers.

Much more of our special coverage, the Harriet Miers withdrawal from her nomination to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court, here in THE SITUATION ROOM, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Harriet Miers, the White House counsel who had been nominated by President Bush to become an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, succeeding Sandra Day O'Connor, has withdrawn her nomination, and the president is now searching for a new nominee. No word on when that might happen. Mr. Bush is on his way to Florida right now to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma.

We're getting some new poll numbers in now on Harriet Miers. Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider standing by with that. What are we learning, Bill?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: What we're learning is that public opinion on the Harriet Miers' nomination was moving in the wrong direction from the White House point of view. In the middle of October, when the CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll asked Americans, do you think the Senate should confirm Harriet Miers, a narrow plurality, 44 to 36 percent, said, yes. But just last weekend, when the question was asked again, that showed the public was split 42 percent said yes, 43, no. Notice that opposition to her confirmation had grown seven points in seven days. The poll also asked Americans, are you pleased or disappointed by the president's decision to nominate Harriet Miers? Fifty percent said they're disappointed in the nomination. Forty percent said they were pleased.

Did the public think Harriet Miers was qualified to be on the supreme court? The answer is yes. Only 22 percent thought she was not qualified to be on the court, but qualified but not one of the most qualified. Only 20 percent said she's one of the most qualified to serve on the court, whereas nearly half the public, 49 percent, said she's qualified, but there are many other people who are more qualified.

So by that standard, Americans thought the president could have made a better choice, and now he has the opportunity to do just that.

BLITZER: Could the president, do you think, if he had decided he would fight this through to the finish and he was not going to let her withdraw her nomination, and that he was determined, and that he was going to squeeze and use all of his political muscle to get her confirmed, do you think he would have succeeded in the end?

SCHNEIDER: I think it was doubtful that he would have. Senators did not want to have a confirmation hearing. They did not want to grill Harrier Miers. They did not want to -- Republican senators did not want to come out against their president. The only way he could have succeeded is essentially from weakness, by throwing himself on the mercy of Republicans in the Senate and telling them if you vote against Harriet Miers for confirmation, you're going to be destroying my presidency. That's a very difficult and painful argument for a president to make, and I'm not sure it would have worked.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thank you very much.

Getting a statement in from Senator Orrin Hatch. He's a distinguished member of the Judiciary Committee as well. He was a strong supporter of Harriet Miers. He says, "I'm sorry it came to this." He says, "Politics must not undermine the principles and standards we a pry to every judicial nomination. I think President Bush will keep his promise to appoint the law and not legislate from the bench." But he's sorry that Harriet Miers name has been withdrawn.

Our senior legal analyst Jeff Toobin is standing by. He's on the phone.

Jeff, I can't say this is a shock to a lot of people, because there were a lot of us who were simply speculating that those November 7th confirmation hearings would not take place, because her nomination would be withdrawn by then, given the strong opposition of so many conservatives. It's a stunning announcement, but I don't think a totally surprising announcement.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: I think stunning but not surprising probably sums it up well.

What is interesting, though, is that it does demonstrate the power of the conservative movement here, because there is not a single member of the United States Senate at this point, who was announced in opposition to her candidacy. For all the discomfort that Senator Brownback and Senator Coburn, Senator Lott expressed, they never said they were voting no. If you look back to the Robert Bork hearings, Senator Kennedy on the day he was nominated said, Robert Bork's America is not one I want to live in. I'm going to vote no. Here it is the conservative movement that mobilized the opposition, and they won this one big time. We'll see whether they win the next one.

BLITZER: What do you think the president is up to now? How much pressure will be under will, for example, to find another woman?

SCHNEIDER: Well, I think think he certainly felt a lot of pressure to pick a woman when he picked Harriet Miers. All of the candidates, according to my reporting, that came close were women, and so those women remain a candidate, Janice Rogers Brown on the D.C. Circuit, Priscilla Owen on the Fifth Circuit, Edith Jones, Edith Clement, also on the Fifth Circuit. These women will be under consideration, and all of them, I think will be satisfactory to the conservative movement. The question is, will they prompt a filibuster or opposition that could somehow get to 51 votes by being too conservative. That is a test that we may soon be seeing.

BLITZER: We will stand by for that. Jeff, stand by, we're going to take another quick break. We'll speak to the only woman member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dianne Feinstein of California, when our special coverage resumes.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Harriet Miers, no longer a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court. She withdrew her nomination earlier this morning. The president accepted that letter asking that her nomination be withdrawn.

Let's speak to the only woman member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. That would be Senator Dianne Feinstein of California.

What's your reaction to this development, Senator Feinstein?

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, obviously, I don't like to see a woman -- I don't like to see it happen to her this way, but it has happened, and apparently that's the administration and the president's desire, and Harriet Miers' desire.

I think now we've got to turn to who's next. And what concerns me very deeply, Wolf, is that the right-wing conservative movement believes they have a say, a definitive say on this nomination, and I would strongly urge the president to take his time and appoint a nominee for all of the people, conservative, liberal, moderate Americans. Everybody cares about the Supreme Court, and because this is a pivotal nominee, and because of the history of what has just happened, this appointment becomes even more, I think, important.

There are those of us our side, we will fight to see that this nominee represents all of America. It's that important to us.

BLITZER: Senator Feinstein, what's wrong with the so-called right wing, the conservatives of the Republican Party, the president's own base, the people who got him elected, by and large, who worked so hard for him, what's wrong with them having a say in who should be the nominee?

FEINSTEIN: Because he's not the president of the right-wing base. He's the president of the United States of America, and all of the people, and he is carrying out not a political duty, but a constitutional duty to nominate someone for the United States Supreme Court who happens to be a pivotal appointment at this point in time, and therefore, he has an obligation to see that that appointment represents all of America. I deeply believe that, Wolf. And I've been dismayed at what the right wing has done candidly to Harriet Miers.

She may not be, you know, the best thing since sliced bread in terms of judicial qualifications and background, and we could have questioned her on these, if the White House would have let us some have some of the papers that became dispositive to her nomination.

Nonetheless, not withstanding, I don't think she deserves the treatment she got.

BLITZER: You met with her, Senator Feinstein. What did you think? Would you have so the voted to confirm her?

FEINSTEIN: I kept an open mind. I have not made up my mind. There was enough about her, that some things went one way, other things went another way, that I couldn't make up my mind until the hearing.

What was going to be of interest to me was to see her depth of knowledge and constitutional law, and that was important. I said that I thought that the course was uphill. I did not think the course had been decided. I don't believe there was anyone on the Democratic side that said, we will not vote for this nominee, no one. So it was wide open from the perspective of our party, I believe.

Now having said that, what happened is that the right wing moved in and effectively killed this nomination. Now, some people like that. Other people say, whoa, wait. I'm one that says, whoa, wait.

It may have happened here, but the next nominee should very clearly represent all of America. And if there's knowledge about the nominee the credentials are sterling, then I don't believe this will happen. Or if it does, it won't have the credibility that it apparently had with Harriet Miers. WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Senator Feinstein, two of the nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court right now women. Sandra Day O'Connor, one of them, though, about to step down.

How important is it for the president to find another woman who will be his nominee?

FEINSTEIN: Well, obviously, there are many of us who are women who would like to see another woman. I took great pride in Sandra Day O'Connor. I take great pride in Ruth Ginsburg. It's wonderful to see women on the Supreme Court.

You know, the number of women lawyers is growing exponentially in this country. They take great pride because it means when a woman has made it that the door is open for all women. And that's a very important symbol out there.

BLITZER: Senator Dianne Feinstein, a member of the Judiciary Committee. Thanks very much for joining us.

FEINSTEIN: You're very welcome. Thank you.

BLITZER: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.

Happening now, our special coverage of the Harriet Miers nomination withdrawn. Reaction pouring in, speculation building about who President Bush will tap next to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

It's just after 11:00 here in Washington, where Miers' fall is sending shockwaves from Capitol Hill to the Supreme Court and way beyond. It's a clear political defeat for the president, and we're tracking the fallout.

And yet another reason for stomach-churning over at the White House. The CIA leak special prosecutor could slap top officials with indictments before the weekend. We're standing by for new developments in the other big dustup here in the nation's capital.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's head right over to the White House. Our correspondent Dana Bash is standing by with what has happened today. Ed Henry is on Capitol Hill with reaction.

Dana, first to you.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, what happened today, Wolf, is this letter, this letter from Harriet Miers to the president of the United States saying that she was withdrawing her nomination. It's something that she gave to him in the Oval Office we're told this morning. But she actually formally told the president that she would be withdrawing her nomination last night in a phone call at about 8:30.

But as you know, as we've been reporting all morning, that came after a series of meetings, a flurry of meetings, last-minute meetings, after it became clear that what was already a very troubled nomination simply was not going to happen in terms of where it really mattered. And that is getting the Senate votes. Because for the most part, conservative Republican senators who the White House really were -- they were relying on for this to get through were becoming more and more open about the fact that they simply could not support her after weeks, a couple of weeks of President Bush defending this nomination.

Let's take a listen to what the president said just one week ago.

OK. Sorry, we don't have the sound bite, Wolf. But we've heard it many times.

The president talking over and over about the fact that he would not withdraw her nomination because he felt that Harriet Miers was a very good candidate for reasons like -- for the reasons that people opposed her, for the reason that she was from outside of the judicial system. She is somebody who has, in his words, real world experience. That is why the president put her nomination up.

And in the end, that is essentially what brought her down, because senators were looking for more records, more information about her background, about her philosophy that simply was not there.

BLITZER: I sort of, and a lot of other people, Dana, suspected that something was in the works when the president earlier this week said there was a red line. And I think those were the words he used, a red line that he would not cross in releasing documents that the Senate wanted, Democrats and Republicans, about her advice to him while she served at the White House. And that seemed to suggest an exit strategy for this troubled nomination.

BASH: It certainly did. And that is what Harriet Miers lays out in this letter to the president. It is certainly the line that we've heard here all morning at the White House, that it did come down to the issue of documents. But Wolf, we know that that might be one issue, but there are a host of issues that this came down to.

One of the issues is the interviews, the discussions, the courtesy calls, if you will, that Harriet Miers was having with senators on Capitol Hill. They, we are told by many sources, simply did not go well.

Senators were looking for information from her, looking for reasons they said, even Republicans, to back her, and they simply did not find it. So this was going to come down to the hearings, whether or not she could answer questions that the senators really needed to know to vote for her in the hearings. And they decided not wait that long.

And certainly even talking to folks here at the White House up until this morning, there was a sense that they were going to try to push her through to the hearings, but it became clear from Harriet Miers that she didn't want to get that far.

BLITZER: All right, Dana. Thank you very much. Dana Bash at the White House.

We'll constantly check back with you.

All of this was announced, by the way, earlier today at the White House with two letters that were released, a letter from Harriet Miers, a letter from the president of the United States. No public statements by the president, no formal appearances with Harriet Miers. Simply the White House press office releasing the text of these two letters, then the president heading over to Andrews Air Force Base to get on Air Force One to fly down to Florida to take a look at the damage from Hurricane Wilma.

Let's get some reaction and the damage up on Capitol Hill.

Ed, a lot more -- this is very curious. A lot more Republicans seem to be welcoming this development than Democrats.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. In fact, Wolf, not surprisingly, the Democrats are loving every minute of it. What they are telling me privately is they've heard so much criticism in the last couple of years, Republicans charging that Democratic obstructionism is blocking -- or that obstructionism is blocking President Bush's judicial nominees. In this case, Democrats are charging it was Republican obstructionism.

You are hearing the rhetoric. The Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid, this morning immediately saying, "The radical White wing of the Republican Party drove her right out of town."

Republicans, however, insisting this is a good woman. They still feel, people like Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, that she was well qualified. And they think it is unfortunate that the process led to this.

Here's Senator Frist.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: She stated very clearly to me this morning, and in a letter which I'll refer to here shortly, that she felt that withdrawal was in the best interest of the United States of America. She came to this decision on her own based on what she has experienced and witnessed, and with the requests that are currently being made, and as she projected forward as to the hearings. Again, in the best interest of the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: And what people close to Senator Frist are telling me, basically, is it's hard to figure out what the next step here is. If you pick somebody with a real track record, a paper trail, someone as you've been talking about like Robert Bork, you're going to see the Democrats with fierce opposition. If you see someone who basically is a blank slate and who doesn't have a lot of documents, no paper trail, as we heard so much from Republicans about Harriet Miers, then the president is going to face another fierce fight on the right. And basically, the way this process has broken down it's hard to see what is next.

The rhetoric from the Democrats saying that the right wing sunk this nomination. They're clearly trying to shape the debate for the next fight so that when the president picks another nominee they can immediately charge that he is sucking up to the right wing base, he's trying to get out of his trouble with the poll numbers. And, in fact, Republican senators in their initial reaction seemed to be throwing some red meat out there, trying to push the president to the right a little bit quickly.

From Republican Senator George Allen, a likely candidate in 2008, he is saying the president has to pick someone who "will not legislate from the bench, will apply the law, not invent it." Those are clear code words, phrases we hear over and over.

They want a movement conservative, not someone who in their eyes is squishy, somebody who is undefined. They clearly want a conservative -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What about the timetable now? Let's assume, Ed, that it takes the president two weeks, let's just say two weeks to come up with a new name, a new nominee. Confirmation hearings are going to be set back. Clearly there's not going to be approval before Thanksgiving, which is what the president wanted with Harriet Miers.

You're going to go into December and then Christmas, New Year's, recess. What is it looking like? How much longer is Sandra Day O'Connor going to have to stay on the U.S. Supreme Court?

HENRY: It seems to me it's very likely she would be on the court into the early part of next year. What you're going to hear immediately from Democrats, like Senator Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, is that when you look at the process in recent years, the average is about 50 days for both parties before their nominees get their first hearing after they are named by a president.

So if you game this out over 50 days, you're right, you're already through the Christmas -- Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

Sandra Day O'Connor already still on the bench. That's another reason for conservatives to be concerned. They want to see her. They think she's served distinguish -- she's had distinguished on the high court. But they don't like the fact that she's been the fifth vote moving, they feel, and being to moderate on some key issues.

They want to get a conservative in her seat. And given the time frame, Wolf, it looks like they're not going to get that at least until the early part of next year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Ed Henry, thanks very much for that.

We're getting a statement from former Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts. "Caught up in a wave of scandal and concerns about the war in Iraq, the president has allowed right wing interest groups to decide the fate of his Supreme Court nominee, rather than stand up to his ultra- conservative base." Kerry goes on to say, "It's a telling statement about the instability and ideological confusion facing the White House and the Republican party."

Let's digest all of this. Joining us, Bill Press, a good Democrat, a good liberal, I think it's fair to say.

You're not ashamed to be called a liberal, are you?

BILL PRESS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I'm proud to be called a liberal.

BLITZER: Excellent.

Terry Jeffrey, a good Republican a good conservative.

Not ashamed to be called a conservative?

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR, HUMAN EVENTS: Not at all. Proud of it. Proud of it.

BLITZER: Proud to be called a conservative.

Terry Jeffrey, you were no great fan of this nominee. You must be very happy that this has unfolded the way it has. And I think here in THE SITUATION ROOM you predicted it would unfold this way.

JEFFREY: Well, I think Harriet Miers did the right thing, Wolf. And I think what President Bush needs to do now is do the right thing. And I think Bob Bork in this program a little earlier basically described it.

What conservatives want is someone nominated to the court who will be an originalist, meaning they'll interpret the Constitution looking for the meaning of the words as what they meant to the people who wrote them.

I think the liberals want justices who will go on the court, will actually amend the Constitution through Supreme Court decisions that legislate things that they could not win in state legislatures. So the president needs to name someone like that.

PRESS: Wolf, I think we agree that Harriet Miers did the right thing. I think she saved herself and the president a lot of embarrassment.

I think we also maybe agree you can't blame this on the Democrats. The Democrats never had a chance to get started.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: He's proud that the Republicans, the conservatives did this. PRESS: Some of the things I've heard since we've been in the building. And you can't blame it on the documents. I think that's a fig leaf.

I think what happened here is Terry and other conservative activists brought a conservative president to his knees. And Republican senators on the Hill did not trust the Republican president.

That is extraordinary. And I think the question then isn't where we disagree. It's what happens next? I think the president needs a win now because of all these other problems. He doesn't need a war.

BLITZER: All right. Hold on, guys, for one second. I want to go back to our White House correspondent, Dana Bash.

Dana, you're picking up something?

BASH: Well, no, just something that Bill Press was saying, is that Republicans didn't trust their president. What's interesting about that is, you know, the White House went through a series of reasons that they were sort of putting out there why some of their conservative critics who were really revolting should go for Harriet Miers. And the first reason essentially was the "trust me" reason, as this is a president who went out and campaigned, promising that he was going to put up conservative judges. And for the first term, pretty much did have a great record as far as conservatives were concerned in doing that and following up with that.

So, they felt confident that the "trust me" line was actually going to work. Well, obviously, this is the Supreme Court, this is a whole different ballgame. And they admit here at the White House that was one of the first of many miscalculations, missteps in picking Harriet Miers and then trying to sell her.

You know, one longtime Bush family friend said to me recently that picking Harriet Miers was kind of like when they picked Dan Quayle to be on the ticket, because it was a great idea, the element of surprise, but then they realized they actually had to sell it. And it wasn't so easy.

BLITZER: Terry Jeffrey, let me get you to weigh in on this. And also weigh in on this other quote from John Kerry, former Democratic presidential nominee.

"If the president really believed Harriet Miers was the most qualified candidate for the Supreme Court, he made a terrible mistake refusing to fight for her and capitulating to the right wing."

JEFFREY: Well, I think the president made a mistake in picking a candidate he didn't think he had to fight for. He didn't want to fight with Democrats.

Let me address the politics, particularly relevant to John Kerry. You know, the Democrats are saying the right wing did this, the extreme right wing. The true politics of this, I think, Wolf, is demonstrated in the presidential election in Ohio last year.

President Bush would not be president had he not beat John Kerry in Ohio. On the ballot in November last year was a marriage amendment that sparked huge turnout, that brought new people to the polls who didn't consider themselves conservatives or Republicans. They voted for Bush over Kerry at the same time they are voting for a marriage amendment.

That issue started the United States Supreme Court with Lawrence v. Texas, went to the Massachusetts judicial Supreme Court. This is an excellent issue for Republicans fighting for a conservative constitutionalist judge because it brings in swing voters who don't like what the federal courts have been doing.

BLITZER: That is the president's base. And now, perhaps, more than ever he needs that base if there are indictments against some of his top aides tomorrow.

PRESS: That base alone is not going to win him in 2006. And it's not going to carry Republicans to 2008.

Wolf, I see it differently. But the White House is at a crossroads right now. There's no doubt about it.

You know, the war is not going that well. You know, the budget, Harriet Miers now. Who knows what Patrick Fitzgerald is going to do tomorrow.

I repeat, I think the president needs a win, not a war. And I think the best strategy I would recommend is not letting Terry or others dictate the Supreme Court nominee, but try to come up with a John Roberts type who is sure to win confirmation, that's going to get a lot of Democratic votes, and that's going to bring this country back together again. I think that's a better strategy than going all-out war. But we'll see what he does.

BLITZER: One final question, Terry. And throw out a name or two if you've got one. Is there a female clone of John Roberts out there that would take -- that would win half of the Democratic senators in the U.S. Senate?

JEFFREY: No. The Democrats are going to vote party line against an excellent nominee. But there are people who are better than John Roberts.

For example, Edith Jones, on the 5th Circuit down in New Orleans, who was the last runner-up to David Souter under the senior President Bush, excellent judge. Would be an excellent choice, would rally the conservatives, would bring in the swing voters. There would be a crisis in the Senate but I think the president could win it.

PRESS: I think any of the people on Terry's short list, whether it's Edith Jones or Janice Rogers Brown or Michael Luttig, means Armageddon. That's not what this White House or the country wants today.

BLITZER: Nuclear option as opposed to Armageddon.

(LAUGHTER)

PRESS: Yes.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Thanks very much.

Bill Press, always good.

Terry Jeffrey, thanks very much.

JEFFREY: Thank you.

PRESS: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to continue our special coverage. We're also going to look into this other story that's unfolding today, and more likely tomorrow involving the CIA leak investigation.

There are new developments unfolding in that case. We're going to update our viewers on all of this.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Harriet Miers has asked the president to withdraw her nomination to become an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court. The president has agreed to do so. They exchanged letters earlier today.

We're watching this story, getting reaction. It's pouring in from liberals, conservatives, Democrats and Republicans. Many conservatives oppose this nominee, and they are expressing satisfaction. The president will now have another chance to find another nominee.

All this happening as a major story about to develop here in Washington involving that CIA leak investigation.

Our Bob Franken is joining us now with more on what we know -- Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's quite possible that this will not go down as one of the president's favorite weeks of his administration. We now know from lawyers involved in the case, Kelli Arena reporting, that the lawyers say there is no announcement expected by the special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald today. So it won't be a double dose of news that might cause quite an uproar for the president.

We do know that Fitzgerald presented to the grand jury in its meeting yesterday the facts and evidence in the particular case, which is the investigation into the leaks about Valerie Plame, identifying her as a CIA undercover operative. We do know that an announcement is expected tomorrow by the special prosecutor. It is the last day of the grand jury's scheduled term in office. So there would have to be an extension, which is not considered likely.

Now, the worst news for the administration would be indictments issued against top White House aides Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, both very high up. Both, we know, to be subjects of this investigation, subjects at least of testimony that the grand jury has collected.

And, of course, a little bit of good news would be a decision by Fitzgerald not to indict anybody. All of that is the huge question mark that is hanging like a sword over this administration -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kelli Arena reporting also, Bob, that lawyers saying that Karl Rove and his team, his lawyers, are anxiously, desperately trying to convince -- trying to convince the prosecutor that he did not commit perjury. Perjury would be one of those secondary crimes if it goes forward. The underlying source of all of this investigation was revealing the identity of a clandestine CIA officer.

FRANKEN: And you are aware, of course, of that political adage that sometimes what gets you in trouble is not the underlying crime, but the alleged cover-up, cover-up that would manifest itself, if there was perjury, which is willfully lying under oath or obstruction of justice. That one explains itself. Or lying, making false statements to investigators, all of that sometimes is what trips somebody up.

But all of this is conjecture on our part. The special prosecutor has made his presentation before the grand jury. Now it is in the hands of that grand jury.

BLITZER: Bob Franken. We'll continue to watch this story. Thanks very much. It's going to be a busy few days here in Washington, maybe weeks.

We're going to check in with Jeff Greenfield. He's standing by to weigh in on all of this, including the Harriet Miers' nomination withdrawal. We're checking the blogs, what's happening on the Internet.

Much more of our special coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Harriet Miers will not be a United States Supreme Court justice after all. Her nomination withdrawn at her own request earlier this morning. The president accepting that decision.

Let's get some reaction from a very important member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts.

You disappointed, Senator? Or are you happy?

KENNEDY: Well, this has been a remarkable and troubling nominating procedure. It appears that the only voices that have been heard are the voices of the extreme of the president's own party.

They established a litmus test and made a judgment decision that Harriet Miers didn't live up to that litmus test. That isn't really what the nominating procedures and process is really all about.

I believe that Harriet Miers would have gotten a fair hearing. We would have listened to the president's reasons for nominating her. And I think she would have had a fair hearing.

I think, given where we are now, I think there is an extraordinary opportunity for the president to nominate someone that'll bring the country together.

The country is divided on so many different issues, on Iraq, on what is happening in the Gulf states and the economy. Now is a real opportunity for the president to nominate someone that can bring the country together.

You know, the Senate has approved over 96 percent of the president's nominees. So we're not asking for much. The American people deserve someone that's going to be in the tradition of Sandra Day O'Connor.

Sandra Day O'Connor is a beloved figure in this nation and highly regarded and respected for her judicial competence and the contribution she's made to the protection of constitutional rights and liberties. That's the standard. That's the test that this president ought to use for the next nominee.

BLITZER: I assume, when she was making the rounds on Capitol Hill, you met with Harriet Miers, Senator Kennedy. Did you?

KENNEDY: No. I had requested earlier this week to meet with her and the White House said they were going to put it over until next week.

That might have sent a little signal to me that something was up, but I didn't conclude anything at that particular time.

BLITZER: Senator Kennedy, our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield, is with us. He has a question for you.

Jeff?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Yes.

Good morning, Senator.

When a conservative president who says his models are Justices Scalia and Thomas twice gets elected by the people of the United States, doesn't that suggest something about what the public wants?

I mean, you voted, I believe, against Judge John Roberts whose credentials were nowhere in doubt.

Isn't the real story here that you and many of your liberal colleagues simply will not vote for any nominee who can fairly be considered conservative to the Supreme Court?

KENNEDY: No, that's not a correct assumption. I have voted for more Republican nominees for the Supreme Court than I have voted for the Democratic nominees.

What we're looking for are men, women, that are in the judicial mainstream. And I would hope that in this next nominee that we're going to have someone that's more reflective of our country and society as a whole.

That's why I think a woman, in this particular case, following Sandra Day O'Connor makes a good deal of sense, although there are highly qualified Hispanics and minorities.

What we're basically looking -- I don't establish a litmus test. I've never announced a litmus test.

But we have made remarkable progress in the last 50 years in knocking down walls of discrimination, in women's rights and environmental rights and worker's rights and civil rights. And we need a nominee that's going to continue that march toward progress.

Those are the general areas that I've questioned on and I think that's -- the American people don't want to go back. I don't think that's out of the mainstream.

You said, Senator, that this is, in effect, this is a victory for the right wing. Many of your Democratic colleagues said so.

But why shouldn't we consider this conservatives saying, with their own conservative president, "You didn't give us a credential nominee?" Why is this an ideological fight rather than what, to some people, looks like a principled stand by conservatives for a higher quality nominee?

KENNEDY: Well, because it's a litmus test fight, isn't it? I mean, that's -- really you can't listen to the comments that have been made by many of the president's principal supporters and not understand that this is a litmus test. They are either going to stand for certain positions and certain rights and liberties or otherwise they are going to have vigorous opposition.

I think establishing a litmus test is wrong. I'm opposed to a litmus test. But the president's own party has established a litmus test. And I don't think that's what the American people are looking for. What they want is someone they can have a high regard and respect for, someone like Sandra Day O'Connor.

Sandra Day O'Connor was nominated by President Reagan, received unanimous support in the United States Senate.

KENNEDY: Why is it so difficult to ask the president of the United States to follow that example of President Ronald Reagan and nominate someone that will have unanimous support and eventually have the support of all Americans and the respect and love of all Americans? I think the American people are entitled to it. BLITZER: Senator Kennedy, do you see any connection between the withdrawal today of the Harriet Miers nomination and the possibility, the strong possibility that tomorrow there could be indictments against top Bush administration officials?

KENNEDY: You know, not really. This has been a gathering storm, so to speak, for the Republicans. I think people recognize that the president has a sense of loyalty to those that he is close to and so there wasn't really a sense and expectation that he was going to back off since we're really on the eve of the hearings themselves.

But it just became cumulative. And I think Americans are disappointed that a sort of an extreme view by the certain groups in the Republican party would have this kind of authority and this kind of power. That isn't what the nominating process is about. And we can expect better. We should expect better. The American people deserve better.

BLITZER: Did anyone from the White House, from the president on down, consult with you, ask you for your opinion before Harriet Miers' name was put forward?

KENNEDY: Well, yes. There's a process by which you get a phone call and you're given assurance that the president really is interested in your views. It isn't really a consultation because it's a one-way street, so to speak.

I've made recommendations to the president or to one of his assistants, but there's no real consultation. The consultation is something more than just a one-way street. That's what's been genuinely lacking. That existed in the past by Republican and Democratic presidents. The best way to get a first-rate nominee -- I hope the president would take true consultations with the leadership on both sides in the Senate.

BLITZER: One final question, Senator Kennedy, before I let you go: Is today a good day for Democrats?

KENNEDY: I think it's an important day for the Supreme Court. I think that this nominee deserved better. And I think the members of the committee -- Democratic members of the committee that I know -- were still open-minded, they had questions to ask but they would have been open-minded in the consideration of it.

This shouldn't be viewed as a game. What today should be about is getting the best-qualified person that is in the mainstream of judicial thinking. And if we get that as a result of today, it will be very important.

I have respect for Harriet Miers. I think she's been a woman of achievement in her community, and I think she deserves at least that degree of respect.

But we're talking about the Supreme Court of the United States. Hopefully we'll get a nominee that can bring the country together.

BLITZER: Senator Kennedy, thanks very much for joining us. Appreciate it.

Jeff Greenfield, give us your thoughts on what has happened in the United States on this day.

GREENFIELD: I go back, Wolf, to an old stickball rule in the streets of New York. Your own man says so. In unorganized stickball, you always get into fights, particularly in my neighborhood, after every play. And it ends when your own side concedes the point. In presidential difficulties, if your own side begins to break with you, that's when you get in trouble.

When you keep your base, you can survive. Reagan survived Iran- Contra, Clinton survived Monica and impeachment because not a single Democrat deserted him. The Harriet Miers nomination coming in the midst of other White House troubles, falling popularity rates, difficulty in Iraq, the scent of scandal around Tom DeLay, Bill Frist and who knows what's coming with possible indictments, meant, I think, that it was absolutely necessary that the conservative base stay with the president.

And the revolt on the right -- the senator calls it extreme right-wing. That's, you know, a political phrase. But, clearly, the revolt among conservatives, which was wide and deep and angry, which fed other discontents about the president's spending policies and other matters, really, I think, threatened this White House at a time when they were heading into troubled waters.

If people want to believe that Harriet Miers withdrew solely because of a principle of, you know, executive privilege, I've got a couple of bridges in Alaska that I'd like to offer them. This nomination was in trouble. It was alienating the base, and this was exactly the wrong time to take on that base -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Those bridges in Alaska, Jeff, have they been built yet or just funded?

GREENFIELD: No, they've been funded. And it was very interesting. When I mentioned the troubled base, you have Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, one of the most conservative members of the U.S. Senate, saying on the floor, I've got an idea, let's take those bridges to Alaska, take the money and fund a bridge in New Orleans that was destroyed during Katrina.

And the reaction by the Senate establishment Republicans -- Ted Stevens of Alaska, among others --- was incendiary. They acted as though Senator Coburn had proposed, you know, a statue of Satan to be built in Statuary Hall. I think he got 15 votes. But it was an example of some of the fiscal conservatives saying to the president, you know, you have not spent like a conservative. It's one of those items that was making the conservative base unhappy.

I mean, I was at "The National Review"'s 50th anniversary celebration a few weeks ago, right after the Miers nomination. And the reaction to what the president did and the reaction on this other issues was not friendly. And I don't believe this White House wants to go into these times, especially if something comes down tomorrow, indicting a couple of White House aides, without that base with them.

BLITZER: Jeff Greenfield, stick around. We're going to get back to you. Thank you very much. Our special coverage, Harriet Miers' withdrawal from consideration as the next associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

We'll continue to watch that story, the CIA leak investigation. There are other stories we're watching as well. Much more of our coverage from here in THE SITUATION ROOM right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're continuing our breaking news from this morning. Harriet Miers no longer a nominee to the United States Supreme Court. She asked the president to withdraw her nomination earlier today. The president agreed. Much more of our coverage on that coming up.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Big news here in Washington, Harriet Miers no longer a nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. And one of her staunch supporters in the United States Senate, a fellow Texan, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison issuing a statement. "My admiration for her has only increased because of this action. She made this decision, because she believed it was right for the president and the country. While I am disappointed, she will not be on the bench. We must begin to focus on filling the vacancy to the high court," Kay Bailey Hutchison the Republican senator from Texas reacting.

Let's get some more reacation. Joining us here in "THE SITUATION ROOM," two friends Paul Begala and Bay Buchanan. Guys, thanks very much.

Paul, your reaction to what happened?

PAUL BEGALA, LIBERAL COMMENTATOR: This is fascinating. You know, presidents bat .800 through American history. Eight out of 10 nominees to the Supreme Court have been confirmed. President Bush's nominee doesn't even get to the hearing process. Why? Because as Jeff Greenfield pointed out, it's his own team who did this. Senator Kennedy seemed quite ambivalent in the interview that you did with him. My conservative friends are not ambivalent. They wanted her out. They didn't feel like she was principled. They didn't feel like she was principled.

And this is a terrific defeat for the president. It's a big problem. I think today when you lose a Supreme Court fight in your second term, you're a lame duck. If he has senior aides indicted, he's a dead duck. This is not good news for president.

BAY BUCHANAN, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: I disagree entirely with Paul on that one count. Obviously she has done an extremely gracious thing here to withdraw her name. And I think what she did was in the best interest of the president. I think she knows that. And I think it does not hurt the president at all. If he kept pushing her through -- his base is demoralized. They're not happy about this. He keeps pushing and pushing Today we feel excitement. We are very thrilled that our voice was heard. Our concerns have really been felt. And indeed we have a chance of getting what we think we really want more than anything else, and we think the president has promised us. Now we have a chance of getting it. He has a chance of getting his base back in 24 hours.

BLITZER: What if he follows up now with another nominee that you are not necessarily going to consider worthy of the real conservative credential you would like?

BUCHANAN: If he follows up with another Harriet Miers, he's going to turn a revolt into a revolution, and he's going to have trouble for three-and-a-half years. I mean, we've made it clear, this is why we were with him, Wolf. This is why the entire conservative movement was so enthusiastic about George Bush beating John Kerry. We've been here for him, and it's the courts. The courts really get us excited. If he gives us somebody like a Michael Luddick (ph) or a Janice Brown or one of these other, Edith Jones, our movement is going to be so excited and so interested in being involved again, and you're going to see a real -- the get out the vote next year is going to be terrific. It's going to be excellent for Republicans.

BLITZER: If he does that, Paul, you know the Democratics very well, are we talking filibuster?

BEGALA: Depends on who. The Democrats should be emboldened by this. The president has shown weakness, and it's somethign no president ever wants to show. He's been defeated. The Democrats, I think, defeated him on Social Security by being united. I think the Democrats in the Senate, if the president does what Bay is suggesting, really sticks a thumb in the eye of moderates, I think, yes, it depends on who, but certainly Democrats certainly seem to be ready to filibuster a Janice Rogers Brown, a Priscilla Owen, people they've already filibustered before, and they held on the fillibusters for a lower-court bench for those nominees. I think there's a pretty good chance that they would hold a Supreme Court.

BLITZER: A filibuster, just to explain, means the Republicans and their allies in the Democratic Party would need 60 votes to break a filibuster. There are 55 Republicans, assuming that maybe one, or two or three of them might not necessarily go along. You would need a bunch of Democrats to break the filibuster. Otherwise you go for the so-called nuclear option. You change the rules of the game. And that, who knows what that is going to result. And would you welcome that situation?

BUCHANAN: I would welcome a really strong candidate, a nominee that would really excite the president's base for two reasons. Just as I said, it's going to help the president. It's going to help the Republicans. It's what he promised. But, also, the last thing the Democrats need right now, Wolf, in my opinion, they've got things going their way right now. The president is low in the polls, got some scandals, got cronyism charges, got a lot of problems out there. What they don't need is to energize our base and to get us back and excited about this and to have the red states out there think that the Democrats are mean spirited and too out of touch with really what their values are, and that by opposing a really good candidate, like Aneaus Jones (ph) I think they...

BLITZER: All right, we're out of time. Final thought?

BEGALA: I think there's going to be a fascinating decision. President Clinton, whenever he was in trouble, went to the center. President Bush, I think is likely to go to the right and the far right. And the problem with that is that's not where elections are won. And if the Democrats show some guts -- one Democratic senator said to me I want the president to put up someone is deeply conservative, so then we'll have a big fight, and people will actually believe Democrats believe in something.

BLITZER: All right, stand by guys. I want to keep both of you here. We're going to take a quick break. We're going to resume this conversation.

Jeff Greenfield is with us in New York. All of our reporters are watching this. We're continuing to get new information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Much more of our special coverage right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're back in THE SITUATION ROOM. And welcome back. We're continuing our special coverage. Harriet Miers withdrawal as a Supreme Court nominee. The president accepted that decision earlier today. He's on his way to Florida right now to inspect the damage from Hurricane Wilma. Everyone bracing for possible indictment or indictments tomorrow in connection with that CIA leak investigation. Lots to digest.

We're continuing our coverage here with Paul Begala and Bay Buchanan. Jeff Greenfield is in New York.

Bay, listen to what the Democratic leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, the minority leader, said just a little while ago on this decision by Harriet Miers to pull her name.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D), MINORITY LEADER: Mr. President, I believe without any question when the history books are written about all this, that it will show that the radical right wing of the Republican Party drove this woman's nomination right out of town. Apparently Miss Miers didn't satisfy those who want to pack the Supreme Court with rigid ideologies. The only proses heard in this process were the far right. She wasn't even given a chance to speak for herself before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: There is a lot of people who say sort of an unseemly part of all this. Why not at least have given her a chance to speak before the committee and the American public and make her case?

BUCHANAN: Well, there's two things here. First of all, Harriet Miers, I understand, was getting more and more upset about these kind of mock hearings that she was having. And she realized she was not herself prepared, that this was going to be brutal.

BLITZER: She wasn't up to it...

BUCHANAN: Yes.

BLITZER: ... you mean, intellectually?

BUCHANAN: She did not have the judicial philosophy that is going to be taken to task. And you cannot learn a judicial philosophy in 30 days. It's not possible. And I think that she was getting more and more nervous about it herself.

Secondly, she saw that this was hurting her president. And obviously, extraordinarily loyal to the president. And so I think this was clearly her decision. I'm certain the president did not ask her to withdraw her name.

And when you -- when the senator suggested extreme right wing, the Senate of the United States, the Republicans there, are anything but extreme right wing. I mean, this is the more moderate part of our party, if you like to say. And she was not gaining any kind of ground here. Day in, day out, she would meet with senators and no one was coming to her side. She was losing support as the days went by. And so it was clear that this was in the best interest of the president for her to withdraw.

BLITZER: Paul, listen to Senator Ted Kennedy speaking right now on the Senate floor on this issue. Let's dip in briefly.

KENNEDY: ... in which the evidence would come first and then the decision. And Harriet Miers deserved that chance. It is disingenuous for the president to suggest that senators' insistence on White House records were somehow responsible for the withdrawal of the Miers nomination. If the president were willing to stand up to the extremists in his party, a realistic compromise could easily have been found on this issue.

The fact that the White House and the Senate Republicans were not willing to stand up for principle and fairness against the extremists in their midst should be disturbing to all Americans. But now we have all seen that fringe of our society at its worst and we know their agenda is not the nation's agenda.

President Bush has an opportunity now to unite the country. In choosing the next nominee, he should listen to all Americans, not just the far right. If he does, we can have a smooth and dignified confirmation process and avoid the kind of harsh battle that the extremists on the right seem bent on provoking.

President Bush should take whatever time is necessary to fill -- find a consensus nominee to fill Justice O'Connor's seat on the court. Justice O'Connor is willing to serve on the court and the nation for as long as it takes. So there is no need to rush to send a new nominee to the Senate. And hopefully the next selection will share Justice O'Connor's values and her commitment to the nation's progress in achieving equal rights for all.

BLITZER: Senator Ted Kennedy, speaking on the Senate floor in the aftermath of Harriet Miers' decision to withdraw her name, her nomination, as a U.S. supreme court justice.

Paul Begala, I say, I'm listening to all these Democrats, your Democrats, one after another. They're all speaking -- they seem to have the same talking points, almost all of them. Extreme right- wingers are responsible for all of this. The Democratic party not known necessarily for so much discipline, but they're showing a lot of discipline today.

BEGALA: They're actually in array, which is very unusual for my party. I think it's because -- you know, in order to be effective,a talking points got to be rooted in truth. They're not always in politics, but they ought to be. And in this case, just simply analytically, taking my partisan hat off, this is the conservative movement exercising its muscle, well-earned muscle.

The president of the United States was re-elected last year without moving his popularity up at all. He's 48 percent, and yet he moved his vote up 10.8 million votes. That's a staggering accomplishment. He did it by bringing in very conservative voters. And that's to his great credit. But now those very conservative voters, they're driving the train.

And if the president of the United States is now not in a position to have a sister-soldier moment as Bill Clinton did with the liberal extreme of his party -- and I think it's ultimately crippling the Bush presidency.

BLITZER: Very quickly before I let you go, Bay, names. Who would you like specifically -- who would you like the president to put forward now?

BUCHANAN: You know, I'm afraid if I mention someone, that person is going to be taken right off that list.

BLITZER: That's right there.

BUCHANAN: I think I should hold back here. Well, Michael Luttig, obviously, is the top of the list. Just outstanding jurist. But also Edith Jones, as was mentioned a little earlier in the show. And she's another one. If he would like to put a woman there, it's his decision. , obviously, she's an excellent choice. Priscilla Owens would be terrific.

BLITZER: All right, we got to leave it there because we're out of time. But we'll see you both later. Thanks very much, Paul Begala, Bay Buchanan. Two of our analysts here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're sticking around. We've got lots more. We're watching this story, the Harriet Miers withdrawal. We're watching the CIA leak investigation.

The president of the United States now on his way to Florida to inspect the damage from Hurricane Wilma. There's a new United Nations report that's just come out on the oil-for-food scandal. There's important developments on that front, as well. Much more of our special coverage coming up right at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Major development out of the White House today. Harriet Miers, her nomination to become an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, succeeding Sandra Day O'Connor, withdrawn. The president agrees. She has written to the president. He's written back. She will no longer be a nominee. The president searching now for another name.

We're watching this story. It's huge on the Internet. The blogs clearly buzzing with all of this. Let's check in with our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, to see what's going on -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this was a nomination that was loudly and vigorously opposed online by conservatives, both in Web sites urging her withdrawal and also in blogs, prominent bloggers.

Michellemalkin.com is one of many conservatives who was -- who were opposing this from the start. And they have so many tens of thousands of readers that we saw the establishment throughout this, the Republican establishment, trying to reach out to these bloggers to bring them into the fold.

The Republican National Committee, led by Ken Mehlman, organized what they were calling a series of conference calls with these conservative bloggers to try to bring them in, to tell them why the White House was supporting this nominee. But for many, even though they were glad to be asked to join into these conference calls, it was too little, too late.

Bloggers like Red State -- redstate.org. This is a group blog, urging his withdraw, today expressing relief at this. And really saying, OK, let's get behind the next candidate if it's going to be someone that we can support.

You're also seeing that at patterico.com. This is a West Coast blogger, saying let's look forward. They're really trying to engage in this debate still, and saying, give us the candidate that we can support. We want to heal this rift within the party. We want to get behind them. But they're suggesting names, those kind of people that they want to see.

One notable exception to the opposition to this nomination was Hugh Hewitt. Hugh Hewitt, all along, a prominent conservative blogger and radio talk show host, was supporting this nomination all along and saying that the treatment by the conservatives of Harriet Miers was unfair.

Now that's the conservative reaction early on this morning, Wolf, but what we're going to do later on is look at what the liberals are saying. Back to you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Abbi, thank you very much.

It's approaching noon here in Washington, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information from around the world are arriving all the time.

Happening now, Harriet Miers' nomination goes down in flames, and battle lines already being drawn over the president's next Supreme Court pick. This hour, more of our special coverage of the Miers' withdrawal, the opposition that forced her out and the showdown likely to come.

President Bush says he accepted Miers' decision to bow out reluctantly. Does this striking turn of events spare him grief or only add to his political headaches?

And talk about timing. The Miers bombshell comes on what could be the eve of indictment. This special prosecutor now expected to announce the outcome of that CIA leak probe tomorrow.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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