Bush and Reid eye the battle

The president calls for a "fair" confirmation process. The Senate minority leader says Bush should consult with senators from both parties before making a Supreme Court nomination.

Published July 1, 2005 4:38PM (EDT)

When did George W. Bush learn that Sandra Day O'Connor would be retiring?

We thought we saw signs earlier this week that White House press secretary Scott McClellan knew that a retirement announcement was coming. And in his brief remarks in the White House Rose Garden this morning, the president was more than a little vague about when he learned of O'Connor's plans: "A short time ago," he said, "I had a warm conversation with Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who has decided to retire from the Supreme Court of the United States." (Update: The White House says it got the first indication of a retirement on Thursday, when the Supreme Court's head marshal called to make arrangements to deliver a sealed envelope Friday morning. The court told the White House this morning that the envelope was coming from O'Connor.)

Although the president's Rose Garden comments today were directed mostly at O'Connor's retirement, he talked a little about his process for choosing a replacement and made a preemptive strike against Democrats who might choose to filibuster the nomination he ultimately sends to the Senate. "The nation deserves, and I will select, a Supreme Court justice that Americans can be proud of," Bush said. "The nation also deserves a dignified process of confirmation in the United States Senate, characterized by fair treatment, a fair hearing and a fair vote."

Bush said he will make a nomination in time for his nominee to be confirmed before the next Supreme Court term begins in October. He said that he and members of his staff would "continue to consult" with "members of the Senate" about his nomination. But he didn't say whether those "members of the Senate" would include Democrats, with whom he hasn't done a whole lot of "consulting" to date, or whether that consultation would come before or after he makes a nomination.

As part of the compromise agreement that averted the "nuclear option" in May, Bush was "encouraged" to "consult with members of the Senate, both Democratic and Republican, prior to submitting a judicial nomination to the Senate for consideration." Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid picked up on that theme in his response to the news that O'Connor is leaving. "The Constitution gives the president and the Senate shared responsibility to fill this vacancy, because the president may only act with the 'advice and consent' of the Senate," Reid said in a statement. "At this critical moment, the president must recognize the Senate's constitutional role. He should give life to the advice and consent clause by engaging in meaningful consultation with senators of both political parties."

Reid urged Bush to identify a nominee who is "in the broad constitutional mainstream and who will make all Americans proud." "With this nomination," he said, "the president should choose to unite the country, not divide it."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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