WASHINGTON – The Bush administration hit more conservative turbulence Wednesday over the Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers, including tough questions from Senate Republicans who will decide her fate.

Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., told MSNBC that “a lot more people” are better qualified for the job, and “I’m not satisfied with what I know” about the White House counsel and former Dallas attorney.

A day after President Bush vouched for Miers’ conservatism, Lott said: “He’s not the nominee, and it’s not enough to just say “Trust me.”‘

Republican Sens. Sam Brownback and John Thune also questioned the nomination of Miers, though other GOP members said anxious conservatives would feel better about the nominee after they get to know her.

“She’s very bright,” said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. “I think she’s going to be confirmed, and I think she’s going to be a great justice.”

Thune, of South Dakota, said that “there were concerns” at Wednesday’s weekly GOP policy lunch and that some members wanted a nominee in the mold of conservative Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

“For conservatives out there, she’s going to have to be very forthcoming … to give them the comfort level that they need,” Thune said.

Miers’ nomination has exacerbated tensions between the Bush team and part of its conservative base, on issues such as Iraq, immigration and increased federal spending.

Still, few people were prepared to bet against Miers’ confirmation, noting that the complaints are varied and might not be worth an embarrassing setback to a Republican president.

“So far, there’s nothing to hang a rejection on,” said Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes Senate races for The Cook Political Report.

Since Bush announced Miers’ nomination early Monday, most of the criticism has come from the right.

Some conservatives questioned her lack of judicial experience, others her basic qualifications.

One big blast came Wednesday from conservative syndicated columnist George Will, who challenged Miers’ qualifications.

“It is not important that she be confirmed because there is no evidence that she is among the leading lights of American jurisprudence, or that she possesses talents commensurate with the Supreme Court’s tasks,” he wrote.

Saying that gender appears to be the main reason for her nomination, Will also wrote: “For this we need a conservative president?”

One question on the right is whether Miers might become another David Souter.

Nominated by the first President Bush, Justice Souter turned out to be more liberal than advertised after he joined the court and became a reliable supporter of abortion rights.

Brownback, a prominent social conservative and possible presidential candidate, said he would oppose Miers if she declares the 1973 abortion rights ruling in Roe vs. Wade to be settled law, not subject to reversal.

“There’s a good chance that I would, then, in that case,” Brownback said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Bush called a news conference Tuesday to reassure supporters that Miers shares his judicial philosophy, including strict construction of the Constitution and an opposition to legislating from the bench.

Republican senators picked up that theme Wednesday. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said, “She has what I would call a conservative judicial philosophy, which is absolutely critical.”

With Miers’ nomination, some conservatives who had muted their frustration with the Bush administration went public with their displeasure.

“It has opened up a lot of unhappiness that has accumulated over time,” former Bush speechwriter David Frum said. “I don’t know yet how serious the consequences will be.”

White House officials noted that a host of other conservative organizations endorsed Miers, including nods Wednesday from the Christian Coalition and the National Right to Life Committee.

Several Senate conservatives have spoken kindly of Miers, including Orrin Hatch of Utah and Jeff Sessions of Alabama. Those two, like Brownback, are members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that will conduct confirmation hearings on Miers.

A Republican defection or two would not necessarily doom Miers, political analysts pointed out. It might make it harder for Democrats to cast her as an extremist and therefore justify a filibuster.

Senate Democrats and their allies are also taking a hard look at Miers. They emphasized that she would replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, often the swing vote on hard cases.

Members of liberal organizations said they take Bush at his word that Miers shares his conservative views.

“It is tempting to just sit back and smile at the angst among all the right-wingers,” said Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way. “But there’s just too much at stake. Her vote could push the court dramatically to the right.”

Miers supporters said they would continue promoting her to conservatives.

Bush himself gets to address some of his conservative skeptics Thursday, when he hosts a tribute to the 50th anniversary of National Review magazine and its founder, William F. Buckley Jr.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., praised Miers after her nomination but later said that does not guarantee his vote for confirmation.

CNN political analyst Bill Schneider said Bush should be able to calm conservative concerns about Miers because he has known her so long and can vouch for her.

“He’s putting his standing with conservatives to the test,” Schneider said. “I suppose he’ll pass, but I don’t know.”


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