print-only banner
The White House Skip Main Navigation
  
In Focus
News
News by Date
Appointments
Federal Facts
West Wing

Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 20, 2005

Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Briefing Room

Play Video  Video (Real)

1:18 P.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. The President was pleased to have coffee this morning with his nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge Roberts. They had a good discussion. You all heard from the President following their coffee. Judge Roberts is now over, beginning some meetings with members of the Senate. Judge Roberts is starting by meeting with Senators Frist, McConnell and Specter. Then he will have a meeting with Senator Specter. Following that, he will meet with Senator Reid, and then Senator Leahy. And I believe he now has a meeting scheduled with Senator Durbin, as well. And I think those are the meetings he has scheduled to begin his consultations for the confirmation process and begin his courtesy visits with leaders in the Senate. And Senator Thompson will be accompanying him on those visits.

Judge Roberts is an exceptionally well qualified individual and someone with impeccable credentials. The President recognized that when he got to know him during the interview process, and he is someone who is widely respected by Democrats and Republicans alike. The President was pleased, but not surprised, that people across the political spectrum recognized what he recognized, that he is someone who is highly qualified to serve on our nation's highest court. The President is confident that the Senate is going to move forward on a dignified confirmation process, one that will be civil and one that the American people can be proud of. The President has nominated a judge that the American people can be proud of, and it's important that we continue to move forward in a timely manner and that he receives fair treatment and a reasonable timetable for action, so that he can be in place when the Court convenes -- or reconvenes in October.

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

Q Scott, in his consultations with senators, did the President discuss the issue of whether it was fair game for them to question a Supreme Court nominee on specific issues that might arise, issues -- sensitive issues like abortion and affirmative action?

MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, in terms of the role of the Senate, the Senate has a very important role to play. The President has fulfilled his constitutional responsibility of nominating someone to the bench that represents mainstream American values and represents the mainstream of American laws. He is someone who has served with distinction on the court over the past two years, what many people refer to as the second highest court in our land, and he is someone who has a very long and praiseworthy record as an appellate lawyer. He is someone that brings great intellect and legal ability to the position. He is someone of unquestioned integrity.

That's why the President pointed out in his remarks last night that more than 105 bipartisan members of the D.C. Bar praised him when he was appointed to the D.C. Circuit back in 2002, I believe is when that letter went to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Now, in terms -- I'm sorry. Go ahead, you --

Q The question was, are there -- did the President feel that there are issues that are off limits, or can senators ask any question they want?

MR. McCLELLAN: Senators have the right and a responsibility to ask questions and ask tough questions. That's their role. Now, I think that people recognize that someone who is serving on our nation's highest court, or any court, ought to be impartial and open-minded. That's the type of individual that Judge Roberts is. He is someone who has shown that he's impartial and fair. He wants to give people a fair hearing and let the case be heard.

So I don't think anyone expects people to prejudge cases that could come before them. The role of a judge is to listen to the facts and make decisions based on the law. And that's exactly the type of person that Judge Roberts is. He is someone who believes in interpreting the law and not legislating from the bench. And I think if you look back, there has been a tradition in the Senate where other nominees to our nation's highest court have not gotten into discussing issues that may come before the Court that they may have to decide. That would be prejudging cases before they have heard them. And I think the American people want to see someone who is impartial and fair and that will faithfully interpret our Constitution and our laws.

Q But, Scott, isn't that overly limiting? I mean, for instance, if a judge, like Judge Roberts, who, in his previous confirmation hearing, indicated that he felt Roe v. Wade was settled law, as a circuit -- as an appellate judge, that sort of -- he is limited by what is the Supreme Court decision. But as a justice, he would wield so much more power and have the authority to reverse settled law, essentially. So why shouldn't, on matters like abortion, Judge Roberts be more forthcoming? And why is it unreasonable to expect people to try to understand what his views may be?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the American people want people on our Court that are going to faithfully interpret our Constitution and our laws; people that are going to be impartial and open-minded and listen to the facts, and then apply the law based on those facts; someone that will decide cases based on law and based on the merits and --

Q Fine, that may be the case, but why shouldn't a candidate, a nominee not comment on the Supreme Court's holding in a particular case that is past law and be able to explain -- be willing to explain his philosophy and his views on the law as it was applied previously?

MR. McCLELLAN: Because judges have an obligation to apply the law, not their personal views. They are there to interpret laws and not try to legislate from the bench. A judge should decide cases based on the law and based on the facts. And that's the type of individual that I think the American people want.

Now, in terms of questions about specific cases that may come before the Court, I think everybody recognizes that there has been a precedent set over the years in the United States Senate. If you go back and look at the two most recent nominees to the Supreme Court -- Justices Ginsburg and Breyer -- they were appointed by, or nominated by President Clinton. And there were many in the United States Senate that did not share some of their political views that they had held over the years. They recognized, though, that they were qualified individuals; they moved forward in a thoughtful and timely manner to approve those nominations.

And I think that if you look back at those hearings -- and hearings even before that -- that there are a number of instances where individuals have been asked their views on cases that might come before them, but they have said, we're not going to prejudge cases before we have heard them; we will listen to the facts; we will apply the law; we will look at precedent. And I think that's an important precedent to keep in mind.

Q One more on this. When the President met with Judge Roberts, did he discuss any issues in particular, any hot-button social issues with him to understand his views on them?*

MR. McCLELLAN: The President is not the one who has a litmus test. The President has always made clear that he doesn't have a litmus test, and he's not someone who tends to get into questions with potential nominees to the bench about issues of that nature. What he looks at -- what he looks at is their judicial temperament and how they apply the law. Do they apply the law by faithfully interpreting our Constitution and --

Q You're not saying "yes" or "no," he did or didn't?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Are you saying, no, he did not?

MR. McCLELLAN: I said the President has made very clear that he doesn't give a litmus test, so --

Q I didn't ask whether he had a litmus test --

MR. McCLELLAN: And if there's any more to --

Q -- I'm asking if he discussed issues. So you don't know, or you won't say?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't -- I think the President has made his views very clear publicly that he's not the one that has a litmus test, and those are not questions that he gets into with nominees. He stated that before publicly. Now, I didn't listen to every conversation that they had, but I'll -- if there's anything else to add, I will. But I think he's already publicly said that he does not get into litmus test questions with potential nominees.

Q Following quickly on that, and I just have a question, did Karl Rove or Dick Cheney or anybody else in the administration ask those hot-button questions?

MR. McCLELLAN: This was a decision made by the President. Obviously, there are a number of key advisors that have a role in the nomination process, but these were issues that the President addresses --

Q But was he vetted on hot-button issues --

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't heard any discussion about that whatsoever, Jessica, and I do not -- I have no knowledge of that whatsoever. It's not the way that the President has tended to approach nominations to the bench. He does not have a litmus test. Others may have litmus tests, but the President said, I don't have a litmus test, and he's publicly said before those are not questions that he gets into.

Q Another question. Justice O'Connor is quoted as saying that Roberts is, quote, "Good in every way, except he's not a woman." What's the President's reaction to that comment?

MR. McCLELLAN: Who said that?

Q Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Justice O'Connor is someone that the President has the highest regard for. He has great respect for Justice O'Connor. And she has served with great distinction. We appreciate the job that she has done.

The President has a long record of nominating people to the bench and to other positions within government, from all walks of life, and the President considered a diverse group of individuals for the Court. The President made the decision that Judge Roberts was the best person for this position, and that's what he based his decision on.

Q So were there no qualified women?

MR. McCLELLAN: There were a number of qualified women that the President considered. He considered a diverse group of individuals. The President believes that Judge Roberts is the best person to fill this position, and that's why he nominated him.

Q And what made him more ideal than the women the President considered?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you should look at the qualities that he possesses. He is someone of unquestioned integrity who believes in faithfully interpreting our Constitution and our laws. He is someone of high intellect and great legal ability, and he is --

Q And there weren't women who met that standard?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I didn't say that at all. He is someone who is exceptionally well qualified. He has impeccable credentials. Go back and look at what he has accomplished over the course of his life. He has advocated on 39 different occasions before the United States Supreme Court. He is one of our nation's top appellate lawyers. He is someone who clerked for Judge Rehnquist. His academic credentials are unquestioned. I mean, they -- his background at Harvard and then Harvard Law School, graduating in three years in undergraduate, and then going on to graduate from Harvard Law School with high honors.

He is someone who has been recognized by Democrats and Republicans alike as someone who possesses "enormous skills, unquestioned integrity and fair-mindedness." I think that's something people will look for in a judge, fair-mindedness. In fact, those bipartisan members of the D.C. Bar who signed the letter said he is, "One of the very best and most highly respected appellate lawyers." So I think all you have to do is look at his credentials to see how highly qualified he is for this position. And I think that if you look back at the comments from members on both sides of the aisle, they recognize that, as well.

Q Scott, you now have a nominee to the Supreme Court up on the Hill at the same time that another key nominee is stagnated up there, John Bolton. So does this change the way that you try and move forward on the Bolton nomination? Because if you guys do a recess appointment on Bolton, I mean, that would probably anger people on the Hill and could affect the Supreme Court nomination.

MR. McCLELLAN: The President continues to believe that John Bolton ought to have an up or down vote; that remains our position.

Q But that's not happening, so how are you going to move forward on that, with the nomination?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, we continue to believe he should have an up or down vote. I wouldn't necessarily connect the two. We believe that all nominees should -- the Senate should move forward on all nominees.

Q Scott, along the line of questioning that Jessica had -- what was the obligation, if there was any, for the White House to pick someone at least along the lines of Sandra Day O'Connor's judicial philosophy? She's a moderate conservative, she upheld Roe v. Wade. He is totally the opposite. What was the obligation the White House had, at any point, to try to fill that -- not necessarily being a woman, but try to fill that judicial philosophy?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the obligation the President has is to appoint someone who he believes is the best person for the position, and someone who meets the criteria that he outlined. The criteria that he outlined was someone who will faithfully interpret our Constitution and laws, someone of integrity, someone who brings great legal ability to the position. And I think all you have to do is look at Judge Roberts' lifetime of achievement to recognize that he meets all those criteria. And the President has an obligation to the American people to consider a diverse group of individuals, and he did.

Q And a follow-up. Some are concerned that this potential next pick the President has for the Supreme Court, that the scales will definitely be tipped, the judicial scales will be tipped to the conservative side more so, instead of balancing the scales. Is there a concern --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think that's ever been a standard for the Supreme Court. If you go back and look -- I mean, look at when President Clinton appointed a -- nominated a replacement for Justice White, he nominated Justice Ginsburg. I think people would look at those as people with very different views, ideological views.

Q So you're not looking at balancing the scales, it's more about a conservative lean?

MR. McCLELLAN: And the President is going to continue to appoint -- or nominate people to the bench that meet the criteria I just outlined. He believes that we ought to nominate people to the bench who will look at the law and apply the law, and not try to make law from the bench.

Q You use the term -- and I'm not arguing with this -- the term "interpret" the Constitution and interpret the law. By definition, interpretation is subjective. That being the case, would it not be appropriate for members of the Senate to try and find out, on any given issue, the basis for a nominee's interpretation?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the Judge has certainly issued a number of rulings over the course of the last couple of years, and those are issues for the Senate to look at. Those are matters for the Senate to consider as they move forward on the confirmation process. But I think it's important to look at the judicial temperament of nominees to our nation's highest court.

Q Beyond temperament, however, an orientation on a particular issue would, perhaps, affect a senator's vote. Shouldn't the nominee be forthcoming about how he views, for instance, candidly, the abortion issue?

MR. McCLELLAN: Look at the tradition in the United States Senate, and I think you can find your answer to that question. People want to see nominees to the bench that are impartial, that are fair, that are open-minded, and that's the type of individual that Judge Roberts is. And they can go and look at his record on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and the rulings that were issued there. Those are certainly issues that senators will look at, and questions they will discuss.

Q But as you know, that's a thin record, which is probably concerning both sides at this particular point. Is that something that factored into the choice?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you have to look at all his -- he has extensive experience. Look at the qualifications that I just discussed. He is someone, as people on both sides of the aisle have said, who is highly qualified for this position. I noticed that you even had some Democrats that had mentioned that he -- publicly -- that he was someone that was considered acceptable, from their standpoint, as well.

Q Scott, two quick questions on the consultation. The President seemed to indicate this morning that he spoke with senators last night. Can you tell us with whom and when? And also, of all the senators that have been consulted, how many did the President actually speak with, beyond the four or five of the leadership?

MR. McCLELLAN: Sure. A couple things. One, we briefed on that last night. The President called Senator Frist, Senator Reid, Senator Specter, Senator Leahy, to inform them of his decision, and he had good discussions with each of them. I think all those have expressed their appreciation for the President's phone call. This was a little bit after 7:30 p.m. last night. It was part of our continuing consultative process.

We have consulted with more than 70 members of the United States Senate, including three-quarters of Senate Democrats. That has been called unprecedented by longtime-serving members of the United States Senate, that level of consultation. We will continue to consult as we move forward. That's why Senator Thompson has -- is accompanying Judge Roberts on the Hill right now, so that he can begin the confirmation consultations. And that's what's going on today, he's beginning those courtesy visits.

Now, the President sat down when he got back from his trip to the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, with those same four leaders, as well. I know he spoke with Senator Byrd later that morning, reached out to him, as well. And then there was a lot of outreach by White House staff, as well.

Q So, five.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'd have to double-check. I mean, obviously, there are other meetings that occur, and the President has discussions with members. But those are the ranking members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the leaders of the two parties in the United States Senate. And that's why it was important, the President felt, to reach out to them and listen to their thoughts and views.

And as we move forward, as I discussed last night, the list that the President had is something that has always been fluid. Attorney General Gonzales, when he was counsel here at the White House, began the process of compiling names of potential nominees. And that list has expanded and contracted over the course of the years. And as we took into account the thoughts and views of members of the United States Senate, the list that the President took with him on his trip to Denmark and then Scotland also was -- names were added to it and names were taken off it as we moved forward.

Q Just to follow up a little bit on what Adam was talking about -- can you describe to us to what degree or extent any of the Democrats that the President spoke with actually commended Roberts to him, and whether or not the President was led to understand by Democrats that Roberts was a confirmable nominee?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I would look back at the public comments of some members. And I think as part of being respectful of the process, which the President has always wanted to be, I don't want to get into characterizing views expressed by others in meetings with the President. But I think you've heard from a number of Democrats how they recognize that Judge Roberts is someone who is highly qualified for the position.

Now, there are a lot of questions, I know, that they want to ask and they're going to have that opportunity during the confirmation process.

Q When you say "highly qualified," and the President thinks he's uniquely qualified, does the President believe that Mr. Roberts is a strict constructionist in the mold of Mr. Scalia or Thomas?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that Judge Roberts' record is reflected by his time on the court and by the views that he has expressed previously before the Senate Judiciary Committee as he went through that confirmation process. He was someone who was supported by unanimous consent of the United States Senate. That meant that no Democrat on the floor raised an objection to moving forward on his nomination. And he is someone that is highly regarded across the political aisle by lawyers who have known him and gotten to know him over the years, and seen him through this work as an appellate lawyer and then as a judge.

Q So insofar as the President made it clear in his initial campaign that he was going to seek strict constructionists in the mold of Scalia and Thomas, can we assume that this is a nominee that fits that bill?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you can look at his record. I mean, you all are going to try to attach labels and everything else. You can look at his record and see that he is someone who believes in faithfully interpreting our Constitution and our laws.

Q Is it true Karl Rove was the first person to leak John Roberts' name to the media last night? (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: Next question. Les.

Q I yield to the others, because I have one that goes overseas.

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Bob.

Q In Chicago in December of '03, the President said, "I want to know who the leakers are." Separate from the legal issue, is the President convinced now that Karl Rove was one of the leakers?

MR. McCLELLAN: I've answered these questions, and I don't have anything to say beyond what I've already said.

Go ahead.

Q What's the answer to that one, then, Scott?

MR. McCLELLAN: I've answered these questions over the course of the last week.

Go ahead.

Q It has been reported that President Bush has decided to hold nomination of special envoy for North Korean human rights. Can you tell us why --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, could you repeat that question?

Q President Bush has decided to hold the nomination of a special envoy for North Korean human rights --

MR. McCLELLAN: Hold the nomination?

Q Yes.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the State Department can probably give you a little more information on that. I think they've addressed it recently.

Go ahead, Mark.

Q Scott, has the President or the White House, in the selling of John Roberts, had to tell anyone, look, next time it's going to be a woman or an Hispanic?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, not that I know of. I haven't heard anything like that, and that's not our practice.

Q Are any of the two women who --

MR. McCLELLAN: The President considers each vacancy based on who he believes is the best person for that position.

Q Are any of the two women who went through that final round of five personal interviews still on deck for the next appointment?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, each vacancy is considered separately, and that's the way I would look at it. Obviously, there is a list of names that are kept for potential nominees to the court, but there's not another vacancy at this point. So I wouldn't even want to begin to speculate about it.

Q Does the President, or you have any comment on the chaos in Israel and on the votes today to continue to withdraw from Gaza?

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen the latest on the vote, but if you're talking about the latest situation there, we continue to urge all parties to show maximum effort to make the disengagement plan successful. The President appreciates the strong leadership of Prime Minister Sharon in putting forward the disengagement plan, and it's important that everybody focus on making sure it is successful. That can get us moving forward on peace in the Middle East. And it is a historic opportunity, and the President believes it's important to seize this opportunity.

That's why Secretary Rice is headed to the region. She has been in Africa today. Then she is headed on to the region. I think it's the first of next week, maybe it's late this week. But we also have the Quartet envoy, Jim Wolfensohn, who has been in the region working with the Palestinians to address economic needs and economic concerns as Israel moves forward on the disengagement plan. You have General Ward who has been working on the security issues.

And so we're committed to helping the parties move forward, and the parties need to exercise maximum effort to make sure that it is successful and they need to work together to coordinate efforts as they move forward.

Q One other follow-up.

MR. McCLELLAN: Sure.

Q If Hamas becomes part of the government in Palestine, and Hezbollah in Lebanon, how will the United States handle that? Will the U.S. talk to Hamas and Hezbollah?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, we don't deal with terrorist organizations. And our views are well-known on both those organizations. And it's important the Palestinian Authority and the leadership has taken some steps to address the violence and terrorist attacks. There is more that needs to be done. We continue to emphasize the importance of cracking down on terrorists and stopping those attacks from happening in the first place. There is more that needs to be done when it comes to that.

Les, go ahead.

Q Scott, U.S. News and World Report has just published what it identified as, quote, Mike McCurry, former Clinton spokesman, expressing sympathy for you about what the Media Research Center headlined as "reporters in full scold mode" on July the 11th, including your plea, "if you'll let me finish" -- and NBC's response, "no, you're not finishing, you're not saying anything." And my question -- first of two -- has anyone from these three networks -- NBC, ABC, CBS -- apologized to you for this behavior?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, first of all, I would say I have great respect for Mike McCurry and the job that he did. I think we both recognize what it's like to be up here. And he is someone whose advice I sought out before taking this position, along with a number of predecessors.

In terms of the press corps here in this room, I think we have had a good relationship over the years, and I look forward to continuing to have a good relationship.

Q A New York Daily News columnist, Michael Goodwin called this, in his words, "hostile hectoring" that revealed much of the mainstream press for what it has become, the opposition party. "Forget fairness, or even the pretense of it, bias has now slopped over into blatant opposition, providing comfort food to ideological comrades," end of quote. Do you disagree with The New York Times -- New York Daily News on this?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you know I try to avoid being a media critic.

Go ahead.

Q Do you have a response to Prince Bandar stepping down as ambassador? And do you think that that will, in any way, affect U.S.-Saudi relations?

MR. McCLELLAN: We appreciate Prince Bandar's distinguished service as the ambassador for Saudi Arabia to the United States, and I think we're going to be putting out a statement in a short time here.

Q You were going to give us a readout on the conversation between Roberts and the President when he made the offer.

MR. McCLELLAN: I really don't have more beyond what I said last night. I think the conversation lasted several minutes. I think it was probably around -- a little bit after 12:30 p.m., and it was right about 12:35 p.m. when the President made the offer and Judge Roberts accepted the offer, and the President was pleased that he did.

Q Scott, what are the prospects of a presidential mediation board in the Northwest Airlines labor impasse?

MR. McCLELLAN: A couple of things. One, we're closely watching the developments and hope that an acceptable agreement can be reached. Beyond that, I think it's best at this point to refer specific questions to the Department of Labor.

Q Thank you.

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.

END 1:46 P.M. EDT

* He did not. The President does not ask potential nominees their personal views on so-called “hot-button issues.” He does not believe in litmus tests. He believes in nominating people to the bench who will faithfully interpret our Constitution and our laws, not legislate from the bench. He looks at their qualifications, experience and key rulings when coming to a decision.

______________________

FOLLOW-UP TO A QUESTION FROM THE BRIEFING

Q One more on this. When the President met with Judge Roberts, did he discuss any issues in particular, any hot-button social issues with him to understand his views on them?

He did not. The President does not ask potential nominees their personal views on so-called “hot-button issues.” He does not believe in litmus tests. He believes in nominating people to the bench who will faithfully interpret our Constitution and our laws, not legislate from the bench. He looks at their qualifications, experience and key rulings when coming to a decision.