WASHINGTON - President Bush pushed back against suggestions by some skeptical Republicans that Harriet Miers was not conservative enough, insisting on Tuesday that his nominee to the Supreme Court shares his strict-constructionist views.
"I know her heart," Bush told a Rose Garden news conference. "Her philosophy won't change."
As his White House counsel made the rounds of Senate offices, Bush reached out to his conservative supporters with words of reassurance.
"I hope they're listening," said the president as he worked to appease conservatives without giving new ammunition to Democrats.
Some commentators and activists have expressed open disappointment with Bush's selection of Miers, citing her lack of a judicial track record and complaining that Bush had passed over more prominent, proven conservatives.
Bush suggested he would not release documents relating to her work at the White House, saying it was "important that we maintain executive privilege," even as Democrats demanded more information on her role in administration decisions. He urged Democrats to give her a chance to explain her views of the law and the Constitution at her confirmation hearing.
In welcome news to the White House, Miers won the unqualified support of one of the Senate's top conservatives, Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
"A lot of my fellow conservatives are concerned, but they don't know her as I do," said Hatch, a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee. "She's going to basically do what the president thinks she should and that is be a strict constructionist."
The term refers to justices who believe their role is to decide cases based on a close reading of the Constitution rather than ranging more widely in interpretation.
Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., a strong abortion foe, said he was yet to be convinced. "I am not yet confident that Ms. Miers has a proven track record," Brownback said.
In his 55-minute news conference, Bush repeatedly implied that conservatives should trust his judgment in picking Miers to succeed the retiring Sandra Day O'Connor, who often was the swing vote on divisive social issues including abortion.
Asked point blank if Miers was the most qualified person he could find in the country for the high court, Bush said, "Yes, otherwise I would not have put her on."
His father, George H.W. Bush, made a similar claim about Clarence Thomas - and was derided for it - while defending his controversial Supreme Court pick in 1991. Thomas was confirmed 52-48.
Pressed on whether he and Miers had ever discussed the court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, Bush said: "Not to my recollection. ... " He reiterated his own opposition to abortion, but said he had not asked any judicial candidates about the subject.
Dismissing charges of cronyism, Bush said: "I picked the best person I could find. People know we're close." Bush has known Miers for more than 10 years, first as his personal lawyer and most recently as White House counsel.
Bush asked the Senate to act by Thanksgiving.
He said any request for White House documents relating to Miers' work would be a "distraction." The Democratic National Committee, meanwhile, said information was needed on Miers' role in forming policies and decisions, including U.S. treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and in Iraq.
Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee were expected to make a specific request for documents soon.
"She's a Bush loyalist, with little public record," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. "The president should refrain from invoking executive privilege and give the American people a full and fair look at (her) record."
Bush voiced concern that many Democrats would reflexively oppose Miers, as many had voted against the confirmation of John Roberts as chief justice despite the broad acclaim he enjoyed in the legal community.
But Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada - an open fan of Miers - praised her in a floor speech.
"With so much at stake, we shouldn't rush to judgment about this or any other nominee, but even at this early stage of the confirmation process, I will say that I am impressed by what I know about Harriet Miers," said Reid, who voted against Roberts. He has not said how he will vote on Miers.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said after an hour-long meeting with Miers that he still planned to review her record but the meeting left him impressed. "She has a good understanding of the role of a judge - that a judge should not make law," Sessions said.
Several conservative leaders, including James Dobson of Focus on the Family, have given Miers a qualified endorsement - saying, in effect, that they have faith in Bush's judgment. Several others, including commentator Rush Limbaugh, have criticized the pick.
Paul Weyrich, a conservative leader from the Free Congress Foundation, said he was disappointed but would withhold judgment until he learned more. "The grassroots are not happy," he said in an interview.
"The president promised to pick somebody in the mold of Scalia and Thomas. We'll find out if he kept his word," said Weyrich, referring to justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
Some conservatives have expressed fears that Miers would follow the path of Justice David Souter, who was nominated by Bush's father only to become one of the more liberal justices.
Said the president, "I don't want to put someone on the bench who's this way today and changes. ... I'm interested in someone who shares my philosophy and will share it 20 years from now."
Asked if that was a reference to Souter, Bush chuckled and said, "You're trying to get me in trouble with my father."