WH Briefing: It Got Ugly. Harriet Miers Ugly.

Speaking of staged events: Whenever the transcript of a White House press briefing devolves into exchanges of ten words or less and they all end "--," that is a sign that a fight is happening. Sometimes they're hard to make sense of on paper (because they're intended for the evening news). But we'll try to capture a little of the flavor of this afternoon's verbal tussle between WH spokespuppy Scott McClellan and (we think) the other John Roberts, of CBS, which follows a more extended gangbang about Harriet Miers, during which McClellan repeatedly accused Roberts of deliberately not reporting on Miers's qualifications. ("I'm just saying I haven't seen John report on the qualifications record.")


Q    Okay, good.  But my only question was, the very last thing that you said there, why didn't you just say that in response to my question instead of attacking me and getting into this whole brouhaha?

MR. McCLELLAN:  Well, I was trying to, but some people kept jumping in, including yourself when I was responding to your question.

 

Q    Well, excuse me, you attacked me.  I just wasn't going to let it sit.

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  No, I'm not attacking.  I'm just pointing out that a lot of the coverage is not focused on the record and the qualifications and the philosophy –

 

Q    I'll bring you transcripts after the briefing.

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  -- and that's where it should.  Did it focus on it last night?  Let's look at the transcripts.

They pretty much did everything but actually measure the penises.
Q Oh, yeah, Scott? Well look at this.

MR. McCLELLAN: That puny thing?

MR. McCLELLAN: Get a load of this... ::sproooing::

Q ::Thump::

MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, stand aside.

Whole sordid exchange after the jump.

Q    But, bottom line, does she have the tenacity to weather this fight?

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  No, no, let's talk about how -- the way you're approaching things.  This should be based on a person's record and qualifications and their judicial philosophy, and she greatly exceeds all the standards that have been set for meeting what is needed to serve on our nation's highest court.  She is exceptionally well-qualified.  And I would encourage you -- I know you don't necessarily want to do this -- but to look at her qualifications and record. 

 

Q    Excuse me? 

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  I haven't seen you out there reporting about some of her qualifications and her record, and I see by the tone of your question that you want to get into some of these side issues.  Let's look at the record --

 

Q    You divided your own party?

 

Q    Wait a minute --

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  -- let's look at the qualifications.

 

Q    But, Scott, yesterday you yourself said that --

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  I'm not saying everybody.  I'm just saying I haven't seen John report on the qualifications record.

 

Q    Yesterday you talked about some prospective nominees who decided that they didn't want to go through this, this laborious process.  The question was, is it possible that she would be overwhelmed enough by this laborious process that she might consider pulling out.

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  Bob, anyone that knows Harriet Miers knows that she's exceptionally well-qualified to serve on our nation's highest court, and no one that knows her would make such a suggestion.  And no one that knows her record and her qualifications would make such a suggestion.  We look forward to people getting to know her like the President knows her.  She is someone who has not sought the limelight, but she is someone who has served with great distinction and has a distinguished career and record.  And that's what this should be about when it comes to the Supreme Court.  I welcome the opportunity to engage in this discussion, because this should be based on qualifications and experience and judicial philosophy.

 

Some people want to create a different standard.  And, Jim, you can sit there and shake your head, but she's exceptionally well-qualified.

 

Q    Wait a minute, wait a minute -- excuse me --

 

Q    Scott, yesterday both you and President said that it was important for --

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  Anyone -- anyone that knows her record and experience wouldn't be making such a suggestion.        

 

Q    Scott, yesterday, both -- yesterday the President himself said that the American --

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  Well, some of you all wanted to focus more on religion.  We focused on her qualifications and record.

 

Q    Scott, isn't the idea we ask the questions and you provide the answers?

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  Yes, and I was providing the answer.  Can I not say what I want to say?

 

Q    Don't you wish that Scott would get back to you?

 

Q    Can you characterize --

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  Isn't it my right to talk and say what I want to?

 

Q    I defend your right, Scott.

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  You all want to focus on side issues like religion.  We've said from the beginning --

 

Q    Side issues --

 

Q    You focused on religion.

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  We've said -- no, we have always publicly talked about --

 

Q    When has religion been a side issue?

 

Q    Scott --

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  Come on, Jim, we've always talked about her record and her qualifications --

 

Q    You call this a side issue.

 

Q    Scott, yesterday --

 

Q    The opposition to her is in your own party.  What are you going to do about that?

 

Q    Yesterday, Scott, the President said that the American people did want to know about her background, and that her religion was part of that.  And you pointed out repeatedly that her religion was part of that, as a means of letting the American people know more about who Harriet Miers is.  The question was whether or not she is the type of person that has the tenacity to deal with any criticism in a confirmation process.  Could you describe her and who she is, relative to her tenacity?  The President has called her a pit bull in size six shoes.  Could you elaborate?

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  Carl, what we have talked about publicly is her record and her qualifications and her judicial philosophy.  Some have chosen to focus on other issues.  We have focused on her record and her qualifications, because that's what this should be based on.  That's why the President selected her, and that's why he knows that she will make an outstanding Supreme Court Justice.  And some people don't want to talk about the record and qualifications.  They're interested in setting different standards --

 

Q    But you also called her a woman of faith, a person of faith, yesterday.  Those words came out of your mouth, she's a person of faith.

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  She is -- and she is.

 

Q    And so we've reported on the qualifications and --

 

Q    But what's the relevance if you're saying it's not relevant?

 

Q    And why would -- why would you not answer -- but why not answer the question?  It sounds as though you're not willing to say she's tenacious.

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  Go on, jump in.  No, jump in.  (Laughter.)

 

Q    Well, you've always said she was not a publicity seeker, and she has, through this appointment --

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  This is great.  Let's talk about the record and qualifications.  Obviously you don't want to do that, because you keep talking about --

 

Q    No, that's not fair.  No, that's not fair.  No, you've described her as someone who did not seek the limelight; the President has done that, as well. 

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  That's right. 

 

Q    Now she is in one of the most visible positions in the U.S. right now, and with that comes a lot of criticism.  The question has been, since she has never been in this situation before, what do you know about her and her ability to withstand that?  That's a fair question.

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  Let me correct -- let me correct something.  First of all, you said I talked about how she is a person of faith.  Yes.  And I said that she recognizes that religion and personal views have no role to play when it comes to being a judge.  Yet, some in the media wanted to continue to chase this story and not focus on her record and her qualifications.  That's all I'm saying.  And I think the focus should be on her record and qualifications. 

 

And John is going, asking a question, based on what some others are saying or suggesting about withdrawal.  Those are people that do not know Harriet Miers, because if you know Harriet Miers, you know that she will make an outstanding Supreme Court justice.  You have every right to ask your questions.  You have every right to report whatever you want.  And I have every right to talk about what this should be about, because the American people want this to be about qualifications and record; they want this to be a dignified process; they want them to focus on the issues that are relevant to being a judge. 

 

The role of a judge is to be fair and open-minded, and to look at the facts and apply the law.  Harriet Miers is a fair-minded person.  She has always been.  People that know her, know that about her.  And she will make an outstanding Supreme Court justice.  And those that are making such suggestions simply do not know her, or they're trying to create a different standard, one that is not based on the historical standard for confirming a Supreme Court justice.

 

And I welcome talking about this; I welcome talking about her record.  Let's talk about it.

 

Q    Can I ask -- can I ask one question just before we go here?

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  Steve said "thank you" a second time.  I think the first time -- the first time --

 

Q    I know, but my question is --

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  The first time, we probably should have stopped it at that.

 

Q    Right.  I know.  Aren't you sad that you didn't go for -- that you went past, "thank you"?

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  No.  Actually, I'm not.  I'm glad we had this discussion, John.

 

Q    Okay, good.  But my only question was, the very last thing that you said there, why didn't you just say that in response to my question instead of attacking me and getting into this whole brouhaha?

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  Well, I was trying to, but some people kept jumping in, including yourself when I was responding to your question.

 

Q    Well, excuse me, you attacked me.  I just wasn't going to let it sit.

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  No, I'm not attacking.  I'm just pointing out that a lot of the coverage is not focused on the record and the qualifications and the philosophy –

 

Q    I'll bring you transcripts after the briefing.

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  -- and that's where it should.  Did it focus on it last night?  Let's look at the transcripts.

 

Q    You spoke about a dignified process, do you think it's dignified to --

 

Q    Are you -- let's talk about truth and honesty.  Are you trying to say that the White House has not talked to conservatives and pointed them to the church that she goes to, and to her religion --

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  I answered all those questions yesterday.

 

Q    -- to show that she has religion -- but you're just saying right now that we're making an issue of it.  You're making an issue of it by having White House officials --

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  No, I'm saying --

 

Q    -- tell conservatives that that's a reason they should trust her.  Then they tell us that --

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  No, I'm not saying that.  You're putting words --

 

Q    -- that that's what's happening. 

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  -- in my mouth.  I'm saying the focus ought to be on records and qualification and philosophy.

 

Q    I'm not putting any words in your mouth.

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  Yes, you are.

 

Q    I have a question about judicial philosophy.

 

Q    Scott.  Scott, you used the term "dignified process."  Is it dignified to pejoratively characterize the motives or tactics of a reporter who is trying to cover a story?

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  I'm sorry?

 

Q    Is it dignified -- to use your word; "dignified process" --

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  No, that's not -- I'm simply saying that the focus should be on the record and the qualifications.  And, you know, the media -- I know sometimes you all don't like criticism, but I think the American people want the focus to be on records and qualification and philosophy.  And that's all I'm pointing out.  And I'm urging you all to look at the record.  And I'm encouraging you to go and look at her record and her experience and compare it to previous Supreme Court Justices that were confirmed -- because there is a standard that has been set here.  Some want to create a different standard.  That's not you all.  I'm saying it's some out there that are making some of the comments.  But there are --

 

Q    You're making it sound like --

 

MR. McCLELLAN:  -- but they are uniformed comments.  Because all you have to do is look at the record and look at her experience and you will see how well-qualified she is to serve on the bench.  That's what this is about.  This is about our nation's highest court.  And I think that we are doing a disservice for the American people when we focus on other issues and not her record and qualifications and experience, because that's what matters when you're on the nation's highest court.

 

Thank you.

 

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