Harriet Miers Next Out the Door?

Elisabeth Bumiller and Jim Rutenberg report that White House Counsel Harriet Miers might be the next Bush official shown the door in the “shake-up” by new Chief of Staff Josh Bolton.

Joshua B. Bolten, the new White House chief of staff, has raised the possibility of moving Harriet E. Miers from her job as President Bush’s counsel as part of a continuing shake-up of the West Wing, an influential Republican with close ties to Mr. Bolten said Thursday. The Republican, who was granted anonymity to talk openly about sensitive internal White House deliberations, said that Mr. Bolten had floated the idea among confidants, but that it was unclear whether he would follow through or if the move would be acceptable to Mr. Bush, who has a longtime personal bond with Ms. Miers. “It’s a reflection of Josh’s thinking,” the Republican said. “It’s not a prediction that he’s going to get it done.”

A senior White House official denied that Mr. Bolten was considering such a step. “It’s not the case,” said the official, who was granted anonymity to get around the administration’s policy of not commenting on personnel matters.


Mr. Bolten’s thinking about Ms. Miers, however tentative, provided an insight into the scale of his ambitions for overhauling the White House staff and, should he proceed, could amount to a test of how far he would be able to go in bringing about change. Ms. Miers, who was once Mr. Bush’s personal lawyer, followed him from Texas to the White House. He nominated her to the Supreme Court last year, and brought her back into his inner circle when she withdrew after a brutal period of scrutiny and criticism.

Mr. Bolten is said by a number of Republicans in Washington to feel that Ms. Miers is indecisive, a weak manager and slow in moving vital paperwork through the system. She came to the White House in January 2001 as the staff secretary and then held one of Mr. Bolten’s former jobs, deputy chief of staff for policy, before Mr. Bush appointed her as White House counsel in November 2004.

It would be ironic indeed, since the fiasco that was Miers’ nomination to the high court was arguably the point when the wheels started coming off the president’s domestic agenda. Even loyal defenders of the president, myself included, came out against Miers.

John Aravosis argues that firing her now–especially on grounds that she is indecisive–would “make Bush an incompetent idiot for appointing her to the Supreme Court.” It would certainly be difficult to spin it in a positive way. Which is why Miers will not be fired. She might suddenly decide she needs to spend more time with the family or that she misses Texas, though.

Regardless, I still maintain that this “shake-up” is unlikely to make much difference in the administration’s approval ratings. As important as the chief of staff, press secretary, counsel, or Treasury secretary are, they are invisible from the standpoint of Joe Sixpack. Aside from Rumsfeld and Cheney, there are no highly visible, unpopular figures below the president. Neither is likely to be replaced anytime soon.

What the president needs is success in Iraq and some major, popular policy success at home. Neither seems imminent and the Democrats have every incentive to block the latter, even if something were in the offing, until after the November elections. So, ultimately, it all comes down to Iraq. Which is reasonable enough, as it will be the defining issue of this presidency.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. legion says:

    Quite so, James. Even Bush’s supporters are seeing the ‘window-dressing’ quality to all this tough talk about making changes. Unfortunately, big talk with little or not follow-through has been a hallmark of Bush’s domestic policy for quite some time now. He may be the ‘decider’, but he’s damn sure not the ‘doer’.

    “Mars, bitches!”

  2. jim says:

    Miers could always, of course, ‘retire to spend more time with her family’…or ‘writing science fiction novels’, or whatever.

    I find all this cosmetic shake-up hype really sad. There are serious problems that Bush needs to address – and he fires the flack he answers questions from the press about the policies?? That isn’t even near the problem.