Mikulski criticizes Bush's Supreme Court pick


WASHINGTON -- Delivering the weekly Democratic radio address, Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski expressed disappointment yesterday that President Bush did not nominate a woman to the Supreme Court and called on the White House to "come clean" about its involvement in the outing of a covert CIA operative.

"For many Americans, fall is the time when leaves change colors. But this fall, the leaves aren't the only thing changing," Mikulski said in the Democrats' rebuttal to Bush's weekly message.

"Embarrassed by scandal, Washington Republicans are turning red," she said, pointing to the indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, the indictment of House Republican leader Tom DeLay of Texas and an investigation into the financial activities of Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee.

"Meanwhile, Americans like you are wrestling with very serious issues. Energy prices have shot through the roof. We're still at war in Iraq. Our budget deficits are out of control, and we still have neighbors along the Gulf Coast who need help picking up the pieces after those terrible hurricanes," Mikulski said.

"I can't remember a situation like this since the Watergate scandal brought down the Nixon administration."

Mikulski said she couldn't believe that Bush could not find a qualified woman to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. She surmised that the nomination of federal appeals court Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. was an effort to please conservative Republicans, who were critical of the president's previous choice, White House counsel Harriet E. Miers.

In his recorded radio speech, Bush reminded listeners that Alito, 55, is the son of an Italian immigrant and a graduate of Princeton University and Yale Law School who served in the Army Reserves.

"Judge Alito is one of America's most accomplished and respected judges. During his long career in public service, he has demonstrated all the qualities that the American people expect in a Supreme Court justice: mastery of the law, a deep commitment to justice, and great personal character," said Bush, who is to return tomorrow from a five-day Latin American trip. "He is scholarly, fair-minded and principled, and these traits will serve our nation well on our highest court."

Democrats are pressing the White House on a number of fronts, including the Alito nomination and the renewed spotlight on prewar intelligence after the indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby Jr., who was charged Oct. 28. Libby resigned and has pleaded not guilty to charges of perjury, making false statements and obstruction of justice during the investigation into the disclosure of CIA operative Valerie Plame's name to reporters.

Last week, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada forced the Senate into an unusual closed session to protest the pace of a congressional investigation into whether the administration twisted intelligence to justify going to war. Mikulski said there were still serious questions about the Plame case and the war that must be resolved.

"The president and vice president should come clean about this matter," she said. "President Bush should honor his pledge to fire all those involved."


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