WASHINGTON (AP) – In the face of criticism from the left and right, President Bush insisted Tuesday that Harriet Miers is the best-qualified candidate for the Supreme Court and assured skeptical conservatives that his lawyer-turned-nominee shares his judicial philosophy.

Sarah Royce
President Bush speaks from the Oval Office Monday after nominating White House counsel Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court. (AP PHOTO)

“I’ve known her long enough to know she’s not going to change, that 20 years from now she will be the same person with the same judicial philosophy she has today,” Bush said. “She’ll have more experience. She’ll have been a judge, but nevertheless the philosophy won’t change, and that’s important to me.”

Dismissing Democratic 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 a White House counsel.

Bush called the news conference, his first since May, as he struggles to regain political strength sapped by a confluence of events _ high gas prices, a rising death toll in Iraq and a bungled response to Hurricane Katrina. His job approval rating, near the lowest point of his presidency, faces another test with the nomination of Miers.

The president refused to comment on an issue looming over the White House – the investigation into the leak of a CIA agent’s identity. With two top White House officials a focus of the inquiry, Bush was asked whether he would fire anybody indicted in the probe. “I’m not going to talk about the investigation until it’s complete,” he said.

On Katrina, Bush said he would work with Congress to “make real cuts” in non-security spending to help in rebuilding the Gulf Coast. “The private sector will be the engine that drives the recovery of the Gulf Coast,” he said. But he said the nation will continue to spend whatever it takes to support U.S. troops in Iraq.

Bush claimed progress on training Iraqi forces to take over the security of their country despite last week’s statement from the top U.S. commander there that only one Iraqi battalion, down from three, is ready to fight without U.S. help.

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