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Bush, Senators Talk Court Slot

President Bush conferred with four top Democratic and Republican senators Tuesday about candidates to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Conner on the U.S. Supreme Court.

The senators emerged from the meeting saying they discussed names of possible nominees with Mr. Bush but would not say who they are, reports CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller.

"He didn't give us any names," Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he urged Mr. Bush to consider nominating someone who is not currently part of the federal court system.

"It would be good to have some diversity," Specter said. "That was one item which the president listened. The president, of course, speaks for himself, but it was a good meeting and, as already indicated, a good start."

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary committee, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., also attended the meeting.

While the president has held telephone conversations with the four before, this was his meeting with them in person on the issue since O'Connor announced her retirement. All four lawmakers said the meeting was a positive step in bipartisan consultation with the White House on whom Mr. Bush will nominate.

"The president was very much in a listening mode," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.

Laura Bush, meanwhile, said she hoped her husband would pick a woman.

"I would really like him to name another woman," Mrs. Bush said Tuesday on NBC's "Today" show, in an interview from Cape Town, South Africa, where she is traveling. "I admire and respect Sandra Day O'Connor, but I know that my husband will pick somebody who has a lot of integrity and strength."

McClellan would not say whether the president was leaning toward selecting a woman. "The president is going to consider a diverse group of individuals for the vacancy that is available," said McClellan.

Asked about Democrats' objections to specific candidates said to be under consideration, McClellan said, "No individual should have veto power over a president's selection."

Reid said the president indicated that there would be more meetings and consultations.

"He said on several occasions, `If you have anything that you want to bring to my attention, either talk to me or talk or talk to Harriet, Harriet Miers, who is his counsel," Reid said.

Mr. Bush has said that he wants his nominee confirmed and sitting on the bench of the high court when it resumes in October. Unless the president announces his nominee soon, that might be difficult to achieve, given that Congress is typically on recess in August.

"The schedule is something that we took up in some detail," Specter said. "There are some limitations as to August."

But Specter left open the possibility that the Senate could be called back into session in August.

"We're going to be consulting really with the leader, Sen. Frist, as to whether we want to pursue August," Specter said. "I think that it's difficult, but it's possible. And we're retaining some flexibility on that subject."

Specter took a shot at interest groups on the right and left, suggesting that they are "vastly overstating" their influence in the selection process and that, at times, their input is both "counterproductive and insulting."

Frist, who said he used the morning meeting to insist that Democrats treat Mr. Bush's nominee with respect, said the president and the lawmakers discussed both the confirmation process as well as the type of nominee the parties would like to see the president name.

"This consultative process is well under way," Frist said, adding that Mr. Bush and his advisers have contacted more than 60 senators, each member of the Judiciary Committee and that more than half or two-thirds of Democrats.