"But the political climate Mr. Bush faces now is very different from the one that prevailed in July, as he initially selected Judge Roberts for Justice O'Connor's seat. The federal government's much-criticized response to suffering inflicted by Hurricane Katrina, on top of the continued bloodshed in Iraq and high gasoline prices, has eaten into Mr. Bush's political strength, emboldening his opponents and potentially creating pressure on him to avoid an all-out ideological battle over the next nomination."
It is true that the political climate has changed in many ways, but we don't think it really changes the calculus from the White House's point of view.
They wanted to avoid "an all-out ideological battle" on the first nomination, and they do now.
They had to consider racial/gender issues before, and they do now (yes, even more, but not because of the changed climate, but because they already picked a white man, and because O'Connor and FLOTUS spoke out).
As before, they have to find someone who the liberal press won't crucify while making conservatives comfortable that the President is living up to his core campaign promise to move the Court to the right.
Democrats might be feeling "emboldened," but they don't seem to have public opinion dramatically on their side on these issues, and they remain very disorganized and divided about tactics.
Most important, the White House has the votes to confirm the next pick in the Senate if they make a smart choice, as is true with Roberts.
In short: the climate is most certainly different, but all of the fundamentals are the same.
If the White House can find another person who doesn't reek of in-your-face to the Democrats, who is also conservative enough to satisfy the President and the base, that is who will be picked. To the extent they don't select such a person, it will be because Roberts was unique -- not because the President is reacting to pressure.
A "normal" president might in fact react to the pressure. But if you have been paying attention, you know that George Bush isn't like that. To him, this is an important, serious, and historic decision, not something to let Anderson Cooper or the mayor of New Orleans decide.
As for Katrina, here is one thing you should know about the White House (and which we think the White House knows): the two attempts at page turning (saying the President was mad and semi-quietly -- and with much justification -- blaming local and state officials) didn't work and won't work.
That leaves two things to do: substantively, improve facts on the ground; and politically, make sure that the Bush-era usual partisan divide holds now that Congress has returned (that is, make sure that the Hill inquiries aren't unbridled, make sure the GOP criticism is muted, make sure the talking points are distributed, make sure talk radio and the blogs are on message, etc. You know: like a well-run campaign. Because the other side is, most assuredly, in campaign mode already.).