washingtonpost.com
I Wanna Hold Your Hand

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, April 27, 2005; 1:21 PM

There's something about that image of President Bush and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah holding hands as they walked through a field of bluebonnets on Monday that just won't quit.

Is it the way it plays against Bush's cowboy image? Is it the contrast between Bush's talk of global democracy and his embrace of the leader of an absolute monarchy? Is it that it reminds us of our dependence on Saudi oil? Is that it looked, well, a little gay?

I suspect it's all those and more.

George Rush and Joanna Molloy write in the New York Daily News: "President Bush can forget about getting any mercy from Washington wags at Saturday's White House Correspondents Dinner -- not after the setup he gave every comic and Democrat by strolling hand in hand on Monday with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. . . .

"New Yorker writer Andy Borowitz said, 'After the picture came out, President Bush reiterated his opposition to gay marriage -- unless one of the partners has several billion barrels of petroleum'. . . .

"Jay Leno, who has emceed the dinner in the past, jumped on the tender scene at Bush's Texas ranch by offering 'Tonight' viewers a spoof on those Las Vegas tourism commercials showing how Sin City reawakens a couple's romance. The punchline: 'What happens in Crawford stays in Crawford.' "

As it happens, first lady Laura Bush was visiting Leno yesterday.

Here's a Reuters photo of Leno showing her footage of the two men holding hands.

"It was actually very sweet," Laura Bush said, laughing.

"You're a very understanding wife," replied Leno.

Here the transcript of the first lady's chat with Leno.

Lana Berkowitz writes in the Houston Chronicle: "It's a sign of friendship and respect in Saudi Arabia for men to hold hands while walking. But we don't often see men holding hands in the rural South. Or on a ranch in Texas. Good ol' boys tend to keep other guys at arm's length -- unless they've just scored a touchdown."

Berkowitz writes that Saudi Arabian Embassy spokesman Nail al-Jubeir reports that he's "gotten more calls on this particular thing than actually what was said."

And apparently it's also the talk of talk radio: "John Walton, an arbiter of a certain Southern political correctness at KIOL/97.5 FM as part of the Walton & Johnson morning radio show, didn't realize it was a Saudi custom, but he thought it was OK for Bush to take the prince's hand.

" 'I think (Bush) would do just about anything to get the oil prices lower,' Walton said."

Jeff Jarvis notes that his fellow bloggers are having lots of fun at Bush's expense. He links, for instance, to Think Progress 's checklist (Strolled through wildflowers? Check; Stood up for pro-democracy Saudi activists? No check.)

Even National Review's The Corner blog is abuzz with the hand-holding. Jonah Goldberg wrote in mock fury that although it is a custom in the Arab world for men to hold hands, "we have customs here too." Within 20 minutes he posted again : "Some people need to get humor injections. Of course I'm joking around about the hand-holding stuff."

The New York Daily News editorial board writes that "those photographs of the embraces and handclasps and air kisses between the prince and President Bush down in Crawford are really depressing as hell -- irrefutably reminding us that, until such time as the U.S. is seriously moved to address its long-term energy concerns, Washington will remain in Riyadh's thrall."

Matthew Clark writes on csmonitor.com that the picture "is likely to conjure up images of the ' Shiny, Happy People ' segment in [Michael] Moore's controversial film Fahrenheit 911 . In the film, the rock band R.E.M. 's 'Shiny, Happy People' tune is playing in the background as images of former president George H. W. Bush and other Bush family members greeting Saudi leaders and diplomats flashed on the screen."

Here are some wire photos from Abdullah's visit.

Do or Die

The White House is turning the Bolton nomination into a do-or-die moment for Bush and his second term.

Jim VandeHei and Charles Babington write in The Washington Post: "President Bush and Senate Republicans are intensifying their push to confirm John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations. . . .

"With Bolton's confirmation jeopardized by allegations that he bullied colleagues who crossed him, Bush is planning a three-pronged strategy to win Senate approval next month of his nominee, aides said.

"The White House is providing detailed rebuttals to any allegations Republican senators find troubling. Bush is also looking to make the debate over Bolton about reforming the United Nations, not Bolton's temperament, and working with Senate Republicans to produce a vote count this week showing there are enough votes to approve the nominee on the floor."

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "The White House is intensifying its campaign to rescue the nomination of John R. Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations, administration officials said on Tuesday, as Republicans close to the West Wing acknowledged that a rejection of Mr. Bolton would be politically damaging for President Bush.

"Administration officials said that Vice President Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff and the president's powerful political adviser, are playing a central and aggressive role in trying to salvage Mr. Bolton's prospects. . . .

"Administration officials said that Mr. Bolton, who has in the past expressed disdain for the United Nation, was the right man to reform an organization that the hawks in the administration consider virtually irrelevant.

"But Republicans close to the administration also said that a powerful motive for the White House was simply showing strength and an unwillingness to back down, particularly after Colin L. Powell, the former secretary of state who often warred with the hawks, expressed private doubts to Republican senators last week about Mr. Bolton."

So How's Bolton Doing?

Douglas Jehl writes in the New York Times: "In a widening of the inquiry into John R. Bolton's nomination to be ambassador to the United Nations, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee intends to conduct formal interviews in the next 10 days with as many as two dozen people, Congressional officials said Tuesday. . . .

"The new interviews are intended to gather more information about allegations that Mr. Bolton intimidated intelligence analysts, bullied subordinates inside and outside government, and sought to inflate assessments of efforts by Cuba, Syria and other nations to acquire dangerous weapons.

And yet, Vicki Allen writes for Reuters: "Republicans expressed growing confidence on Tuesday that the Senate will confirm John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, despite Democrats' contention he is a bully unsuited to the post.

" 'The allegations are being to my mind very successfully debunked one by one,' said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican. 'I'm optimistic at the direction it's taking.' "

Interested in following this story in the blogosphere? The Washington Note , which has been ground zero for the anti-Bolton bloggers, how has a counterpoint: ConfirmBolton.com .

Bush and DeLay

Jim VandeHei writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush is doing for Tom DeLay what he refused to do for Trent Lott three years ago: taking a political risk to defend an embattled congressional leader's career, several Republican officials and strategists said . . .

"If the DeLay controversy explodes into a bigger scandal, some said, it could taint the White House, especially with Bush going out of his way to align himself with DeLay."

And yet, as VandeHei notes: "The president has carefully avoided defending DeLay on specific charges and instead focused largely on his leadership skills, his character and his ability to pass Republican legislation in the House."

Richard W. Stevenson writes in the New York Times about how Bush brought DeLay along for his Social Security event in Galveston yesterday.

"Inside, Mr. DeLay got a standing ovation from the crowd just before Mr. Bush's remarks when one of his constituents, Geraldine Sam, a schoolteacher from La Marque, Tex., shouted, 'We love you, Tom.'

"Ms. Sam said she had been invited by Mr. DeLay's office."

Press secretary Scott McClellan parsed Bush's gestures in yesterday's gaggle .

The Galveston Event

Edwin Chen and Warren Vieth write in the Los Angeles Times: "President Bush on Tuesday took his Social Security restructuring campaign to a county where public employees began opening personal retirement accounts two decades ago, and he said the rest of the country could learn from their experience. . . .

"Yet the figures cited by the president clashed with the findings of several studies of Galveston County's retirement plan, including a new Democratic congressional analysis suggesting that most county workers would have been better off with traditional Social Security."

Chen and Vieth quote Keith Brainard, research director of the National Assn. of State Retirement Administrators, as explaining that the Galveston plan concentrates its advantages on those at the upper end of the wage scale. By contrast, the progressivism of the federal system means that lower-income earners get a better deal in that program.

"Social Security, he said, 'was designed as a social insurance program, not a wealth-accumulation program.' "

Craig Gordon writes in Newsday: "At the start, President George W. Bush was in-your-face brash, taking his Social Security sales pitch to Democratic senators' turf.

"By yesterday, he was down to stopping in his own backyard in Texas, reliably Republican and far from Washington, where his idea is struggling to survive."

Here's the transcript of yesterday's invitation-only event.

Some of Bush's banter fell a bit flat. He told one panelist (who worked as a secretary for another panelist) that she deserved combat pay. Her husband then explained that he is a reservist who had just had met their 3-month-old daughter for the first time while on leave from his deployment in Iraq. "That's awesome," Bush responded.

Taking Hits on the Hill

Jonathan Weisman and Michael A. Fletcher write in The Washington Post: "A badly divided Senate Finance Committee yesterday held the first hearing examining President Bush's efforts to restructure Social Security. While the Democrats remained united in their opposition, there were signs of cracks in the Republicans' support for the president."

David E. Rosenbaum and Robin Toner write in the New York Times: "Representative Charles B. Rangel of New York, the senior Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, said he met with the president last week and urged him to take private accounts off the table so the two parties could work on solvency.

"Mr. Rangel said Mr. Bush replied: 'Congressman, I am the president. And private accounts are not coming off the table even if it's the last day I spend in the presidency.' "

Julie Hirschfeld Davis writes in the Baltimore Sun: "When President Bush hits the road to promote his Social Security plan, he has tough words for lawmakers who would put off action until another day. . . .

"In private at the White House, though, Bush is playing the good cop to his public bad cop.

"In casual meetings behind closed doors, Bush is reassuring lawmakers that he will cover them politically if they join his effort to revamp the retirement program."

Energy Watch

Jim VandeHei writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush will announce five new but modest proposals today to encourage the production and use of domestic energy sources, including nuclear power and cleaner-burning coal and diesel, the White House said last night.

"With gas prices hitting all-time highs and the public expressing dismay over the rising cost of driving, Bush plans to renew his push for a broad energy proposal in a speech today and present the new measures in an effort to ease concerns about the supply and cost of energy. White House officials released the details to reporters under the condition that their names not be used."

David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times: "White House officials said Tuesday evening that President Bush would propose on Wednesday that the federal government press to build new refineries on closed military bases throughout the country, in an effort to ease long-term shortages of gasoline and other oil products."

H. Josef Hebert writes for the Associated Press: "The White House acknowledged that none of the initiatives was expected to provide any short-term relief from soaring gasoline and oil prices. It is Bush's second speech on energy within a week, reflecting the growing concern within the White House over the political fallout over high energy prices."

The way the White House released the information was a new one for me. Not only was it in an anonymous background briefing -- it was in an embargoed anonymous background briefing. Held by conference call at 7:30 p.m., with three senior administration officials who the White House said "are part of the President's team working on our energy policy," it was embargoed for release until midnight.

9/11 Commission Watch

Mimi Hall writes in USA Today: "Congress and President Bush aren't moving fast enough to protect the nation from terrorist attacks, the leaders of the commission that investigated 9/11 said Tuesday."

Some of the recommendations that have still not been addressed:

"Promoting American values in the Muslim world. Bush recently appointed his longtime adviser Karen Hughes to lead the effort at the State Department, but she's not starting work until the fall. . . .

"Appointing a civil liberties board. White House spokeswoman Erin Healy said officials are 'actively working to fill the positions' on the board.

Nuclear Option Watch

Jeanne Cummings writes in the Wall Street Journal: "Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is searching for a compromise that would avoid a showdown with Democrats over judicial nominations, but the White House's desire to avoid a filibuster on any future U.S. Supreme Court nominee could scuttle any deal."

Rove Watch

Tim Grieve writes in Salon about a problem with one of Karl Rove's assertion in an interview published yesterday.

Judy Keen wrote in Monday's USA Today: "Rove said Bush tried to end the stalemate when he renominated just seven of the 10 nominees who had been blocked last year. But 'I saw no change in tone' among Democrats, he said. 'The flamethrowers . . . came out within moments.'"

Writes Grieve: "It's a nice story Rove tells about the president's attempt to make peace with the Democrats; it's just not exactly true. When the White House announced in December that Bush would re-nominate the seven judges, White House officials told the New York Times that Bush had offered all of the stalled judges the chance to be re-nominated. Two of them, Carolyn Kuhl and Claude Allen, declined. A third, Charles Pickering, who Bush had placed on the Fifth Circuit through a recess appointment, chose to retire rather than seek Senate confirmation again."

Veto Watch

Could it be? The first veto of Bush's presidency?

Jim Abrams writes for the Associated Press: "The Bush administration issued a veto threat again Tuesday against a popular highway bill, saying the president would be likely to reject any legislation that exceeds a White House-set spending ceiling or adds to the deficit."

Denver Three Watch

Ann Imse writes in the Rocky Mountain News: "The chairman of the Colorado Young Republicans was one of the people involved in a March 21 incident in which three Denver residents were forcibly removed from a speech given by President Bush because of a bumper sticker.

"Jay Bob Klinkerman, leader of the state group for Republicans ages 18 to 40, admitted in an interview that he was at the gate of the Wings over the Rockies Museum when the three people were stopped. . . .

"But Klinkerman, 31, of Thornton, told the Rocky Mountain News that he never said anything to [them] about the Secret Service.

"He declined to identify the man who threatened the trio with arrest. "

And Denver Post columnist Jim Spencer talks with another couple who "say the same man who threw [the three others] out of the president's taxpayer-financed public meeting threatened them with arrest but didn't banish them."

Making a Splash

Corky Siemaszko writes in the New York Daily News: "President Bush had the cowboys cringing yesterday when he grilled a group in Galveston, Tex., about 'Splash Day,' a decades-old rite of summer that is now an annual gay beach party.

"'Do you still have Splash Day?' Bush asked as many in the crowd chuckled nervously. 'You have to be a baby boomer to know what I'm talking about.'

"The locals did know what Bush was talking about.

"But Bush was apparently unaware that the celebration marking the start of summer beach season was now a big gay and lesbian bash."

More From Leno

William Douglas writes for Knight Ridder Newspapers that "the first lady couldn't resist getting a few well-natured digs at her husband. She noted that the ceremonial first pitch the president threw at last week's Washington Nationals home opener baseball game was high, outside -- and to the right, too."

And Jeremiah Marquez writes for the Associated Press that the first lady told Leno "that she has no aspirations for holding office and doesn't even pay much attention to her approval ratings -- though she tracks her husband's.

"The first lady's approval rating hovered around 80 percent in February, according a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll, the most recent taken. By contrast, the president's overall approval rating is at 47 percent, a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Tuesday shows.

"Does Bush ever taunt her husband because her ratings are higher?

" 'No, but I might,' she told Leno on Tuesday's program."

Veto Watch

Could it be? The first veto of Bush's presidency?

Jim Abrams writes for the Associated Press: "The Bush administration issued a veto threat again Tuesday against a popular highway bill, saying the president would be likely to reject any legislation that exceeds a White House-set spending ceiling or adds to the deficit."

DENVER THREE WATCH

Ann Imse writes in the Rocky Mountain News: "The chairman of the Colorado Young Republicans was one of the people involved in a March 21 incident in which three Denver residents were forcibly removed from a speech given by President Bush because of a bumper sticker.

"Jay Bob Klinkerman, leader of the state group for Republicans ages 18 to 40, admitted in an interview that he was at the gate of the Wings over the Rockies Museum when the three people were stopped. . . .

"But Klinkerman, 31, of Thornton, told the Rocky Mountain News that he never said anything to [them] about the Secret Service.

"He declined to identify the man who threatened the trio with arrest. "

And Denver Post columnist Jim Spencer talks with another couple who "say the same man who threw [the three others] out of the president's taxpayer-financed public meeting threatened them with arrest but didn't banish them."

MAKING A SPLASH

Corky Siemaszko writes in the New York Daily News: "President Bush had the cowboys cringing yesterday when he grilled a group in Galveston, Tex., about 'Splash Day,' a decades-old rite of summer that is now an annual gay beach party.

"'Do you still have Splash Day?' Bush asked as many in the crowd chuckled nervously. 'You have to be a baby boomer to know what I'm talking about.'

"The locals did know what Bush was talking about.

"But Bush was apparently unaware that the celebration marking the start of summer beach season was now a big gay and lesbian bash."

MORE FROM LENO

William Douglas writes for Knight Ridder Newspapers that "the first lady couldn't resist getting a few well-natured digs at her husband. She noted that the ceremonial first pitch the president threw at last week's Washington Nationals home opener baseball game was high, outside -- and to the right, too."

And Jeremiah Marquez writes for the Associated Press that the first lady told Leno "that she has no aspirations for holding office and doesn't even pay much attention to her approval ratings -- though she tracks her husband's.

"The first lady's approval rating hovered around 80 percent in February, according a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll, the most recent taken. By contrast, the president's overall approval rating is at 47 percent, a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Tuesday shows.

"Does Bush ever taunt her husband because her ratings are higher?

" 'No, but I might,' she told Leno on Tuesday's program."

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