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How Low Can He Go?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, February 28, 2006; 12:42 PM

President Bush's job approval rating is at a staggeringly low 34 percent, down 8 points from last month, according to a new CBS News poll. That's right: Just a third of Americans think he's doing a good job.

To find other numbers that low in the CBS poll, you have to go back 14 years to Bush's father. Bill Clinton never had it so bad.

To find numbers even lower, you have to go back to Jimmy Carter's disastrous 1979 -- or to Richard Nixon in 1974, who Gallup-polled as low as 23 just before he resigned.

Theoretically, the good part of being a divisive, love-him-or-hate-him president is that your core followers are bound to you with ferocious tenacity. But the Dubai port deal and the ongoing carnage in Iraq appear to be eating away even at Bush's most loyal base.

Elisabeth Bumiller and Marjorie Connelly write in the New York Times: "There has been a decline in Mr. Bush's support even among Republicans. In the January Times/CBS News poll, 83 percent of Republicans approved of the way he was handling his job; in the latest poll 72 percent approve. Approval among self-identified conservatives also dropped to 52 percent, from 62 percent.

"A decline in the president's job performance rating was halted late last fall by positive economic news, the Iraqi elections, the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. and a public relations effort to improve his image. But the latest poll shows that the ratings for his overall handling of the job, as well as his management of the economy, Iraq and the campaign against terrorism, have all dropped."

CBS News reports that "pessimism about the Iraq war has risen to a new high.

"Americans are also overwhelmingly opposed to the Bush-backed deal giving a Dubai-owned company operational control over six major U.S. ports. Seven in 10 Americans, including 58 percent of Republicans, say they're opposed to the agreement.

"In a separate poll, two out of three Americans said they do not think President Bush has responded adequately to the needs of Katrina victims. Only 32 percent approve of the way President Bush is responding to those needs, a drop of 12 points from last September's poll, taken just two weeks after the storm made landfall."

CBS says the "bright spot for the administration" is that "most Americans appeared to have heard enough about Vice President Dick Cheney's hunting accident. . . .

"Still, the incident appears to have made the public's already negative view of Cheney more so. Just 18 percent said they had a favorable view of the vice president, down from 23 percent in January."

Here are the poll results . Here are CBS's Katrina-related poll results .

And Speaking of Polls

Nicholas D. Kristof writes in his New York Times opinion column (subscription required): "When President Bush held a public meeting with troops by satellite last fall, they were miraculously upbeat. [Froomkin's note: Remember how it turns out they were coached?] And all along, unrepentant hawks (most of whom have never been to Iraq) have insisted that journalists are misreporting Iraq and that most soldiers are gung-ho about their mission.

"Hogwash! A new poll to be released today shows that U.S. soldiers overwhelmingly want out of Iraq -- and soon. . . .

"Only 23 percent backed Mr. Bush's position that they should stay as long as necessary. In contrast, 72 percent said that U.S. troops should be pulled out within one year. Of those, 29 percent said they should withdraw 'immediately.' "

And the BBC reports: "People across the world overwhelmingly believe the war in Iraq has increased the likelihood of terrorist attacks worldwide, a poll for the BBC reveals.

"Some 60% of people in 35 countries surveyed believe this is the case, against just 12% who think terrorist attacks have become less likely."

It's Better in India

Bill Plante reports on Bush's poor poll number on CBS News this morning, then says: "So what do presidents do when the going gets tough? They leave town."

Indeed, Bush is off today for a whirlwind trip to India and Pakistan (and maybe Afghanistan, too? See below.) Heck, even ambivalence is a step up.

Somini Sengupta writes in the New York Times: "When President Bush lands in India early Wednesday, he will encounter an ever ambivalent American ally with one important difference from the past: this India has new power to assert its views, some of which align with Mr. Bush's agenda and some of which do not. . . .

"The Pew Global Attitudes Project found Indians last year to be among the most cheerful in their appraisal of both the United States and President Bush. In a survey published this week in the Indian newsweekly Outlook , two-thirds of Indians 'strongly' or 'somewhat' regarded Mr. Bush as 'a friend of India,' even as 72 percent called the United States 'a bully.' . . .

"Even the most avid proponents of the new partnership are circling the sovereignty wagons. A senior Indian government official, who did not want to be quoted for fear of jeopardizing the continuing talks, said the future course of relations might hinge on the tendency of the Bush White House to cast nations as either adversary or ally.

"India, the official made clear, can be neither. 'This is a very sovereignty-conscious country,' the official said."

Richard Keil and Catherine Dodge write for Bloomberg: "President George W. Bush is scaling back his expectations for signing a nuclear-technology accord with India this week that would cement U.S. relations with a rising global power and ease pressure on world energy supplies.

"Bush last week expressed hope of completing the agreement, which would give India access to nuclear material and equipment for civilian power plants, after arriving in India tomorrow. Administration officials now say the deal will happen soon, if not this week.

" 'Whether it gets done during the trip or not, we'll see, but it will get done,' White House spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday."

Here's the transcript of McClellan's briefing.

Back to Delhi?

Anabhuti Vishnoi writes in the Indian Express: "The chefs at New Delhi's ITC Maurya Sheraton are busy planning a menu just right for President George Bush. And it features a lavish Indian spread--from Lagan Ki Boti to Anjeer Dahi ki Lauj.

"The hotel has just received a brief from the White House on what President Bush likes on his dining table. 'President Bush loves Indian food and what's more he knows it very well. He likes flavoured Indian food but does not like it too spicy, greasy or oily. Chicken and lamb are his favourites and he loves kebabs,' says Executive Chef Amit Chaudhary. . . .

" 'We are told he spent some two months in the Capital in his younger days and he still recalls the food he had here with great relish. Our attempt will be to make the food here a good memory for him for years to come.' "

Wait -- Bush spent two months in New Delhi in his youth? Is that for real? When? What was he doing?

Afghanistan Bound?

The Associated Press wonders: "Will President Bush go to war-rattled Afghanistan when he visits India and Pakistan this week? The White House isn't saying, but there's a lot of speculation here and in South Asia that he will. Both Vice President Dick Cheney and Laura Bush have visited Afghanistan.

" 'Even if we were going to other countries, we would announce that at an appropriate time -- not before,' White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Monday. . . .

"Marvin Weinbaum, a former State Department analyst for Pakistan and Afghanistan, said Bush likely would confine any visit to heavily guarded Bagram Air Base north of Kabul.

" 'He has to go,' Weinbaum said at Brookings Institution briefing on the president's trip. . . . 'Can he not go if Laura Bush took the chance and was more exposed actually?' "

More Sammon

Bill Sammon writes in the Washington Examiner with some of the highlights from his new book about Bush and the 2004 campaign.

"President Bush now says his 2004 victory over Democratic Sen. John Kerry, who is mulling a comeback in 2008, was inadvertently aided by al-Qaida terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

"And Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, who steadfastly refused to defend Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth when he ran Bush's campaign, now calls them 'heroes' who played a crucial role in vanquishing Kerry.

"For the first time, the president says he was helped by bin Laden, who put out a videotaped diatribe against Bush the Friday before the 2004 election.

"Bush said there were 'enormous amounts of discussion' inside his campaign about the 15-minute tape, which he called 'an interesting entry by our enemy' into the presidential race. . . .

" 'I thought it was going to help,' he decided. 'I thought it would help remind people that if bin Laden doesn't want Bush to be the president, something must be right with Bush.' "

Torture Watch

Anthony Lagouranis , a former army interrogator who himself used military working dogs during interrogations in Iraq, writes a gripping opinion piece in today's New York Times.

His conclusion: "Instead of a clear message prohibiting torture, our top commanders gave us a deliberate muddying of the waters.

"Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, recently shepherded a ban on torture through Congress. Then, while reluctantly signing the legislation, President Bush muddled this very clear ban on torture by stating that he would construe it 'in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the president.'

"Those who serve in the prisons of Iraq deserve to know clearly the difference between legal and illegal orders. Soldiers on the ground need a commander in chief who does not seek strained legalisms that 'permit' the use of torture. The McCain amendment, prohibiting 'cruel, inhuman, or degrading' treatment in all instances, is an accurate reflection of the true values of the military and American society. We should adhere to it strictly and in all cases. I know, from personal experience, that any leeway given will be used to maximum effect against detainees. No slope is more slippery, I learned in Iraq, than the one that leads to torture."

From a Washington Post editorial : "The de facto principles governing the punishment of U.S. personnel guilty of prisoner abuse since 2002 now are clear: Torturing a foreign prisoner to death is excusable. Authoring and implementing policies of torture may lead to promotion. But being pictured in an Abu Ghraib photograph that leaks to the press is grounds for a heavy prison sentence."

Scooter Libby Watch

Toni Locy writes for the Associated Press: "A federal judge signaled Monday that he is seeking ways to provide Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff general descriptions of highly classified documents to use in his defense against perjury charges.

"U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton . . . said he thought general descriptions of the briefings could help the defense for three specific periods: when Libby allegedly talked to three reporters about Plame; and two days before and after Libby testified before a federal grand jury and was interviewed by FBI agents.

"Walton also asked the CIA to tell him whether the agency can compile what he wants and, if so, how long it would take to put the information together for Libby's lawyers. The judge wants an answer by Thursday."

Blogger Jeralyn Merritt analyzes Walton's rulings and Web publishes one of them.

Speaking of Merritt, more than three weeks ago, deep inside a long blog posting , Merritt noted a curious passage in a then-new court filing by special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald.

Today, James Gordon Meek turns it into a big story in the New York Daily News: "Handwritten notes taken by the CIA show Vice President Cheney's top aide knew the name of CIA spy Valerie Plame a month before her cover was blown.

"It appears to be the first known document in the hands of prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that directly contradicts Lewis (Scooter) Libby's claim he learned from reporters in July 2003 that Valerie Plame was a CIA employee. . . .

" 'A CIA employee assigned to provide daily intelligence briefs to the Vice President and Libby has handwritten notes indicating that Libby referred to 'Joe Wilson' and 'Valerie Wilson' by those names in conversation with the briefer on June 14, 2003,' Fitzgerald wrote in a recently unsealed brief.

"The filing suggests Cheney may have been present when Libby griped to his CIA briefer about agency officials slamming the veep in the press."

It's worth noting that bloggers have in several cases now been much more meticulous readers of the filings in the Libby case than mainstream news reporters. But -- especially if they themselves don't trumpet the importance of what they've spotted -- what they write may get lost in the noise.

Another example: I wrote on Feb. 10 about the scoop Murray Waas got in the National Journal -- based on his close reading of a document that had been public for more than a week. Afterwards, I learned that bloggers posting at The Next Hurrah and Firedoglake had actually spotted the same detail much earlier.

John Dickerson takes a look at scooterlibby.com for Slate, and concludes: "Libby's site has a hard time, because it simultaneously is trying to argue that a) he was likely to forget the Plame episodes and b) he was hypercompetent."

Port Watch

Carl Hulse and David E. Sanger write in the New York Times: "Coast Guard intelligence officials in December raised the possibility of significant security risks associated with the management of some United States port operations by a Dubai company, saying in a previously undisclosed document that broad 'intelligence gaps' prevented them from even assessing the risks."

Jonathan Weisman writes in The Washington Post: "The issue is sure to stoke political concerns that a deal brokered last weekend between the company, the Bush administration and congressional GOP leaders does not go far enough. That deal provided that the company could go forward with its $6.85 billion acquisition of P&O, but it would not assert control over U.S. properties while the administration conducts a 45-day review of the deal's national security implications. Senators from both political parties moved yesterday to immediately stop the deal, pending the review's outcome."

Special Counsel (Non) Watch

Katherine Shrader writes for the Associated Press: "The White House on Monday rejected the call by more than a dozen House Democrats for a special counsel to investigate the Bush administration's eavesdropping program.

"President Bush's spokesman Scott McClellan said those Democrats should instead spend their time investigating the source of the unauthorized disclosure of the classified program, which 'has given the enemy some of our playbook.' "

Unhappy Governors

Robert Tanner writes for the Associated Press: "Republican governors are openly worrying that the Bush administration's latest stumbles -- from the natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina to those of its own making on prescription drugs and ports security -- are taking an election-year toll on the party back home."

Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld sought yesterday to allay concerns among the nation's governors about funding and restructuring of the National Guard, but governors in both parties later said the administration must do more to satisfy them fully."

Robert Pear writes in the New York Times: "The status of the National Guard, in its dual federal-state role, has emerged as the most volatile issue at the winter meeting of the National Governors Association."

Rhetoric Watch

Caroline Daniel writes in the Financial Times: "President George W. Bush yesterday stepped up his rhetoric about US dependence on oil from the Middle East, warning about the dangers of being dependent on countries where 'tyrants control the spigots'."

Here's the text of his speech to the National Governors Association.

Brownie Speaks

Here's the transcript from NBC News anchor Brian Williams's interview with former FEMA head Mike Brown.

"Michael Brown: On Tuesday, August 30th, sometime in the morning, there was a secure conference call, and the president takes control of that call and pretty much shuts everybody up and says, 'I need to hear from Brown right now what's going on.' And I remember my first words to him were, 'Mr. President, my estimate is that 90 percent -- 90 percent -- of the population of New Orleans has now been displaced.' And there was just that split second of silence. And [then], '90 percent?' 'Yes sir, I believe it is that bad. That's how bad it is.' I really thought that would get just the whole mechanism of the federal government to come charging in."

As Dave Goldiner writes in the New York Daily News: "Brown's latest assertion casts more doubt on White House claims that it was unaware of the full extent of the damage until much later that week. Bush spent the two days after the hurricane struck the Gulf Coast on a political trip in the Southwest before returning to Washington."

Pillar's Questions

Paul R. Pillar , the former CIA official who coordinated U.S. intelligence on the Middle East until last year, recently wrote in Foreign Affairs that the Bush Administration cherry-picked intelligence to make its case for war.

Now he writes for NiemanWatchdog.org that the press was insufficiently questioning both in the run-up to war and in its coverage of the 9/11 Commission.

Among the questions he says the press has still not gotten an answer to: "When was the decision to go to war in Iraq made, what beliefs and analysis led to that decision (as distinct from arguments used to muster support for the decision), and where did those beliefs and analysis come from?"

The Cheney Rumors

Wonkette crudely but accurately assesses the questionable reliability of a report in Insight Magazine , which yesterday unleashed this unbylined story: "Senior GOP sources envision the retirement of Mr. Cheney in 2007, months after the congressional elections. The sources said Mr. Cheney would be persuaded to step down as he becomes an increasing political liability to President Bush."

Insight Magazine, like the Washington Times, is owned by the Unification Church. I spoke to editor Jeffrey Kuhner yesterday who explained that Insight is "a sister publication of the Washington Times but we have no editorial connection to them whatsoever."

Do you share editorial standards, I asked? "We're a bit of a different kind of publication, because we're an Internet publication," he said.

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