By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, April 21, 2006; 1:42 PM
In the view of President Bush's hawkish advisers, China represents the United States's most important and dangerous geopolitical rival in the years to come.
In the view of democracy and human rights activists, China represents the most blatant challenge to Bush's ostensible passion for freedom across the globe.
But what seemed to matter the most to Bush as he hosted President Hu Jintao at the White House yesterday was that the 1.3 billion Chinese represent a lot of customers.
Once a businessman, always a businessman. And in fact, Bush's positions on many controversial issues -- immigration, Social Security, China, gas prices, Iraq reconstruction -- are often most predictably in line with big-business interests.
So reducing the massive trade imbalance between the two countries was a top priority yesterday.
Indeed, the most telling document to emerge from the summit may have been the guest list for lunch, which included chief executives from Cisco Systems, International Paper, Amway, Lucent Technologies, Caterpillar, Motorola, United Technologies, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Ford, Wal-Mart, Procter and Gamble, Daimler Chrysler, Dow Chemical, Home Depot, Goldman Sachs, PepsiCo, Citicorp, FedEx and General Motors.
But just as the White House's meticulous choreography was undermined by a slew of embarrassing protocol gaffes, Bush's wheedling on behalf of big business was also for naught.The Coverage
Paul Richter writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Chinese President Hu Jintao on Thursday promised President Bush long-term economic reforms but offered no immediate concessions on the trade and security issues that threaten the two countries' relationship."
Peter Baker and Glenn Kessler write in The Washington Post: "President Bush pressed China's visiting President Hu Jintao yesterday to open up markets, expand freedom and do more to curb nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea but came away with no specific agreements in a summit emphasizing symbolism over breakthroughs."
Joseph Kahn writes for the New York Times: "The meeting, the first at the White House between the men since Mr. Hu became China's top leader in 2002, was plagued by gaffes that upended months of painstaking diplomacy over protocol and staging.
"Though administration officials said significant progress was made, especially on the economic front, the session also underscored the intractable nature of a long list of grievances between the world's richest country and its fastest rising rival."
David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times: "Just about every American president since Richard M. Nixon has confronted the fact that his influence over China is far more limited than he once hoped. President Bush is now facing that reality midway through his second term, at a moment when the Chinese clearly sense his weakness."
Sanger writes that "some members of his administration concede when promised anonymity, Mr. Bush needs a breakthrough in the relationship -- on North Korea, where China has the most influence, or Iran, where it is a major oil customer, or on the trade deficit that has grown so large, with no end in sight.
"He appears increasingly unlikely to get that breakthrough."The Heckler
The most newsworthy aspect of the day came when Hu was heckled by a woman standing in the press area. She stole center stage from both presidents, shouting: "President Hu! Your days are numbered," and "President Bush! Stop him from killing!"
Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post: "It took so long to silence her -- a full three minutes -- that Bush aides began to wonder if the Secret Service's strategy was to let her scream herself hoarse. The rattled Chinese president haltingly attempted to continue his speech and television coverage went to split screen.
" 'You're okay,' Bush gently reassured Hu.
"But he wasn't okay, not really. The protocol-obsessed Chinese leader suffered a day full of indignities -- some intentional, others just careless. The visit began with a slight when the official announcer said the band would play the 'national anthem of the Republic of China' -- the official name of Taiwan. It continued when Vice President Cheney donned sunglasses for the ceremony, and again when Hu, attempting to leave the stage via the wrong staircase, was yanked back by his jacket. Hu looked down at his sleeve to see the president of the United States tugging at it as if redirecting an errant child."
Adds Milbank: "Then there were the intentional slights. China wanted a formal state visit such as [Hu's predecessor Jiang Zemin] got, but the administration refused, calling it instead an 'official' visit. Bush acquiesced to the 21-gun salute but insisted on a luncheon instead of a formal dinner, in the East Room instead of the State Dining Room. . . .
"The meeting in the Oval Office brought more of the same. In front of the cameras, Bush thanked Hu for his 'frankness' -- diplomatic code for disagreement -- and Hu stood expressionless. The two unexpectedly agreed to take questions from reporters, but Bush grew impatient as Hu gave a long answer about trade, made all the longer by the translation. Bush at one point tapped his foot on the ground. 'It was a very comprehensive answer,' he observed when Hu finished."
Kahn writes in the Times about the effect of the heckling incident: "Chinese Foreign Ministry officials traveling with Mr. Hu canceled an afternoon briefing. One delegation member, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the subject publicly, described his superiors as outraged by the breach."
Kenneth R. Bazinet writes in the New York Daily News: 'Protester Wenyi Wang got within shouting distance -- about 35 yards -- of President Bush and the Chinese leader with the help of a press credential issued by a Falun Gong publication. . . .
" 'The Secret Service response to Wang's shouts at Chinese President Hu Jintao appeared to be slow, but because Wang was standing in a press area, authorities initially thought she was asking a question out of turn, a source explained.
" 'Also, Secret Service tactics first and foremost call for protecting the President and ensuring an incident like Wang's outburst is not a diversion for a real threat against the President.' "
In a press briefing , National Security Council staffer Dennis Wilder described how Bush apologized to Hu for the disruption: "At the outset of the meeting in the Oval Office, the President expressed to the Chinese President his regret
that, unfortunately, an individual made the decision that she was going to disrupt the speech given by the Chinese President. . . .
"He just said this was unfortunate, and I'm sorry this happened."
Photographers from Reuters , Agence France Presse and the Associated Press captured the awkward Bush-Hu sleeve grab. Here's a Reuters photo of Cheney's shades. In fact, AFP has several more unflattering pictures from the day's event, including this one of Cheney, shall we say, resting his eyes in the Oval Office.And About Those Business Interests?
Those lunch invitations didn't do the trick.
Martin Crutsinger writes for the Associated Press: " 'This really sounds like a missed opportunity,' said Frank Vargo, international vice president for the [National Association of Manufacturers]. 'We were really hoping that significant progress would be made so that both governments would begin to work together to address this very large trade imbalance.' "Shakeup Watch
Elisabeth Bumiller and Jim Rutenberg write in the New York Times: "Joshua B. Bolten, the new White House chief of staff, has raised the possibility of moving Harriet E. Miers from her job as President Bush's counsel as part of a continuing shake-up of the West Wing, an influential Republican with close ties to Mr. Bolten said Thursday. . . .
"Mr. Bolten is said by a number of Republicans in Washington to feel that Ms. Miers is indecisive, a weak manager and slow in moving vital paperwork through the system. . . .
"Moving Ms. Miers would be a strike at the heart of Mr. Bush's emotional bonds in the White House and would eliminate another Texan from the circle he has kept close to him in Washington. Republicans who talk regularly to senior West Wing advisers say the president has been unhappy and on edge about the staff changes that he nonetheless sees as necessary for revitalizing the West Wing. . . .
"On another front, Republicans said that Tony Snow, a commentator for Fox News and a former speechwriter for Mr. Bush's father, was in negotiations for the job of White House press secretary. Mr. Snow would replace Scott McClellan, who announced Wednesday that he was resigning. . . .
"Mr. Snow is the host of his own radio program and comes from the news operation that flashes from every television in the West Wing."
Newsmax listened to Snow's radio show yesterday, and reported that he said "he had yet to make up his mind about accepting a possible offer to succeed Scott McClellan as White House press secretary, saying his family would have 'veto power' over any decision.
He added: "Who wants to take a pay cut to become a piņata."About Tony Snow
Bumiller and Rutenberg call attention to one time that Snow criticized the administration. In a Feb. 3 column on the president's State of the Union address, Snow wrote: "President Bush distilled the essence of his presidency in this year's State of the Union Address: brilliant foreign policy and listless domestic policy."
Bush, he wrote, "inspires loyalty and confidence. But over time, even the best burn out -- or worse, lose their capacity to tell the boss, 'Sir, that idea stinks.' "
But that's about as nasty as Snow has gotten.
More typically, on Feb. 17 , Snow jumped to the defense of the White House press office "when partisans tried to make hay of Vice President Dick Cheney's having shot hunting partner Harry Whittington. . . .
"In this case, some reporters, openly gleeful about Dick Cheney's predicament, became unwittingly Shakespearean -- fools telling tales, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
Snow's was a rare conservative voice of support for Bush's proposed takeover of some American ports by a Dubai company -- so rare that that none other than Karl Rove joined Snow on February 23 to field some loving softballs.
Vice President Cheney has repeatedly taken refuge with Snow, most recently on March 29 . A sample question from January 11 : "Everybody wants me to ask you . . . would you please reconsider and think about running for President?"Reaction to the Rove Move
E. J. Dionne Jr. writes in his Washington Post opinion column: "Here's the real meaning of the White House shake-up and the redefinition of Karl Rove's role in the Bush presidency: The administration's one and only domestic priority in 2006 is hanging on to control of Congress. . . .
"As one outside adviser to the administration said, the danger of a Democratic takeover of at least one house of Congress looms large and would carry huge penalties for Bush. The administration fears 'investigations of everything' by congressional committees, this adviser said, and the 'possibility of a forced withdrawal from Iraq' through legislative action."
Naftali Bendavid writes in the Chicago Tribune's Washington blog: "I remember sitting in Karl Rove's office in the heady days shortly after President Bush's election. Rove was proud of his role as a student of American history -- his office decor included a campaign banner for Abraham Lincoln -- and he was determined that the Bush administration not repeat the mistakes of its predecessors. The main lesson of presidential history, Rove seemed to feel, was this: Lay out your agenda and don't deviate from it. Don't get knocked off course. Don't lose your focus. . . .
"But Washington always wins in the end. . . .
"Now it's the turn of Rove, the obsessive organizer, the ultimate student of history. The war in Iraq has deteriorated beyond its planners' imagining. Bush's latest preplanned, rolled-out agenda item, Social Security reform, proved so unpopular that the president's persistence in pushing it only damaged him further. And Rove himself has been engulfed in a personally damaging leak scandal.
"Rove lost half his White House responsibilities this week, and it's the first time the acclaimed political wizard has suffered such a public defeat. It also marks the latest time, but certainly not the last, that someone who rides into town feted for his mastery of American politics is overcome by it."
Last night on MSNBC's Countdown, host Keith Olbermann and reporter David Shuster discussed what they called ominous signs for Rove.
Olbermann: "Has the prospect of a Rove indictment in Plamegate again reared its chubby head?"
Shuster: "Defense lawyers say that the grand jury investigation is active again, and that the panel has been meeting in recent weeks, although prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was not seen at the grand jury this week and hasn't been seen there at some -- for some time. . . .
[T]he latest prosecution documents also go out of their way to suggest that Rove is not going to be a prosecution witness at the Libby trial, even though Rove is part of the narrative against Scooter Libby. . . .
"The other thing that has long been intriguing about Karl Rove, and that is, we've known for months that in the Scooter Libby indictment, when they referred to official A, official A is Karl Rove. . . .
"[W]e've looked at prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's record as far as designating people as official A or official B, and in every single case we have found, Keith, that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, when he designates somebody as official A in an indictment, that person eventually does get indicted themselves."
Dave Newbart writes in the Chicago Sun Times: "Robert Novak said Wednesday that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald knows who outed a CIA agent to the Chicago Sun-Times columnist but hasn't acted on the information because Novak's source committed no crime."Reaction to the McClellan Resignation
Journalism professor and media blogger Jay Rosen writes: "So this is the first thing to understand about McClellan and the job he was given by Bush. He wasn't put there to brief the White House press, but to frustrate, and belittle it, and provoke journalists into discrediting themselves on TV."
From a Bergen Record editorial: "In announcing this week the resignation of White House spokesman Scott McClellan, President Bush made a lame attempt at humor: 'One of these days,' said the president, 'he and I are going to be rocking in chairs in Texas and talking about the good old days.'
"What 'good old days' would those be?"
From a Houston Chronicle editorial: "In great contrast to his personal demeanor, McClellan's answers during press briefings were so affectless and uninformative they essentially were sounds filling the seconds where content should have been.
"He was doing exactly what he was hired to do. In an administration that punishes or squelches dissent, McClellan's job was to withhold rather than to pass on timely information. His rote replies flattened any illusion that journalists and government have something useful to say to one another."
Al Kamen writes in his Washington Post "In the Loop" column: "With his new post as White House deputy chief of staff, Joel D. Kaplan continues his climb in the administration that began when he was a key part of the legendary Brooks Brothers Riot that helped persuade Miami election officials to stop the recount."
For those of you who aren't in the loop, Kamen last year described -- and Web-published an annotated photograph of -- the "the now-legendary 'Brooks Brothers Riot' at the Miami-Dade County polling headquarters.
"This was when dozens of 'local protesters,' actually mostly Republican House aides from Washington, chanted 'Stop the fraud!' and 'Let us in!' when the local election board tried to move the re-counting from an open conference room to a smaller space."Poll Watch
Dana Blanton reports for Fox News: "President Bush's approval hits a record low of 33 percent this week, clearly damaged by sinking support among Republicans. . . .
"President Bush's job approval rating slipped this week and stands at a new low of 33 percent approve, down from 36 percent two weeks ago and 39 percent in mid-March. . . .
"Approval among Republicans is below 70 percent for the first time of Bush's presidency. Two-thirds (66 percent) approve of Bush's job performance today, down almost 20 percentage points from this time last year when 84 percent of Republicans approved."
Here are the full results. Bush's "favorable" ratings have always been higher than his approval numbers, but those are now dismal as well.
Pew reports: "Just 40% express a favorable opinion of the president, compared with 57% who have a negative impression. This is the lowest favorable rating in Bush's presidency and below former President Clinton's low point of 48% in May 2000. Since last March 2005, positive opinions of Bush have declined by 13 percentage points (from 53% to 40%)."Mockery Watch