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Bush's Rose Garden Strategy

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, June 2, 2006; 11:57 AM

President Bush has inaugurated a Rose Garden strategy to pacify his right flank.

Yesterday, Bush triumphantly celebrated the swearing-in of a longtime aide to the U.S. Court of Appeals in a special Rose Garden ceremony. The aide, Brett Kavanaugh, is a darling of the conservative movement in part due to his work as a deputy to independent counsel Kenneth Starr during the Whitewater and Lewinsky investigations.

And Bush has invited some of the nation's leading social conservatives to the Rose Garden on Monday, to cheer him on as he strongly endorses a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage.

David Jackson and Richard Benedetto write in USA Today: "Whether President Bush is talking about a get-tough border policy or the importance of judicial restraint -- he discussed both Thursday -- he is sure to throw in an appeal these days to wavering conservative supporters.

"Bush and his aides are playing up items such as tighter borders and judges who 'administer the law' rather than make it, seeking to reconnect with conservative Republicans whose support has shrunk in recent polls -- and whose votes will be critical in this fall's congressional elections."

Jackson and Benedetto cite Bush's swearing-in for Kavanaugh and his planned speech on gay marriage, and they say Bush will also soon "renew his call for a line-item veto."

Nedra Pickler confirms for the Associated Press that Bush "will promote a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage on Monday, the eve of a scheduled Senate vote on the cause that is dear to his conservative backers."

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos writes for Fox News: "With Republicans facing a potential backlash at the polls in November, a renewed national debate over gay marriage can only boost the morale of the party's religious conservative base, which for a variety of reasons is near mutiny, say sources in the movement."

A Family Affair

For Bush, yesterday's Rose Garden event was a celebration on multiple counts. Not only is Kavanaugh a poster child for the president's drive to put a conservative stamp on the judiciary, and not only has Kavanaugh been a loyal White House aide since 2001 -- but two summers ago, the Bushes attended Kavanaugh's wedding to Ashley Estes, then Bush's personal secretary.

Here's the transcript of yesterday's event.

Bush: "I'm especially pleased to be with Brett's wife, Ashley -- (laughter) -- whose face I know well and whose marriage was the first lifetime appointment I arranged for Brett. (Laughter and applause.)"

Bush's delight in the appointment was obvious. "Today, a court that is often considered the second-highest in our land gains a brilliant and talented new member. The staff of the White House celebrates a friend they admire and a colleague they will miss."

Kavanaugh, who spoke at some length, did not shy away from his most controversial credential: "I've benefited as a lawyer and as a person from my work for Judge Starr, who has always combined devotion to the rule of law with great personal decency," he said.

These wire photos show how everyone was all smiles -- even Vice President Cheney .

Iranian Reversal

After years of mocking anyone who suggested that Iran should be in any way rewarded for its nuclear program, the Bush administration has executed a stunning foreign policy turnaround.

But the question is: Does it reflect sincere, pragmatic multilateralism -- or is it just posturing?

First, the administration offered to join European talks with Iran if the Iranian government suspends efforts to enrich uranium and reprocess spent nuclear fuel. Then the administration joined in an offer to Iran that is long on rewards, and vague on punishments.

Does this mean that a military attack is off the table -- at least for now? Would Bush's neoconservative advisers -- think Cheney -- actually be satisfied if Iran gave up its nuclear-bomb ambitions, or do they still want nothing less than regime change?

And wasn't this a flip-flop? Why isn't anyone calling it that?

Glenn Kessler writes in The Washington Post: "The United States and five other major world powers agreed Thursday to offer Iran a broad new collection of rewards if it halts its drive to master nuclear technology, but they threatened 'further steps in the Security Council' if Iran refuses. . . .

"Although details of the five- to six-page document agreed to in Vienna were not announced, incentives discussed before the meeting included an international effort to assist Iran's nuclear industry, including construction of a light-water reactor and guarantees of a long-term supply of fuel. That would represent a significant shift from the Bush administration's past insistence that Iran has no need for nuclear power. Increased trade and investment have also been discussed."

Thom Shanker and Elaine Sciolino write in the New York Times: "The Americans are still resisting formulas giving Iran security guarantees that it would not be the target of a military attack. The Europeans say that without such assurances, Iran will proceed with the pursuit of a nuclear weapons program despite its longstanding denials that it has that intention."

Bush made remarks on Iran yesterday morning, saying that "the choice is up to the Iranians whether or not they're going to listen to the world demand, and if they do, we've got something to talk to them about."

The BBC reports: "Iran is determined to have a nuclear weapon and could possess one within 10 years, according to the top US intelligence chief.

"Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte told BBC Radio's Today programme Tehran could have a nuclear bomb ready between 2010 and 2015. . . .

"He accused Iran of being the world's top state sponsor of terrorism.

" 'Their behaviour has been a cause of concern not only in Lebanon and Israel and in the Palestinian territories but in Iraq,' Mr Negroponte said."

Here is audio of the Negroponte interview.

Blogger Steve Benen writes: "Bush isn't getting nearly enough flack today for a world-class flip-flop." And he has a theory why.

"It's the funny thing about flip-flops. When someone (particularly Bush) goes from a bad policy to a better policy, even if they're mirror opposites, the political world seems so happy to see the White House come to its senses that it doesn't much matter when Bush, whose disdain for policy reversals is practically set in stone, does a complete U-turn."

Haditha and the White House

As news emerges about the atrocities apparently committed by troops in Haditha and possibly elsewhere, Bush may find himself confronting some grim questions.

As with Abu Ghraib, Bush is already implying that, at worst, this sort of barbarism is the act of a few bad apples. But how much of it, either directly or indirectly, can be traced to Bush's decisions about Iraq?

And then there's the perennial question: What did he know and when did he know it?

Jennifer Loven writes for the Associated Press: "It took nearly a month for President Bush to be told that the military was investigating reports that Marines murdered unarmed civilians in Iraq, the White House said Thursday.

"Earlier this week, Bush aides said the president was briefed 'soon after' the opening of the probe."

It turns out this may not be an isolated problem, either.

Richard A. Oppel Jr. writes in the New York Times: "Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki lashed out at the American military on Thursday, denouncing what he characterized as habitual attacks by troops against Iraqi civilians."

And Thomas L. Friedman writes in his New York Times opinion column (subscription required): "The report that U.S. marines were involved in a massacre of Iraqis in Haditha -- which the Pentagon needs to clarify fast -- is a tragic reminder that a foreign occupation by U.S. forces can't go on for years. Most U.S. soldiers in Iraq have done heroic work, but occupations that drag on inevitably lead to Hadithas."

Immigration Watch

Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the New York Times: "Beginning a public relations offensive intended to prod divided Congressional Republicans into overhauling the nation's immigration laws, President Bush rebuked conservative opponents of his plan on Thursday and warned that there is 'no excuse' for delay. . . .

"Next week, the president will take his case for what he calls 'comprehensive immigration reform' on the road, with appearances in New Mexico and Nebraska."

But the unofficial spokesman for immigration hardliners, Lou Dobbs , did not appear sold on his CNN show: "Tonight, President Bush, with the full support of corporate America and special interests, has launched a major new campaign trying to sell his amnesty program for millions of illegal aliens. He's demanding that the House of Representatives bend to the will of the Senate and, of course, to the wishes of the president."

Meanwhile, in California, Peter Nicholas writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Despite some misgivings, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Thursday he would send 1,000 National Guard troops to the Mexican border as part of President Bush's plan to curb illegal immigration. . . .

"Stints at the border would last from six months to a year -- reflecting Schwarzenegger's conviction that Bush's plan to rotate troops in and out every two weeks made little sense."

No Retreat

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is apparently not getting pressured by his bosses to revisit his decision to cut counterterrorism money for New York City and the Washington area in favor of places like Omaha and Louisville.

James Gordon Meek writes in the New York Daily News: "Chertoff was defiant yesterday despite a blistering onslaught of criticism. . . .

" 'I'd be a pretty bad secretary if I said, "Wow, I got attacked, I'm going to change the grants formula,"' Chertoff said after huddling with President Bush and White House political adviser Karl Rove."

Did Bush Steal the Election?

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. writes in Rolling Stone that there's plenty of evidence that the 2004 election was stolen.

Every election has some anomalies, Kennedy writes. "But what is most anomalous about the irregularities in 2004 was their decidedly partisan bent: Almost without exception they hurt John Kerry and benefited George Bush. After carefully examining the evidence, I've become convinced that the president's party mounted a massive, coordinated campaign to subvert the will of the people in 2004. Across the country, Republican election officials and party stalwarts employed a wide range of illegal and unethical tactics to fix the election. A review of the available data reveals that in Ohio alone, at least 357,000 voters, the overwhelming majority of them Democratic, were prevented from casting ballots or did not have their votes counted in 2004 -- more than enough to shift the results of an election decided by 118,601 votes. In what may be the single most astounding fact from the election, one in every four Ohio citizens who registered to vote in 2004 showed up at the polls only to discover that they were not listed on the rolls, thanks to GOP efforts to stem the unprecedented flood of Democrats eager to cast ballots. And that doesn't even take into account the troubling evidence of outright fraud, which indicates that upwards of 80,000 votes for Kerry were counted instead for Bush. That alone is a swing of more than 160,000 votes -- enough to have put John Kerry in the White House."

As Kennedy notes, the mainstream media quickly wrote off such allegations as conspiracy theory.

Paulson Watch

So Henry Paulson reportedly demanded that he be treated as a major player in return for gracing the Bush administration as its Treasury Secretary.

As Deborah Solomon wrote in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday (subscription required): "Among other things, the 60-year-old Mr. Paulson, according to a person close to him, has been assured that he will rank with the secretaries of defense and state in the Bush inner circle and that the White House National Economic Council, headed by Mr. Bush's business-school classmate Allan Hubbard, will hold some of its meetings in the Treasury building and that Vice President Dick Cheney will attend some of them. If they materialize, those would be significant changes for a White House that has tightly held the power to make economic policy, essentially turning the Treasury secretary into a salesman for tax cuts, the centerpiece of its economic strategy."

But we'll just have to wait and see how that turns out.

Caroline Baum writes in her Bloomberg opinion column: "Even if you accept at face value that Paulson will be a key member of Bush's economic team, you still have to define the team's agenda. With midterm elections in November and the only priority to retain control of Congress, any initiative that loses the GOP a single vote is dead on arrival. Neither Paulson nor anyone else is going to resurrect Bush's dead domestic agenda of Social Security and tax reform now.

"Karl Rove didn't cede his policy advisory role to focus on politics because he lost interest in delivering the religious right's agenda. The reason Bush's top political adviser divested himself of the policy job is that if Republicans lose their congressional majority, the last two years of Bush's second term will be devoted to a series of investigations and possible impeachment that will make a lame duck look like a roast pheasant."

And New York Times columnist Paul Krugman writes an open letter to Paulson (subscription required): "The fact is that you'll be treated well as long as you are perceived as someone who adds credibility with people outside the administration, and not a moment longer. Yet I'm sure you're already under pressure to say things that will fatally undermine your credibility."

Nice Loophole

Jessica Holzer writes for Forbes that Paulson, with his $700 million equity stake in Goldman Sachs, will "have the chance to diversify a good chunk of those holdings without paying a dime to the Internal Revenue Service.

"By accepting the Treasury post, Paulson is poised to take advantage of a tax loophole that allows government officials to defer capital gains taxes on assets they have to sell to avoid a conflict of interest, as long as the proceeds are reinvested in government securities or a broad array of mutual funds approved by the government within 60 days. . . .

"The tax break was designed to ensure that the wealthy are not deterred from taking posts in government because they fear a big tax hit. But it amounts to a significant perk of public office."

Safavian Watch

Michael J. Sniffen writes for the Associated Press: "Bush administration executive David Safavian told a Senate investigator last year he accepted free travel from lobbyist Jack Abramoff for a golf trip to Scotland but claimed later he had paid his share of the chartered jet flight, the congressional aide testified Thursday."

And yes: "By 2004, Safavian was in a White House agency as chief federal procurement officer." So those conversations took place when he was on the White House payroll.

Bubble Watch

From the transcript of yesterday's press briefing with Tony Snow:

" Q Tony, on immigration, the President spoke to the Chamber of Commerce today, obviously. A couple of weeks ago, he spoke to a restaurant trade group, as well, and these are people who already support him on the guest worker program. When do you think he'll start talking to conservative audiences that don't want a guest worker program? When will he talk to them to try to convert them to his position?

" MR. SNOW: I think the President -- when you speak to the entire nation, you speak to liberals and conservatives, you speak to everybody. And furthermore, even when you speak to the Chamber of Commerce, as you know, Ed, thanks to your good offices and others, that message does get broadcast around the country. . . .

"The President also feels deeply about this issue. He has real-life experience. He lived it as governor of Texas. He understands the problem. And I expect him to be dealing vigorously, sometimes in front of cameras, sometimes not, with people of all views. But I think as President of the United States, the most important thing to do right now is, A, to educate -- things -- is, A, to educate the American people about the plan, but also try to explain how, in fact, it reflects the widely shared views and attitudes of a lot of American people."

So now it's official: Snow expects Bush to deal vigorously with people of all views. Stay tuned.

Happy Honeymoon

From the transcript yesterday:

"Q Happy birthday.

"MR. SNOW: Thank you.

"(The press all sing 'Happy Birthday' to Tony.)"

Rove Watch

John Cochran writes for ABC News about all the anticipation regarding what special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald will do next.

"Those old enough to remember Watergate will recall the fiercely hot summer of '74, when scandal revelations brought down Richard Nixon's presidency.

"Now Washington waits to see what this summer holds for the Bush White House. No one believes the scandal will approach the grand scale of Watergate, but when it hits it will certainly qualify as breaking news. . . .

"Past forecasts of a timetable for Fitzgerald's decision have proved wrong. What is the new forecast? We asked a lawyer who was at one time involved in the case and who does not want to make predictions with his name attached.

" 'Soon,' he said, 'Fitzgerald can't delay this much longer.'

"What does soon mean, we asked.

" 'Oh,' he said, 'one hot day when you least expect it.' "

Here, for good measure, is the 10-day White House weather forecast .

Froomkin on the Radio

I'll be on Washington Post Radio today around 2:20 p.m. ET.

Cartoon Watch

Tom Toles on Bush's second thoughts; Tony Auth on Bush, the Movie; Ann Telnaes on a new ribbon; and more from Slate .

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