White House Tells All

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, August 2, 2004; 11:18 AM

Whatever happened to the reclusive, media-unfriendly White House?

After reading the last several days of press coverage -- particularly in Time and Newsweek -- I feel like I'm Karl Rove's cherished confidante.

The White House and the Bush-Cheney campaign are so eager to get their messages out right now that they've laid out their entire August battle plan -- and even doled out insidery tidbits.

Maybe it was those four long days in the umbra of the Democratic National Convention.

But there was no need to worry. Combine a media-friendly onslaught with a particularly scary terror warning and some imminent executive orders and almost all the headlines, once again, belong to Bush.

Bush's Braintrust and the Battle Plan

John F. Dickerson and Matthew Cooper write in Time: "The President's top aides had been BlackBerrying little darts to one another all through the address, and now they were on a conference call, comparing notes across a virtual war room. Bush confidante Karen Hughes in Texas said Kerry had come across as 'lecturing,' pointing his finger like a schoolmaster. In his Washington living room, Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, said Kerry's position on Iraq was a 'puzzlement,' a contradiction of his own votes. From suburban Maryland, White House communications director Dan Bartlett read an email an apolitical friend had sent him during the speech, saying he found Kerry's approach to terrorism unconvincing. . . .

"Some from Bush's inner sanctum did admit that Kerry had given a forceful speech. . . . Still, all the President's men saw openings in Kerry's address. For months they had lampooned him as a liberal and waffler. 'He painted a big target on himself,' Rove said later. '"Judge me by my record," he said. O.K., we will.'"

Of course, the official theme of August, as I wrote in Friday's column, is a little more cheerful and positive: "We have turned the corner, and we are not turning back."

Dickerson and Cooper explain: "Swing voters don't look backward, contends Matthew Dowd, Bush's chief strategist. 'They want to know what you are going to do with a next term.'"

They add: "The Bush team will seek to portray the new agenda as visionary, but even some Bush allies refer to it as small ball, a derisive phrase the President uses for the picayune."

Howard Fineman and Tamara Lipper write in Newsweek: "By the time John Kerry reported for duty at the Democratic convention in Boston at 2200 hours, the president was asleep in the White House. . . .

"But the president had retired early for a reason: to rise before dawn to hit the road and join the fray. . . .

Fineman and Lipper describe this scene: "In drafting a new stump speech oriented to domestic issues, Bush reminded his aides, 'I'm not a professor,' as he urged them to simplify the language for his audience. To help do that he enlisted the speechwriting skills of his longtime values channeler, Karen Hughes. Hughes's mantra from 2000 -- that Bush, as a governor, was a 'reformer with results' -- has been updated to 'a record of results': tax cuts, an economy showing evidence of revival, the new (though shaky) governments in Afghanistan and Iraq."

Dan Balz and David S. Broder write in The Washington Post: "Bush advisers see August as a critical period in the presidential race and have adopted a strategy designed to suppress Kerry's post-convention bounce, shore up Bush's standing in the battlegrounds and come out of their convention at the beginning of September with the race even."

Adam Nagourney and Robin Toner write in the New York Times: "President Bush's campaign plans to use the normally quiet month of August for a vigorous drive to undercut John Kerry by turning attention away from his record in Vietnam to what the campaign described as an undistinguished and left-leaning record in the Senate.

"Mr. Bush's advisers plan to cap the month at the Republican convention in New York, which they said would feature Mr. Kerry as an object of humor and calculated derision. . . .

"'This gives us a chance to lay out an agenda, to tell people what he wants to do over the next four years,' said Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's senior political adviser. 'We need, as we go into the convention, to put more of an emphasis on our agenda. But we still need to explain the war on terror and we need to offer a contrast with Senator Kerry.'"

Linda Feldman writes in the Christian Science Monitor: "Lest there be any doubt, it is now clear that the 2004 presidential race will be relentlessly fought right through Election Day."

Jacob M. Schlesinger and Greg Hitt write in the Wall Street Journal that one thing Bush and Kerry have in common is the "collection of states they are targeting."

Ronald Brownstein, meanwhile, writes in his Los Angeles Times column that "the president will win a second term only if he can reverse the demand for change by restoring faith in his own leadership and direction.

"In that, Bush needs cooperation from events. He may also need a different focus."

Responding to the 9/11 Commission

Judy Keen and John Diamond write in USA Today: "President Bush plans today to begin implementing some of the recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission but will not completely embrace the panel's central proposal, creation of a national intelligence director based in the White House, according to administration officials with knowledge of the White House's deliberations. . . .

"White House officials refused to specify which recommendations Bush will implement today by executive order, but the immediate focus has been on measures such as reprogramming funding within agencies, which would not require new laws."

Dan Eggen and Walter Pincus wrote in The Washington Post on Saturday that the White House has raised objections to a central recommendation of the Sept. 11 commission, which argues that a single intelligence director should work out of the president's office to coordinate the war on terrorism.

"At the White House, where officials are formulating their own package of reform proposals, a senior official, speaking on background to reporters, indicated that the administration will oppose any such arrangement. The official said Bush 'wants to protect intelligence agencies from any undue influence' and 'ensure that intelligence analysts maintain their autonomy.' "

Here's the text of a background briefing by that senior administration official. The official said: "I'm sort of staggered at how quick people are to endorse wholesale the commission report without some considered reflection on it. That's what we're doing -- that doesn't mean we're not going to move fast. But I think it is fair to say that there are some very important potential consequences to the placement of the office. And so we're taking a hard look at it."

Today's Calendar

Bush's has a morning meeting with his cabinet at the White House then speaks in the Rose Garden at 11:20.

Vice President Cheney speaks at a rally for the troops at the U.S. Northern Command, at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, then attends a reception for Congressman Randy Neugabauer in Lubbock, Tex.

The Politics of Terror

Adam Nagourney and David M. Halbfinger write in the New York Times: "Campaign aides said they could not recall a contest fought against such an uncertain and unsettling backdrop since 1968, when Richard M. Nixon and Hubert H. Humphrey battled as an increasingly bloody war was being waged in Vietnam, polarizing Americans at home. . . .

"News of the terror threat on Sunday also stirred renewed suggestions from some Democrats that the White House was manipulating terror alerts for Mr. Bush's political gain. They said the alert had been issued just as Mr. Kerry emerged from a convention that was described by Republicans and Democrats as a success."

Valerie Plame Watch

Michael Isikoff and Eve Conant write in Newsweek: "Secretary of State Colin Powell recently testified before a federal grand jury investigating the leak of the identity of CIA covert officer Valerie Plame, Newsweek has learned. Powell's appearance on July 16 is the latest sign the probe being conducted by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is highly active and broader than has been publicly known. Sources close to the case say prosecutors were interested in discussions Powell had while with President George W. Bush on a trip to Africa in July 2003, just before Plame's identity was leaked to columnist Robert Novak."

On the Road

Mike Allen wrote in Sunday's Washington Post: "Bush has been appearing in front of almost uniformly supportive crowds, with his campaign or the White House carefully dispensing tickets as a tool for weeding out dissent. But there was no disguising or diverting the pain in Dover, once a flour- and steel-milling center, where Bush's eight-bus caravan passed by rain-soaked residents waving signs such as 'We Need Jobs' and 'Thanks for Stealing My Daddy's Pension.' . . .

"'The economy is strong, and it's getting stronger. It lags in places like eastern Ohio -- I know that,' Bush said at a rally in Canton, which has lost 12,000 jobs since Bush took office. 'I just traveled on the bus with workers who told me they are nervous about their future. They're concerned. I am, too. And, therefore, we must have a president who understands that, in order to keep jobs at home, America must be the best place to do business.'"

Judy Keen writes in USA Today: "Crowd reactions to President Bush's new campaign speech provide more evidence that his management of the war on terrorism is his best political asset. Audiences cheer louder and longer for his tough-on-terror lines than for criticism of Democratic nominee John Kerry or any other issue."

Mike Allen also wrote, in Saturday's Washington Post: "After spending the week of the Democratic National Convention at his Texas ranch, Bush set a ferocious pace that aides said will continue through Election Day.

"Bush used the phrase 'results matter' five time during his speech, delivered to a Republican audience so enthusiastic that several men joined the standing ovation by getting up on their rickety plastic chairs in the infield. Half a dozen times, as Bush worked through his plans and claims of achievement, he repeated a new mantra: 'We are turning the corner, and we're not turning back.'"

Democrats, including presidential nominee John F. Kerry, have enjoyed pointing out that the new mantra is reminiscent of President Herbert Hoover's famously inappropriate 1932 slogan, "Prosperity is just around the corner," from his doomed reelection campaign against Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

How did the Bush tour play on the networks? Here's David Gregory on NBC News.

Local coverage along the way was mostly ecstatic.

Steven Harmon writes in the Grand Rapids Press: "President Bush knew where to go for some love.

"Bush took in the warm embrace of Republican faithful in Grand Rapids on Friday and declared West Michigan central to his election campaign."

But David C. Kaminski writes in an unusual editor's note in the Canton Repository: "A visit from the president, or even the vice president, or even a presidential candidate, is a big news story. But it's not a news story at all if there is no news.

"Republicans provided nearly no news, and no promotion, for the president's visit Saturday to Canton. It's not clear to us whether they were particularly shy or only made to look that way by the White House. Nevertheless, their inability to tell us much of anything is why the president's visit got poorer advance coverage than Sen. John Kerry's visit in June."

Here are the texts of the latest round of campaign speeches.

Timken Revisited

Edwin Chen writes in the Los Angeles Times: "As he completed a two-day campaign swing with stops in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia on Saturday, President Bush engaged in an apparently unplanned conversation with 10 steelworkers whom he invited aboard his tour bus.

"Although details of the private give-and-take that occurred in Ohio on a stretch between Akron and Canton were sketchy, Bush apparently heard the workers speak of their personal anxieties about the economy that he regularly describes, as he did again Saturday, as strong and 'getting stronger.' . . .

"The workers who met with Bush on his bus are employees at Timken Co., a Fortune 500 company in Canton that makes alloy steel and bearings for such diverse things as computer disks and oil rigs."

Remember Timken?

Paul E. Kostyu writes in the Canton Repository that Bush said in an interview with four regional reporters that the workers displayed anxiety and said "they're not comfortable about the future."

"Although the manufacturing has rebounded in other parts of the country, the president said, Ohio took more of hit 'during the sort of transforming times that we have been through. It had a longer way to recover than other parts of the country.'"

James O'Toole of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was also in on the Bush interview.

He quoted Bush saying: "These are big crowds for early August . . . late July. These are coming-down-the-stretch type crowds, at least from my experience," he said. "It's exciting and one of the things I'm enthused about is the base is intact and alive and enthusiastic."

Poll Watch

The apparent lack of a significant bounce for Kerry coming out of the Democratic National Convention is good news for the Bush White House.

The latest Newsweek Poll shows Kerry leading Bush and Nader 49-42-3. The survey, conducted half on Thursday night and half on Friday, indicates that Kerry picked up the most support after he delivered his acceptance speech.

Meanwhile, Bush's approval ratings continue to slip. Forty-five percent say they approve of the job the president is doing vs. 49 percent who disapprove. Three weeks ago, Bush's approval rating was 48 percent; his high was 82 percent in the week after the September 11 attacks.

Susan Page writes in USA Today about the USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll taken Friday and Saturday that shows Bush leading Kerry 50-46 among likely voters. "The survey showed Kerry losing 1 percentage point and Bush gaining 4 percentage points from a poll taken the week before the Boston convention."

The complete poll results show Bush's approval rating back at his all-time low (in this poll) of 47 percent.

Cheney's Loyal Audience

Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post about the unusual step taken by the Republican National Committee last week in requiring supporters to sign an oath of loyalty before receiving tickets to Saturday's New Mexico rally featuring Cheney.

"RNC communications director Jim Dyke defended the practice on Friday. 'Maybe we should start having joint fundraisers with the DNC,' he mused. 'Please.'

"John F. Kerry's campaign has charged that the Bush campaign routinely screens attendees of Bush's speeches, and the Democrats say they do not impose loyalty requirements on crowds for their nominee's speeches."

Leslie Linthicum writes in the Albuquerque Journal about how it all turned out.

"The vice president, at the end of a four-day tour of the West, visited a school gym packed with supporters and was cheered on with shouts of 'four more years.' The cheers were bolstered by loud boos when he described the Democrats' agenda. . . .

"Cheney's speech was heard by a happy, homogeneous crowd by design. Republican organizers, who gave out about 2,000 tickets to the free event, tried to hand out passes only to registered Republicans or people who signed a pledge supporting Bush.

"The approach was designed to keep protesters from disrupting the rally, organizers said, and it worked. Cheney spoke without interruption, and critics of the Bush administration never got closer than a half-mile from the event. . . .

"At one point, he stopped his speech for a moment, grinned his famous, sly grin and said, 'I really like this crowd.'"

Meanwhile in Arizona

C.J. Karamargin writes in the Arizona Daily Star: "President Bush's re-election campaign insisted on knowing the race of an Arizona Daily Star journalist assigned to photograph Vice President Dick Cheney. . . .

"A rally organizer for the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign asked Teri Hayt, the Star's managing editor, to disclose the journalist's race on Friday. After Hayt refused, the organizer called back and said the journalist probably would be allowed to photograph the vice president. . . .

"Danny Diaz, a spokesman for the president's re-election campaign, said the information was needed for security purposes. . . .

"Diaz repeated that answer when asked if it is the practice of the White House to ask for racial information or if the photographer, Mamta Popat, was singled out because of her name. He referred those questions to the U.S. Secret Service, which did not respond to a call from the Star Friday afternoon. . . .

"Journalists covering the president or vice president must undergo a background check and are required to provide their name, date of birth and Social Security number."

Deficit Watch

Dana Milbank writes in Saturday's Washington Post: "The White House forecast yesterday that the U.S. budget deficit for this year will be a highest-ever $445 billion, lower than the administration previously predicted but nearly 20 percent larger than last year's record shortfall.

"President Bush's budget director, while calling the figure 'unwelcome,' said the new forecast for fiscal 2004 -- in line with recent congressional forecasts -- provides evidence that the economy is growing and tax receipts are recovering. The message echoed a new refrain in Bush's campaign speeches, voiced repeatedly yesterday in Missouri: 'We're turning the corner, and we're not turning back.'"

John D. McKinnon writes in the Wall Street Journal: "Federal revenue appears to be bouncing back after a puzzling multiyear tumble, allowing the Bush White House to shrink its estimate for this year's budget deficit just as the presidential campaign intensifies."

Recess Appointments

The Associated Press lists the 20 appointments Bush intends to make during the congressional recess, including the naming of a new chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, a manufacturing czar and three ambassadors. But no judges!

Bike Watch

Charles McGrath writes in the New York Times that Bush's choice of a mountain bike over a road bike suggests a high score on the "Sensation Seeking Scale."

Cocktail-Party Polling

John Tierney of the New York Times conducted an unscientific survey during a press party at the Democratic convention last week.

"When asked who would be a better president, the journalists from outside the Beltway picked Mr. Kerry 3 to 1, and the ones from Washington favored him 12 to 1."

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