First Family Tapped for Duty

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Wednesday, May 19, 2004; 10:57 AM

When the going gets tough -- is it time to roll out the wife and kids?

This week marks Laura Bush's official coming-out onto the campaign trail. And the twins aren't far behind.

The Bush-Cheney campaign denies that Laura Bush's first outing is a sign of desperation, or that the first lady is a "secret weapon." But just as President Bush's approval ratings have been sinking into dangerous territory, the first lady has emerged both on the trail and on the Internet, where she is heavily featured in an ad campaign.

In today's Washington Post Style section, Ann Gerhart, who has written a biography of Mrs. Bush, describes the first lady's first solo rally of the campaign in Las Vegas on Tuesday.

"Tuesday, Laura Bush emerged on the stump as the most intimate observer of the very qualities that are her husband's strongest positives for his supporters -- his steady resolve in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, and his war against terror, even as, back in Washington, his administration struggles against the sense that the Iraqi occupation might be lurching toward failure," Gerhart wrote.

Erin Neff writes in the Las Vegas Review-Journal that Mrs. Bush avoided partisan comments. Not so the man who introduced her, entertainer Wayne Newton.

"He told a lengthy joke about surgeons bragging about their prowess at reconstructive surgery. He cited a doctor who performed surgery on a man who had been riding a horse hit by a train, leaving only the 'horse's butt and the man's mouth.'

"'I'm proud to say that man is running for the presidency of the United States as a Democrat,' he said as the crowd roared."

Here's the text of Mrs. Bush's remarks.

Here's the "Webmercial" put out by the Bush-Cheney campaign, at

Here are excerpts from Gerhart's book, "The Perfect Wife: The Life and Choices of Laura Bush." In chapter one, on the Simon & Schuster Web site, Gerhart describes the car accident in which Laura Bush, then 17 and living in Midland, Tex., tragically and accidentally killed a classmate. In this excerpt, which appeared in The Post, Gerhart writes about the Bush twins, often surly and disobedient, and their mother's indulgence.

In February, Bush told Katie Couric on the "Today" show: "I'm not wild about . . . being called first lady."

Today, she visits a Portland, Ore., elementary school for a discussion on education then holds a media availability. Later tonight, she appears on NBC's "Tonight Show with Jay Leno."

Thursday, it's off to Albuquerque, for another school visit and a Republican fundraising lunch.

What About the Twins?

Are the twins the next big draw?

Reuters reports that Laura Bush said yesterday that Jenna and Barbara will work for their father's reelection campaign after they graduate from college this month.

"She said they would probably work at campaign headquarters in the Washington suburbs but may go out a bit and campaign for their father, 'if they have the confidence,'" Reuters reported.

Mom and dad aren't attending either daughter's graduations, but will fly in to Austin and New Haven for graduation parties.

Preparing for Disaster

Paul Bedard, in his Washington Whispers column in U.S. News, says White House officials are assuming there will be a terrorist attack on Washington before the election. "Unclear is the political impact, though most Bushies think the nation would rally around the president," Bedard writes.

Possibly mindful of the Spanish Exception -- where Spaniards voted out hawkish former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar after a terrorist attack -- Bush had a private meeting with Aznar yesterday, AFP reports.

Preparing for the Apocalypse?

Speaking of visions of destruction, does the president think we're in the End Times? Because Howard Fineman writes in Newsweek that he and Tim LaHaye, co-author of the "Left Behind" series of apocalyptic Christian novels, go way back.

Is Wall Street Turning on Bush?

Jackie Calmes writes in the Wall Street Journal that "as Texas governor and president, Mr. Bush has prided himself on a decisive management style that generally has served him well. Since he took office, for instance, the White House hasn't been marred by the public spats and leaks so common during the Clinton era, or his father's.

"But the unfolding Iraqi prisoner-abuse scandal is giving new life to questions that critics -- and even some Bush admirers -- have harbored about whether the first president with a master's in business administration relies too much on like-minded advisers, too readily equates dissent with disloyalty and is too averse to admitting mistakes."

Calmes writes: "The current mess calls to mind another episode that undercut a president's leadership aura: Ronald Reagan's Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal. That broke just after Fortune magazine ran a portrait of Mr. Reagan on its cover with the headline: 'What Managers Can Learn from Manager Reagan.'

"Later, the magazine revised its view, with an article headline 'Learning From Reagan's Debacle.'"

On Fox News, Neil Cavuto asks: "Have the stock guys indicated they've given up on commander in chief guy? James Glassman says yes . . . but columnist for Gary B. Smith disagrees."

He's Back

Nell Henderson writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush yesterday nominated Alan Greenspan to serve a fifth term as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, providing financial markets with a source of stability at a time of economic transition. . . .

"Some of the jitters about Greenspan's prospects this year arose from memories of how some in the first Bush White House blamed the Fed chairman for not cutting interest rates quickly enough in response to the 1990-91 recession, which they believe helped cost that president the 1992 election.

"The elder Bush once said of Greenspan, 'I reappointed him and he disappointed me.'"

During his confirmation hearings, Greenspan will undoubtedly get grilled about why, according to Ron Suskind's book, "The Price of Loyalty," he kept his concerns about Bush's tax cuts private, while publicly supporting them. Greenspan will also undoubtedly survive the grilling.

Here's a photo of Bush meeting with Greenspan yesterday in the Oval Office.

AIPAC Love Fest

Dana Milbank and Glenn Kessler write in The Washington Post: "President Bush told the nation's pro-Israel lobby yesterday that the Jewish state 'has every right to defend itself from terror,' as the administration softened its opposition to an Israeli incursion into Gaza that has killed a score of Palestinians.

"The president, whose speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was interrupted 67 times by applause and chants of 'Four more years,' delivered mild criticism of Israel's actions in Gaza."

Of course, people who depend on the U.S. government tend to passionately support the incumbent. Period. And if the incumbent loses, well, there's a new incumbent.

As Milbank and Kessler write: "An AIPAC spokesman said the group is nonpartisan and pointed out that President Bill Clinton received a similar reception and chant of 'Four more years' during his first term."

That reminded me of something the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, told CNN's Larry King last month, when King had Bob Woodward on. "We always want any president who is in office to be reelected, Larry," said the prince.

Maura Reynolds and Peter Wallsten write in the Los Angeles Times about the steps Bush has taken to woo Jewish voters. For instance, they write, "Jewish leaders have had extraordinary access to the president, who hosted White House meetings 'a bunch' of times with groups of rabbis and other Jewish officials, according to a senior administration official. By contrast, Bush has yet to meet with bishops from the United Methodist church -- the president's own denomination -- who have requested a visit since he took office."

Here's the text and video of Bush's speech.

No More Recess Appointments

Helen Dewar writes in The Washington Post: "The White House pledged yesterday that President Bush will not bypass the Senate in appointing federal judges for the next eight months as part of a bipartisan deal to break a seven-week impasse over votes on Bush's judicial nominees.

"Under the agreement, Bush will not use his constitutional power to give temporary appointments to judicial nominees during congressional recesses for the rest of his current term ending Jan. 20 -- a power he exercised twice in recent months, infuriating Democrats.

"In return, Democrats, who had been holding up action on all of Bush's judicial choices since March to protest the recess appointments, agreed to allow votes on 25 mostly noncontroversial nominations to district and appeals court posts over the next several weeks."

Neil A. Lewis in the New York Times writes that "one side seemed more satisfied than the other. Senator Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat who has been deeply engaged in the judicial wars, said, 'The White House waved the white flag here.'"

Lewis writes that Democrats are continuing to "block seven candidates they have deemed extreme ideologues."

That list includes White House staff secretary Brett Kavanaugh, who was formerly associate counsel at the White House -- and a major player in selecting Bush's often controversial judicial nominees.

Geoff Earle writes in The Hill: "The talks on the recent deal involved several key players, but much of the bargaining took place between Mark Childress, a top Daschle aide, and David Hobbs, Bush's chief congressional liaison. As the talks progressed, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales became involved."

Gas Watch

Jodi Wilgoren and David E. Rosenbaum strike a note of caution in their story about how Sen. John F. Kerry and others are pushing Bush to act on gas prices.

"It is a common tactic for a White House challenger to blame the incumbent for high gas prices, but it can be risky, especially because gas prices tend to rise in the summer and then drop before the November elections. The current price is a record in relative terms, but when inflation is taken into account, gasoline is cheaper than it was in 1981, when prices peaked at just under $3 a gallon in 2004 dollars.

"Still, gas prices are a pocketbook issue, and polls show they are a concern across the country."

Cheney Oil Predictions Off

Bloomberg writes: "Iraq's daily oil output in the year since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein has fallen as much as a million barrels short of the 3 million barrels that U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney predicted.

"Cheney, who for five years headed Houston-based Halliburton Co., the largest oilfield services provider, said in April 2003 that Iraq should be able to produce 2.5 million to 3 million barrels a day 'hopefully by the end of the year.' Iraq in December pumped 1.98 million barrels a day, based on Bloomberg data. The highest output since the war started was 2.38 million barrels a day in March, or 4 percent below pre-war levels."

Asked, Not Answered

Say what you want about press secretary Scott McClellan, he certainly is predictable.

Case in point, the first exchange from yesterday's press briefing:

"Q Scott, accepting the fact that you're going to lay blame for the current high gasoline prices on the Democrats for not passing your energy bill three years ago, what levels do prices have to reach before the President determines that they are having a detrimental effect on the economy? Are we there yet, or does he believe that there's still room for prices to rise?

"MR. McCLELLAN: John, the President believes, like Americans do, the gas prices are too high. That's why we need a comprehensive energy plan, to address this problem that continues to come up every year. I think we've gone through this every year from this podium during this administration...."

And he didn't answer the question.

Highway Bill Watch

Peronet Despeignes writes in USA Today with an update on the huge highway bill now stalled in Congress and writes that "congressional Republicans' plans are vigorously opposed by another Republican: President Bush.

"The White House, eager to enhance its credibility on budget issues as the federal deficit approaches a record $500 billion this year, is threatening to veto any highway bill that exceeds $256 billion as part of its pledge to cut the deficit in half in five years."

Timken Watch

Howard Fineman writes for that the Timken Co.'s decision to close its three Canton, Ohio, plants could just cost Bush the presidency.

I wrote about Timken, and how Bush used the now-closing factory as a backdrop for a pep rally about the economy last year, in yesterday's column.

Fineman writes: "Is Karl Rove following the details? I'm sure."

The Defective Defector

Missed this yesterday. Jonathan S. Landay of Knight Ridder Newspapers writes: "The Bush administration helped rally public and congressional support for a preemptive invasion of Iraq by publicizing the claims of an Iraqi defector months after he showed deception in a lie detector test and had been rejected as unreliable by U.S. intelligence agencies.

"The White House used Adnan Ihsan Saeed al Haideri's claims in a background paper nine months after CIA and DIA officers had dismissed him as unreliable. . . .

"The paper was the administration's first major compendium of 'specific examples of how Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has systematically and continually violated 16 United Nations Security Council resolutions over the past decade.'"

As Landay notes, it's still here on the White House Web site.

Prison Abuse Watch

Douglas Jehl and Eric Schmitt write in the New York Times write that "Army officials in Iraq responded late last year to a Red Cross report of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison by trying to curtail the international agency's spot inspections of the prison, a senior Army officer who served in Iraq said Tuesday. . . .

"In an interview on Tuesday, the White House general counsel, Alberto R. Gonzales, said he had not been aware that the issue of whether the Red Cross should be allowed to conduct such inspections was a point of dispute. He added, however, that he might have had 'concerns' about allowing such inspections."

Election Year Twist

Robert Pear writes in the New York Times: "Like many of its predecessors, the Bush White House has used the machinery of government to promote the re-election of the president by awarding federal grants to strategically important states. But in a twist this election season, many administration officials are taking credit for spreading largess through programs that President Bush tried to eliminate or to cut sharply. . . .

"Whether they involve programs Mr. Bush supported or not, the grant announcements illustrate how the administration blends politics and policy, blurring the distinction between official business and campaign-related activities."

Today's Calendar

Bloomberg writes: "Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, meeting President George W. Bush today, plans to discuss the future of the U.S.-led operation in Iraq as support for the presence of Italian troops dwindles."

Bush also has a Cabinet meeting today, makes remarks to the NCAA winter sports champions, and goes to speak to the Sons of Italy Foundation gala at the Grand Hyatt tonight.

Political Cartoon Watch

Today's Tom Toles cartoon in The Washington Post showing Bush holding a leashed prisoner labeled "Iraq" is already causing a ruckus in the blogosphere. Instapundit points to blogger Michael Graham, who calls it "disgusting and outrageous."

© 2004