Good News, Bad News

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Thursday, April 1, 2004; 10:49 AM

The prospect of national security adviser Condoleezza Rice's public testimony before the 9/11 commission next week has all of Washington asking who benefits politically.

Depending on what you read, it's good for the Democrats or it's good for the Republicans. It's the best thing that could have happened to the White House or it's the worst thing that could have happened to the White House.

Bob Kemper writes from the Chicago Tribune's Washington bureau: "Democrats have been particularly gleeful that Rice will have to explain the administration's inconsistencies in public -- and that Bush was forced by political pressures to reverse course on Tuesday and allow her to appear publicly and under oath."

Bill Sammon writes in the Washington Times: "Republicans are pleased that National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will testify about September 11 because it keeps the presidential campaign focused on national security -- President Bush's strong suit."

Mark Goldblatt writes in the National Review: "Now the liberals will get their wish: Dr. Rice will tell her side of the story, under oath, in public. And with the suspense that's already gathering around her appearance, it will be a hit. The rest of the nation will soon discover what careful observers of the Bush's inner circle already know: Rice is the most poised, articulate, and convincing speaker in the entire administration. She will mop up the floor with Clarke. . . .

"Not only will Rice make short work of Clarke, she will emerge from the hearing with conservatives flinging themselves at her feet, begging her to run for president in 2008. (There's already a website devoted to her potential candidacy even though she's said, on multiple occasions, she has no interest in the office.) And it would serve liberals right if she did decide to run, for Rice would be their worst nightmare. She would win the women's vote outright, peel away half the black vote, and set back the Democratic party for a generation.

"But that's not the kind of thing liberals concern themselves with. Right now, they got her to testify. They stuck it to Bush."

In an opinion column, The Washington Post's David S. Broder writes that Bush "threw Rice to the commission. And, worse, he failed to do what he could have done long before: Offer the American people and the world a clear, coherent and detailed account of his own activities and state of mind in the months leading up to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"Instead of acting as the man in charge and saying to the commission, 'No, you may not put my national security adviser on the mat, but I will answer to the public for what happened,' he did just the opposite. He gave up Rice and then turned on his heel and walked out of the briefing room even as reporters were trying to ask him questions.

"At a time when the American people -- and the world -- desperately need reassurance that the government was not asleep at the switch, Bush has clenched his jaw and said nothing that would ease those concerns. Instead, he has arranged that when he answers the commission's questions in a yet-to-be-scheduled private session, he will not face it alone. He and Vice President Cheney will appear together. It will be interesting to learn who furnishes most of the answers."

Poll Watch

The latest poll numbers suggest a certain ambivalence all across the country.

Ronald Brownstein writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Most Americans accept Richard Clarke's key criticisms of President Bush's anti-terrorism record, but a majority also thinks that politics influenced the timing of the charges by the former White House aide, a Los Angeles Times poll has found.

"Nearly three-fifths of those surveyed echoed the contention by Clarke that Bush placed a higher priority on invading Iraq than combating terrorism. And a smaller majority agreed with the charge by the onetime White House counterterrorism chief that Bush did not focus enough on the terrorist threat before the Sept. 11 attacks."

Brownstein says that overall, "the poll suggests the controversy has not significantly changed the dynamics propelling the country toward another close presidential race."

Here is a graphic showing some results, and a PDF document with lots of poll data.

Commission Watch

Philip Shenon and Douglas Jehl write in the New York Times: "The staff of the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks is conducting a detailed review of all discrepancies found in public and private statements by Condoleezza Rice and Richard A. Clarke in drawing up questions for Ms. Rice when she testifies before the panel, probably next week, commission officials said Wednesday."

Ron Hutcheson of Knight Ridder Newspapers casts a skeptical glance at the arrangement whereby Bush and Cheney will meet with the commission side by side.

"President Bush's plan to appear before the Sept. 11 commission with Vice President Dick Cheney at his side violates a fundamental rule of investigations, but the panel accepted the unusual arrangement to get the president's cooperation.

"As anyone who has ever watched a cop show knows, witnesses and suspects are best grilled alone to expose any inconsistencies in their stories."

Dana Milbank and Dan Eggen write in The Washington Post: "President Bush's top lawyer placed a telephone call to at least one of the Republican members of the Sept. 11 commission when the panel was gathered in Washington on March 24 to hear the testimony of former White House counterterrorism chief Richard A. Clarke, according to people with direct knowledge of the call."

In the New York Times, Sheryl Gay Stolberg profiles "the Jersey girls," four women from the suburbs who are "gaining prominence as savvy World Trade Center widows who came to Washington, as part of a core group of politically active relatives of Sept. 11 victims, and prodded Congress and a recalcitrant White House to create the panel that this week brought official Washington to its knees."

Says one: "The Internet has been our fifth widow."

Robin Wright has the talker of the day in The Washington Post: "On Sept. 11, 2001, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice was scheduled to outline a Bush administration policy that would address 'the threats and problems of today and the day after, not the world of yesterday' -- but the focus was largely on missile defense, not terrorism from Islamic radicals. . . .

"The text of Rice's Sept. 11 speech, which was never delivered, broadly reflects Bush administration foreign policy pronouncements during the eight months leading to the attacks, according to a review of speeches, news conferences and media appearances. Although the administration did address terrorism, it devoted far more attention to pushing missile defense, a controversial idea both at home and abroad, the review shows. . . .

"A review of major public pronouncements in the first eight months of 2001 found relatively few extensive statements by Bush, Vice President Cheney or Rice about al Qaeda, bin Laden or other Islamic extremist groups."

Here are excerpts from the speech Rice was scheduled to give on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, and the speech she gave in its stead, in April 2002.

Washington Post columnist Tina Brown writes that "The best thing about Richard Clarke's testimony was that we were finally shocked by something important instead of pretending to be shocked by something ridiculous. . . . This was a reality show, but it was also reality."

She predicts: "The Condi Rice hearings will supplant Clarke in sex appeal. The new story line of 'Bush's best girl in trouble' has too much of a sweeps week flavor not to win the next round. No one really wants to focus on the most uncomfortable part of what Clarke had to say at the hearings: that all the sacrifices of the war in Iraq have made the world less safe."

The Bored Boy and the President

Okay, how about some comic relief?

Lisa de Moraes writes in The Washington Post's TV column today about the fallout from a "Late Show With David Letterman" segment that showed President Bush giving a speech in Florida while a boy standing in the background was "yawning uncontrollably, twisting his head from side to side, checking his watch and otherwise looking pretty thoroughly bored, while the other people serving as background ignored him."

CNN showed the clip yesterday too. But right after a commercial break, CNN host Daryn Kagan told viewers: "All right -- had a good giggle before the break, that video was from David Letterman. We're being told by the White House that the kid, as funny as he was, was edited into that video, which would explain why the people around him weren't really reacting. So, that from the White House."

CNN later acknowledged that it had been incorrect in attributing the suggestion of video-doctoring to the White House.

Here's a picture from the video (if anyone can find the video on the Web, e-mail

Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell has more from the local angle. The video, he writes, "was a hoot -- to everyone except the boy's father: Orange County Chairman Rich Crotty.

"Yes, that was Orange County's first son, Tyler, who was having trouble staying awake as the president spoke inside the Orange County Convention Center, promising to lead the country back into prosperity as he kicked off his re-election campaign."

The elder Crotty tells Maxwell: "I accept full responsibility for that. . . . His mother was out of town, and I let him stay up too late. I should have prepped him better."

Here's even more from the Letterman team's Late Show Home Office.

The Bush speech was on March 19. Here's the full text.

The Cheney Girls

Susan Baer writes in the Baltimore Sun that the vice president's two grown daughters are "putting aside their careers to devote themselves to their father's political success -- Elizabeth Cheney, 37, traveling the country giving speeches for the Bush-Cheney re-election team; Mary Cheney, 35, overseeing her father's vice presidential run. . . .

"Mary Cheney, who as head of her father's campaign team earns an after-tax paycheck of $2,776 every two weeks, has tried to stay out of policy debates. But once the president called for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, gay leaders seized upon Mary, a lesbian who has worked on outreach to gays and lesbians, posting open letters to her on a Web site pressing her to speak out against such a ban.

"It's not something she is likely to do. Cautious in her actions and loyal to her father, Mary, who recently earned an MBA from the University of Denver, stays behind the scenes and generally does not talk to the press on any subject, least of all gay marriage.

"'It's difficult to have your personal life be something that people are exploiting,' her sister, Liz, says in an interview. . . . Liz would not describe her sister's position on the issue, but she says Mary has discussed the topic with her father."

Executive Privilege Watch

So you thought you'd heard the last of "executive privilege" -- at least for a while? Think again.

Knight-Ridder Newspaper's Tony Pugh reports: "Citing executive privilege, the White House refused to allow President Bush's chief health-policy adviser, Douglas Badger, to testify Thursday before the House Ways and Means Committee about early administration estimates that the new Medicare prescription-drug benefit would be far more costly than many lawmakers believed when they voted for it. . . .

"Several Ways and Means Committee members wanted to know whether Badger suppressed or passed on to senior Bush administration officials figures he obtained in early June indicating that the drug benefit might cost more than $500 billion in its first 10 years."

Who is Douglas Badger? Last year, Jeff Tieman of Modern Healthcare, the healthcare business newsweekly, wrote this profile of Badger, who is special assistant to the president for economic policy.

Today's Calendar

Jennifer Loven writes on the Associated Press wire: "President Bush, eager to hand another victory to the social conservatives who make up his most loyal base of political support, decided on an elaborate ceremony to sign into law legislation expanding legal rights of the unborn."

Bush will sign the bill in the Rose Garden today.

He'll also participate in a celebration of Greek Independence Day. He and the first lady will later attend a National Republican Congressional Committee dinner.

April Fools

Richard Leiby writes in The Washington Post that "visitors to Planned Parenthood's site will find what looks like the White House's Web page, but with headlines like "President Creates New Department of Wombland Security" and "Scientists Discover Right to Life on Mars." The organization says it's pranking the administration on April Fool's Day for using its trademark slogan, "Responsible Choices," as part of a sexual abstinence initiative.

Karen Hughes Watch

Bush adviser extraordinaire Karen Hughes was in New York on Tuesday, and has a book party tonight at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington.

Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times writes: "Ms. Hughes, in a new memoir and in an interview on Tuesday in Midtown Manhattan, made clear that things were not quite so smooth. The president, her adored boss, could be impatient and short tempered. She and Karl Rove, the powerful political adviser, had arguments. And she and the White House were slow to react to Democratic accusations that the president shirked some of his National Guard duty in the 1970's.

"'There are comments that there's not enough disagreement in the White House,' Ms. Hughes said, cheerfully as ever, over a lunch of chicken livers. 'Well, there's plenty of argument. There are plenty of disagreements.'"

Hubbard Makes Good

Jonathan D. Glater reports in the New York Times that "R. Glenn Hubbard, the former chairman of President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers and a professor at the Columbia Business School, is expected to be named dean of the school today, university officials said."

About Those Movie Rights. . . .

Byron York of the National Review writes: "Former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke is sidestepping questions about reports he is in negotiations for a movie based on his new anti-Bush book, Against All Enemies."

Responding to OPEC

The Associated Press's H. Josef Hebert writes about the re-emerging issue of energy policy:

"The White House renewed its call Wednesday for Congress to act amid growing concern that high energy costs and the specter of an invincible OPEC could hurt President Bush's re-election bid.

"When asked how the president intended to deal with the rising gasoline prices and OPEC's tightening of the oil spigot, White House spokesman Scott McClellan repeated a single theme: Get Congress to pass energy legislation."

Scott Lindlaw reports for the Associated Press: "White House officials urged Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates to try to reverse OPEC's decision Wednesday to reduce oil production, a move sure to drive up gas prices and intensify a volatile election-year issue. Both countries already had opposed the production cut."

Here's yesterday's press briefing.

The News From Iraq

Mike Allen and Paul Farhi write in The Washington Post: "After yesterday's brutal attacks on American civilians in Iraq, President Bush and his aides insisted progress continues there and vowed not to back away, as the United States did after grisly images of U.S. soldiers emerged from Somalia in 1993."

Opening Pitches

Jon Sawyer of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes: "President George W. Bush made it official himself, telling a roomful of baseball Hall of Famers at a White House luncheon Wednesday that he plans to throw out the first pitch at the Cardinals' opening game Monday. . . .

"Confessing that 'my arm is a little sore,' Bush said he had sought out advice from one of the luncheon guests, knuckleball specialist Phil Niekro, who won 318 games for the Atlanta Braves and other teams with the help of a devilishly fluttering delivery.

"'I was talking to Phil Niekro coming in,' Bush said, 'getting suggestions on how to throw a knuckler.'

Here are Bush's remarks.

The Cincinnati Enquirer, meanwhile, notes that Cheney will throw out the first pitch at the Cincinnati Reds' opener on Monday.

The actual season opener is on Sunday in Baltimore. But Maryland is not a swing state.

Missouri and Ohio are -- big time.

© 2004