Enter Cheney and Rove

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, March 18, 2004; 11:22 AM

After several weeks during which President Bush has been hacking away at his Democratic opponent with a fervor traditionally considered unseemly this early in a reelection campaign, there is a sign that he may be trying to return to a more decorous position above the political fray.

The sign? His enforcers are back on the scene.

The White House rolled out Dick Cheney yesterday to savage John Kerry's foreign policy. And Karl Rove is being heard from again.

First Rove

Scott Lindlaw of the Associated Press reports: "White House political chief Karl Rove said Wednesday that President Bush had just begun to demonstrate the kind of targeted, multi-front campaign he plans against Democratic rival John Kerry.

"Addressing a small group of conservative activists, Rove assured them that Bush planned a nimble campaign able to counterpunch even before Kerry opens his mouth."

Lindlaw says Rove "said the gay marriage issue is beginning to help Bush, because polls are starting to shift in Bush's direction, with more people opposed to same-sex unions. But Rove implored the activists to add their voices to Bush's call for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage to ensure that Bush is not perceived as standing alone on the issue.

"And he expressed irritation that some disgruntled Republicans in Congress and elsewhere have increasingly chosen to go to the news media to air their complaints, rather than bringing them directly to the White House."

There should be more tomorrow: Rove emerges again to headline a Bush-Cheney fundraiser tonight in Alexandria, sponsored by the Northern Virginia Republican Political Action Committee.

Now Cheney

John F. Harris and Mike Allen write in The Washington Post: "Vice President Cheney assailed the national security credentials of Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) yesterday, accusing President Bush's Democratic rival of leaving a years-long trail of contradictory statements and votes on Iraq that he said reveal a weak-willed politician who would be a dangerous choice as commander in chief."

Here's the full text of the speech.

Among the stronger lines, Cheney on Kerry: "He speaks as if only those who openly oppose America's objectives have a chance of earning his respect."

So what is Cheney doing out there in the forefront?

Harris and Allen explain: "Campaign officials said the speech signaled a more prominent and aggressive role, as his advisers continue working to elevate him above questions about his ties to industry and other controversies that have dragged down his public image.

"'This is the beginning of the process of trying to detoxify him and make him back into the political asset that he should be and that we know he will be,' said an adviser to the Bush-Cheney campaign, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so that he could speak candidly about strategy.

"A poll released yesterday by the University of Pennsylvania's National Annenberg Election Survey put Cheney's favorable rating at 35 percent."

Pollingreport.com has a collection of Cheney-related polling data.

Nick Madigan and Katharine Q. Seelye write in the New York Times: "Mr. Cheney's speech was scathing and was the White House's most detailed and pointed criticism to date of Mr. Kerry. The vice president's delivery was notable, too, for the sarcasm within its measured tones. It was his first major policy speech of the campaign, which has begun direct attacks unusually early for a general election."

Cheney also sat down for an interview with Brit Hume of Fox News.

This is how Bill Plante put it on CBS's Early Show this morning: "So it's going to be the vice president, although he's been invisible for months, who now comes out to do some heavy lifting in this campaign, while the president stays as much as possible above the fray, as today, when he goes to Fort Campbell, Kentucky to visit the troops, a not very subtle reminder that he is the leader of a nation at war."

Whose Idea Was it to Attack?

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "A rule of Washington is that presidents should not descend too early into the swamp of a political campaign.

"President Bush, for one, thinks that is nonsense.

"It was the president's decision, White House and campaign officials said in interviews this week, to transform himself into an out-and-out political candidate a full eight months before the election. It was the president's decision, they said, to directly attack Senator John Kerry the day after Super Tuesday, when Mr. Kerry became the presumptive Democratic nominee."

And yet, Bumiller quotes "a senior White House official who asked not to be named because he did not want to be pestered by reporters," as saying that "the 'heavy lift' of the most negative campaigning would be done by surrogates like Vice President Dick Cheney, who strongly attacked Mr. Kerry on Wednedsay in a speech at the Reagan library in California.

"The president has so far been insistent, the official said, that the barbs he aims at Mr. Kerry are softened with humor. For example, after Mr. Bush decided he would directly attack Mr. Kerry the day after Mr. Kerry swept 9 of 10 states on Super Tuesday, he instructed his speechwriters to come up with a good line but 'be funny about it,' the White House official said.

"The line -- Mr. Kerry has 'been in Washington long enough to take both sides on just about every issue' -- got whoops from Republican donors in Los Angeles on March 3."

Cheney, by contrast, does not hesitate to go for the jugular.

War Week Continues

The Associated Press's Scott Lindlaw previews today's visit to Fort Campbell:

"A year after he sent troops to Iraq, President Bush is thanking about 20,000 who have returned to a military base in Kentucky and meeting with survivors of some who never made it home....

"On Thursday, the eve of the one-year anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, his intention was to give thanks and to place his political strong suit - national security - on full display....

"Fort Campbell has the third-largest military population in the Army. It also has lost the most soldiers in the Iraq campaign: Of the 564 U.S. servicemembers who have died in Iraq, 60 have been from Fort Campbell. Hundreds have been injured."

Kimberly Hefling, also of the Associated Press, reports that the Bushes will be the lunch guests of "The 2nd Brigade, or 502nd Infantry Regiment -- nicknamed the 'Strike Brigade'...

"On April 22, during major combat, it conducted one of the longest air assaults by helicopter in history when it inserted troops into Mosul starting from Iskandariyah 310 miles away. And in July, it took part in the action in which Saddam Hussein's sons Odai and Qusai were killed.

"But, like the rest of the division, it also faced strife in the northern Iraq region where it operated. It was in Mosul, the brigade's operations area, that two 101st helicopters crashed on Nov. 15 because of apparent hostile fire, killing 17.

"And on Nov. 23, the brigade's command sergeant major, Jerry Wilson, 45, of Thomson, Ga., was killed when hostile forces attacked his vehicle. Others from the brigade died in incidents such as roadside bombings and a drive-by shooting."

House GOP Rallies for Bush

Charles Babington writes in The Washington Post: "Congressional Republicans rallied to President Bush's defense yesterday, chiding Spanish voters for ousting a government that had backed his Iraq policy and dismissing anti-administration sentiment among many Europeans and Muslims as behind-the-times thinking....

You may remember that yesterday's White House Briefing column touched on the question of whether or not the war in Iraq had made the world safer or not.

As Babington writes: "Also yesterday, the House debated and passed, 327 to 93, a GOP-drafted resolution praising U.S. troops in Iraq on the first anniversary of the invasion and saying the world is safer because of Saddam Hussein's ouster. Many Democrats criticized the resolution, saying it was silent on Iraqi civilian casualties, Democratic efforts to boost military spending on body armor and other matters."

So it's Resolved!

From H. Res. 557: "Resolved, That the House of Representatives--

"(1) affirms that the United States and the world have been made safer with the removal of Saddam Hussein and his regime from power in Iraq;"

Jim Abrams of the Associated Press reports on some of the dissent. "'The American people have not sent us here just to be an amen chorus for this administration. There are serious problems and we should be debating serious solutions,' said Rep. Tom Lantos of California, top Democrat on the House International Relations Committee."

Speaking of Dissent

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the minority chair of the House Government Reform Committee, just released "Iraq on the Record," a report and searchable database identifying "237 specific misleading statements about the threat posed by Iraq" made by Bush, Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice "in 125 public appearances in the time leading up to and after the commencement of hostilities in Iraq. "

You can, for instance, search for the words "mushroom cloud" and see how Bush and Rice both used the term.

This is becoming a big hit in the blogosphere, where by at least one reckoning, Blogdex's listing of "the most contagious information currently spreading in the weblog community," it is currently number two, after moveon.org's new video featuring Rumsfeld on Face the Nation.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero: Most Definitely Not a Fan

Here's one foreign leader clearly rooting for Bush to lose.

Keith B. Richburg of The Washington Post writes from Madrid: "Prime Minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero on Wednesday described the U.S. occupation of Iraq as 'a fiasco' and suggested American voters should follow the example set by Spain and change their leadership by supporting Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts for president in November.

"'I said during the campaign I hoped Spain and the Spaniards would be ahead of the Americans for once,' Zapatero said in an interview on Onda Cero radio. 'First we win here, we change this government, and then the Americans will do it, if things continue as they are in Kerry's favor.'"

Medicare Watch

Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Robert Pear report in the New York Times that details of the Medicare chief actuary's "struggle for independence within the Bush administration are now emerging, raising questions about whether the White House intentionally withheld crucial data from lawmakers."

Wartime Powers

Eric Lichtblau reports in the New York Times: "The president should have broad and 'robust' authority to imprison enemies in wartime, even if it means locking up American citizens away from the battlefield, the Bush administration told the Supreme Court on Wednesday."

Here, from Findlaw.com, is a copy of the solicitor general's brief.

An excerpt: "Al Qaeda combatants assimilate into the civilian population and plot to launch large-scale attacks against civilian targets far from any traditional battlefield. Confining the President's authority to traditional combat zones thus would substantially impair the ability of the Commander in Chief to engage and defeat the enemy's forces."

Poll Watch

Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll, writes in the Los Angeles Times today: "Some arguments have been advanced that it is 'normal' for an incumbent president to be losing to his opponent at this stage, given intense media coverage of the challengers in the primaries and the fact that the 'real' campaign hasn't begun.

"But the numbers show otherwise."

What the President Meant to Say

The White House Office of Global Communication puts out a "Global Message of the Day" as part of its mission "to coordinate strategic communications overseas that integrate the President's themes while truthfully depicting America and Administration policies."

But does truthfully depicting Bush policies require cleaning up Bush quotes?

Yesterday's message of the day was a significantly tidied version of what Bush actually said Tuesday in his photo-op with Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende.

So, for instance, this quote:

"I think terrorists will kill innocent life in order to try to get the world to cower. I think -- these are cold-blooded killers. I mean, they'll kill innocent people to try to shake our will. That's what they want to do. And they'll never shake the will of the United States. We understand the stakes. And we will work with our friends to bring justice to the terrorists."


"Terrorists will kill innocent people in order to try to get the world to cower. They'll kill innocent people to try to shake our will. They will never shake the will of the United States. We will work with our friends to bring justice to the terrorists."

Much tighter and more authoritative.

And this quote:

"And I would remind the Dutch citizens that al Qaeda has an interest in Iraq for a reason, and that interest is, they realize this is a front in the war on terror, and they fear the spread of freedom and democracy in places like the greater Middle East. They can't stand the thought of free societies springing up in the Middle East, because they understand a free society is against their very wishes."


"Al Qaeda is interested in Iraq because they realize this is a front in the war on terror. They fear the spread of freedom and democracy in places like the greater Middle East. Terrorists can't stand the thought of free societies springing up in the Middle East, because they understand a free society is against their interests."

Much better, huh?

Seeing Green

Bush welcomed Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern to the White House for St. Patrick's Day yesterday. Read the text of their remarks, or watch the video.

John Podhoretz Revealed

Washington Post Reliable Source columnist Richard Leiby features John Podhoretz today. Podhoretz, who (nobody knows this) retired as a five-time "Jeopardy" champion in 1987 is emerging as one of the most passionate, feisty and sharp-tongued advocates of the Bush White House.

The author of "Bush Country: How Dubya Became a Great President While Driving Liberals Insane" was also Live Online earlier this week. A sample exchange:

"Mt. Rainier, Md.: It would seem that the conservative definition of a great president is one who drives liberals insane. Calling this particular president 'great' debases the word. His only genuine conviction seems to be that the rich should get richer without hindrance; even his religious stances appear to be mere lip-service - for which I suppose the rest of us should be grateful.

"John Podhoretz: This is a preposterous assertion. The conservative definition of a great president is one who has made America a better and safer place, the world a better place and who has expostulated a vision for the future in which the evil of terrorism and Islamofascism can be defeated. What you know about him, his presidency or his faith can clearly be written on the head of a very, very small pin."

Book 'Em

Associated Press reports: "First lady Laura Bush has chosen a trio of notable American writers as the focus of her next White House literary symposium, to be held Monday. ...

"Mrs. Bush has planned for musical performances and dramatic readings to celebrate the works of Truman Capote, Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty - well-known Southern authors. ...

"Mrs. Bush canceled a symposium planned for February 2003 on 'Poetry and the American Voice,' which would have featured the works of Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman, because some poets said they wanted to use the forum to protest military action in Iraq. The event has never been rescheduled."

Late Night Humor

From NBC's "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" via Reuters.

"Today President Bush celebrated St. Patrick's Day by declaring war on Ireland."

"John Kerry said he stands by his claim that certain foreign leaders had told him they hope he wins. And Bush fired back, old W, he said: 'Oh yeah, well certain Supreme Court justices have told me I'm going to win."

"They said that President Bush's war in Iraq has cost the former Spanish prime minister his job. President Bush isn't just losing American jobs, he's branching out into other countries now. He's losing their jobs too now."

Not Appropriate

Lester Kinsolving is a conservative talk-radio personality who hangs out in the White House press room a fair amount and whose offbeat questions sometimes provide comic relief during briefings.

But at yesterday's briefing he caused some consternation with this question, a follow-up regarding Kerry's position on the Armed Forces' don't ask-don't tell rules.

"Q Since many of the families who provide a lot of our armed services recruits are religious, what does the President, as Commander-in-Chief, believe would be the effect on recruiting of the Kerry plan for openly advertising and practicing sodomist sergeants and commissioned officers?

"MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry? I didn't understand what you're asking.

"Q He's saying repeal the don't ask-don't tell. That means open and practicing homosexuals in the Armed Forces. What does the President believe would be the effect of recruiting --

"MR. McCLELLAN: I don't expect that's going to happen because I don't expect he's going to win. But the President's policy is very clear on that issue."

So now if you search for the word sodomist on the White House Web site, you get two hits. Kinsolving also used the word to describe a gay bishop in a question last year.

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