Bush Mocks Kerry, Dean

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, January 26, 2004; 11:52 AM

Washington's season of zinger dinners started with a humdinger Saturday night, when some 550 all-star members of the Alfalfa Club gathered at the Capital Hilton.

Founded in 1913, the Alfalfa Club was named for the legume whose roots would "do anything for a drink" and has absolutely no other purpose than to throw a really big, exclusive, no-press-allowed party once a year where people from both political parties take amusing cracks at each other to show they're all friends.

David Montgomery in The Washington Post gathered a few tantalizing scraps, including quips from President Bush aimed at his two chief Democratic rivals.

" 'Boy, that speech in Iowa was something else,' Bush said, referring to Howard Dean's field holler after placing third in the caucuses Monday. 'Talk about shock and awe. Saddam Hussein felt so bad for Governor Dean that he offered him his hole.'

" 'Then we have Senator Kerry. I think Kerry's position on the war in Iraq is politically brilliant. In New Hampshire yesterday, he stated he had voted for the war, adding that he was strongly opposed to it.'

In the bipartisan spirit, "Vernon Jordan, friend of Bill Clinton, offered a kind of 'prebuttal' in his speech as outgoing president of the club.

" 'Mr. President, I feel like I'm at one of your Cabinet meetings -- a blind man in a room full of deaf people. . . . Before I hand over my presidency to my successor, let me take a moment, regardless of whether we are Christian, Jew or Muslim, and thank the Almighty, the one who controls our destiny as a nation -- Karl Rove.'"

The Alfalfa Club feast is the first of four annual Washington dinners full of political "humor." The Gridiron dinner is March 6; the Radio and Television Correspondents dinner is March 24; and the White House Correspondents Association dinner is May 1.

The Age of Cheney

Mike Allen of The Washington Post chronicles Vice President Cheney's re-emergence, focusing on his big (and only second) foreign trip.

What's it all about? "Republican officials said Cheney's new visibility, which is likely to increase as his reelection race heats up, is partly the result of strategists' determination that his long silences had helped make him a punching bag for Democrats and a lightning rod for criticism of President Bush over secrecy, corporate connections and reliance on unproven intelligence."

Sunday morning in Rome, Allen writes, "the reclusive vice president even allowed journalists to photograph him sightseeing."

Cheney's message to Europe is a bit tricky. As Allen writes, "Administration sources say Cheney has argued for limiting the role of the United Nations in Iraq at every turn, but said he was willing to be the messenger for multilateralism for the same reason he agreed to the spate of interviews: It was what was most helpful to Bush at the moment."

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, forum founder Klaus Schwab asked Cheney about his controversial Christmas card, interpreted by some to be sly hint about the country's status as a modern empire. The card featured a quote from Benjamin Franklin: "If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?" (Here's a reproduction of the card, from Slate.)

"Do you consider the United States to be an empire?" Cheney was asked. After jocularly blaming his wife for choosing the card, Cheney insisted "it did not refer, or should not be taken as some kind of indication that the United States today sees itself as an empire," and he said that if the United States were an empire, "we would currently preside over a much greater piece of the Earth's surface than we do."

Here's the full text of Cheney's speech and some AP video.

Today, Cheney's in Italy. As Deb Riechmann of the Associated Press writes, his job there is "to bolster Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi's position on the European stage and improve public support in Italy for the war." Cheney meets Berlusconi later today.

In his speech this morning, notes Randall Mikkelsen of Reuters, Cheney "made no mention of earlier U.S. charges that Iraq possessed threatening chemical and biological weapons."

Meanwhile, Neil King Jr. of the Wall Street Journal reports that calls are intensifying "for a congressional inquiry into U.S.-funded reconstruction efforts in Iraq, as the largest U.S. contractor there, Halliburton Co., moved to address charges of overbilling and substantial kickbacks." Reports emerged last week that two employees of Halliburton, the company formerly headed by Cheney, "conspired with a Kuwait subcontractor in the kickback scheme of more than $6 million."

Halliburton said Friday that it had repaid the Army Matierial Command for the possible overcharges and fired the employees involved.

Watching Their Backs

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times that "Mr. Bush's advisers are scavenging for damaging nuggets in the long legislative record of Senator John Kerry, who was 3 points ahead of Mr. Bush, 49 percent to 46 percent, in a hypothetical election matchup in a Newsweek poll of registered voters on Friday and Saturday."

Here's more on that Newsweek poll.

Today's Calendar

President Bush makes a quick trip to Little Rock, where he'll talk about capping malpractice awards at Baptist Health Medical Center.

Scott Lindlaw of the Associated Press previews the trip.

The Disappearing President

Over the weekend, the front of the White House Web site briefly featured an image that looked like it belonged in a Doonesbury comic strip more than on a page devoted to conveying presidential gravitas.

Here's a larger version.

The picture is of President Bush speaking at the United States Conference of Mayors on Friday. But the president himself is almost entirely missing from the picture. All you see is the presidential podium, the presidential seal and the presidential palm. (Garry Trudeau of Doonesbury draws Bush as a podium, an asterisk and a cowboy hat.)

The photo, by the highly accomplished chief presidential photographer Eric Draper, is clearly what we in the news business call an "art shot." But for one reason or another, it didn't seem to last long on the White House's home page.

Leak Watch

Eric Lichtblau and David Johnston of the New York Times report that several people who have been employed at the White House have been notified that they could be summoned to testify before the grand jury investigating who leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame to columnist Robert Novak and other journalists.

The Ribbing, Part II

Observant readers noted two things I left out of my report on President Bush's impromptu stop at a Roswell, N.M., rib joint and his statements about stimulating the economy. (See Friday's column.)

Apparently, captured on videotape but not by the White House stenographer, the president pushed a pregnant member of the press corps to indulge.

The video appeared on "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" on MSNBC. I didn't see it, but the transcript quotes Bush as follows: "You want some ribs or do you want some ribs? Does your baby need a rib or are you going to buy some food? Or would you like some cheese cake?"

It also includes the following exchange:

"BUSH: Baby need a rib?

"UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The baby's fine, thanks."

Lastly, it has been widely reported that Bush left no tip.

State of the Union Retrospective

Washington Post "In the Loop" columnist Al Kamen (third item) reports that "yes, Vice President Cheney's water glass toppled over as he and President Bush shook hands last week after the State of the Union."

Hendrik Hertzberg parses the State of the Union speech in the New Yorker, looking at the missing words.

Elisabeth Bumiller in Sunday's New York Times Week in Review reexamines the address, particularly some passages "that bore the strong imprint of his chief speechwriter, Michael Gerson, an evangelical Christian." Bumiller quotes some lines from "Amazing Grace," and says "the real message was there if listeners substituted the name 'Bush' for 'grace.'"

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