Snow Forecast All Wrong

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Thursday, December 9, 2004; 11:09 AM

So what the heck was that all about?

For 10 days, fueled by White House leaks, Washington insiders were furiously speculating about who would succeed Treasury Secretary John Snow -- and suddenly the White House says he's staying?

Regardless of the now-official protestations that President Bush thinks Snow's been doing a great job all along, something was clearly up. The public uncertainty was quite unlike the White House's disciplined, carefully choreographed handling of the (many) other recent cabinet decisions.

So while today's headlines are all about Snow staying, the real story is about how he was almost leaving, how Snow's allies rallied behind him, and how the White House realized that it couldn't stall any longer so decided to keep him.

Mike Allen and Jonathan Weisman write in The Washington Post: "Snow was kept on only after the White House considered a variety of possible replacements and sounded out at least one top official on Wall Street. That executive turned the White House down, according to financial executives. . . .

"Administration officials said that when no ideal successor could be found, Bush aides decided to retain Snow to put an end to rampant speculation that the former railroad executive was on his way out."

Warren Vieth and Edwin Chen write in the Los Angeles Times: "The president's decision to keep Snow on the payroll was a victory for the secretary and his allies, who had waged an intense lobbying campaign to convince administration skeptics that the former railroad boss was still the best man for the Treasury job.

" 'We had a full-court press to keep him,' said Stephen Moore, president of the conservative Club for Growth. 'There were a few people in the White House who wanted him out, but common sense prevailed.' "

David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times that "the announcement came after Mr. Bush and his top aides determined they had to put a stop to an embarrassing public breach over who should occupy the nation's most central economic policymaking post, several officials said.

"With the dollar hovering at historic lows against the euro and Mr. Bush preparing for a two-day meeting next week to lay out economic strategy for the next term, one senior administration official said that 'this was no time to send a signal of uncertainty.' "

Sanger writes that some officials "said Vice President Dick Cheney had felt out or interviewed potential candidates for the job. The White House apparently did not warm to the alternatives, who included former Senator Phil Gramm of Texas and Gerald L. Parsky, a wealthy lawyer and venture capitalist who served as an assistant Treasury secretary in the Ford administration."

But Snow is not exactly in the catbird seat.

John D. McKinnon writes in the Wall Street Journal: "Given the doubt that has surrounded Mr. Snow's status, it was a surprising public endorsement that leaves him bruised but still standing."

McKinnon concludes that "the decision to retain Mr. Snow leaves many important decisions largely in the hands of White House economic and political advisers. It also likely increases the pressure on Mr. Bush to fill other economic-policy jobs inside the White House with more forceful salesmen."

How weak was the public White House support for Snow these past 10 days? The Wall Street Journal's David Wessel tells CNBC that until yesterday, "when you asked the White House, 'What's the story on John Snow, is he staying?' you got these very bland statements that had no active verbs in them."

Psst. Someone Else Resigned

All the Snow folderol bumped the news about the actual resignation by another -- albeit less important -- cabinet official almost entirely off the radar.

Jay Newton-Small of Bloomberg News was almost alone in giving Anthony Principi his own story, instead of just a paragraph or two in the articles about Snow.

Newton-Small wrote: "U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi resigned Wednesday, becoming the ninth member of President George W. Bush's 15-member cabinet to leave since the November election.

" 'It is now time for me to move on to fresh opportunities and different challenges,' Principi wrote to Bush in a letter released at the White House. He joined the cabinet at the start of the president's first term, in January 2001."

Here's the text of Bush's statement on Principi's departure.

And -- see the carefully choreography at work? -- this morning, in the Roosevelt Room at 9:45 a.m., Bush introduced Jim Nicholson, currently U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and former Republican National Committee chair, to be his nominee for the veterans job.

Furthermore, the Associated Press reports this morning: "President Bush has asked the secretaries of the Transportation, Labor, Interior and Housing departments to remain and they have all agreed, completing decisions about which Cabinet members will stay for his second term."

So the final tally: Nine gone, six staying.

Glad He's Staying?

Until recently, the only other Cabinet member who knew for sure he was staying around for much longer was, of course, Donald H. Rumsfeld.

You've got to wonder if he was happy with his decision yesterday.

Thomas E. Ricks writes in The Washington Post: "Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, speaking in Kuwait yesterday to troops deploying into Iraq, got an earful of complaints about poor combat equipment, personnel policies that keep soldiers in the Army beyond their terms of enlistment, and other issues that reflect the strains the war in the Middle East is placing on the U.S. military."

Here's a transcript of the town-hall style meeting.

Turnover Spreads to First Lady's Office

The White House this morning announced two big staff changes in the First Lady's office. Andi Ball is out as chief of staff, replaced by Anita McBride. McBride is coming over from the State Department but previously worked at the White House, including a stint as director of White House personnel from 1987-92.

Cathy Fenton is out as White House social secretary, replaced by Lea Berman. Berman worked in the Bush/Cheney campaign and before that was social secretary and then chief of staff to Lynne Cheney.

Trying to Soften Up Europe

Glenn Kessler writes in The Washington Post: "Secretary of State Colin L. Powell urged Europeans on Wednesday to put aside their differences with the United States over the Iraq war, arguing that Americans and Europeans have common values and face similar threats that should outweigh the controversies of recent years.

"In a lengthy speech here, Powell acknowledged that 'bumps and bruises' and 'blustery days' have characterized transatlantic ties but made no apologies for the Bush administration's diplomatic style. He said bold decisions were necessary to combat terrorism and other threats. . . .

"U.S. officials said Powell's speech was aimed at laying the groundwork for a fence-mending visit to Brussels that President Bush plans to make early next year."

Here's the transcript of his speech.

James Harding writes in the Financial Times that "Bush's bitter relationship with Gerhard Schröder, the German chancellor, appears to be mending.

"White House officials confirmed yesterday that they were seeking to arrange a presidential visit to Germany early next year and a trip to the US from Mr Schröder. . . .

"As Mr Bush launches into a second term and seeks to rebuild alliances, albeit largely on his terms, the White House and Republicans previously sceptical of the transatlantic relationship are more eager to seize on such areas of common interest."

Reuters reported last night that Bush will visit NATO and the European Union on Feb. 22, quoting European NATO diplomats.

This morning, the official announcement from the White House: "He will begin his consultations in Brussels, Belgium on February 22, 2005, meeting with Allied Heads of State and Government at NATO. The President will also meet with the EU Presidency, the European Council, and the European Commission President at the EU's Brussels offices and will meet bilaterally with his Belgian hosts. He will make other stops in Europe to be announced separately."

Global Warming Watch

Tom Baldwin writes in the Times of London: "Tony Blair is seeking to secure George Bush's backing for a new international treaty that would end America's isolation on global warming, The Times has learnt.

"Downing Street last night confirmed that the Prime Minister had held 'lengthy discussions' with Mr Bush about a fresh initiative that would bypass Washington's steadfast opposition to the Kyoto Protocol. . . .

"Although the White House still appears deeply skeptical about the initiative, a source at the prime minister's office said: 'There is an awful lot of work going on in the background on this, it is being given the highest priority.' "

But in the very same edition, Times foreign editor Bronwen Maddox writes: "Don't hold your breath. This notion of a new deal on climate change is something that Tony Blair has cooked up, with a fair degree of passion, but not yet much claim to reality."

Intel Watch

Walter Pincus writes in The Washington Post that Bush is expected to sign the intelligence restructuring bill into law next week

Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post about the critical role played by two of the 12 self-appointed representatives of Sept. 11 victims' relatives who called themselves the Family Steering Committee.

"In the past three years, Mary Fetchet and Carol Ashley have outmaneuvered the president and vice president of the United States, the national security adviser, the speaker of the House, and chairmen of congressional committees.

"Not bad for a social worker from Connecticut and a retired schoolteacher from Long Island."

Their struggle goes back a ways.

"The family members' public complaints pressured President Bush to drop his initial opposition to a Sept. 11 commission and his subsequent reluctance to meet with all 12 commission members and to share with the panel his most sensitive intelligence briefings and the testimony of White House officials."

Valerie Plame Watch

Carol D. Leonnig writes in The Washington Post about legal arguments yesterday over press freedom as it relates to the Valerie Plame case.

"The U.S. Court of Appeals judges here will decide whether reporters Matthew Cooper of Time magazine and Judith Miller of the New York Times can be jailed for refusing to appear before a grand jury investigating whether administration officials illegally identified a covert CIA operative to reporters in the summer of 2003."

Adam Liptak writes in the New York Times: "The people who disclosed Ms. Plame's identity to them probably committed a crime, and the reporters may well be the only ones who can provide evidence to establish that.

"But precisely where the investigation now stands is unknown, as grand jury proceedings are secret. Indeed, the reporters and Mr. Abrams have not seen much of the evidence submitted to the appeals court justifying the need for their testimony."

Today's Calendar

After introducing his VA nominee, Bush met with the Social Security Trustees in the morning, and will see rabbis and Jewish community leaders in the afternoon.

The president and the first lady also participate in the menorah lighting ceremony at sundown.

Feisty Congress

Janet Hook writes in the Los Angeles Times: "President Bush has gotten a fresh education this week in how to deal with an increasingly feisty Congress as he heads into his second term. . . .

"The Republican rebellion that slowed action on the intelligence overhaul was a warning sign that Bush will have to speak clearly -- and listen carefully -- to his GOP allies in Congress if he is to hold together his party's motley coalition of defense hawks, religious activists and economic conservatives."

Hook has this tidbit: "Relations between House leaders and top White House aides -- including political advisor Karl Rove and chief Bush lobbyist David Hobbs - -- got testy when they met last week for a closed-door retreat at a Virginia resort to plan next year's agenda. Talk also turned to the stalled intelligence bill. [Speaker J. Dennis] Hastert [(R-Ill.)] and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) insisted that the White House had to deal directly with Hunter on his concerns about the bill's impact on the military chain of command.

"When one White House aide questioned whether Hunter was raising objections simply to kill the bill, DeLay bristled. In emphatic tones, he upbraided the aide for challenging the integrity of a House member. 'It was an octave higher than normal talk,' said one source in the meeting."

Return of the Bulge?

Michael Dobbs writes in The Washington Post about Indonesian specialist Fred Burks, who is making a noisy exit from government service after 18 years of interpreting for top U.S. officials.

"Burks interpreted for Bush at an Oval Office meeting with Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri in September 2001, eight days after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He says Bush displayed such a detailed grasp of Indonesian issues at the meeting that he came away thinking the president must have been fed information through a hidden earpiece.

"White House spokesman Sean McCormack dismissed Burks's allegations of a secret presidential wireless device -- similar allegations surfaced most recently during Bush's election debate with the Democratic challenger, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) -- with a laugh and a one-word comment: 'Nonsense.' "

Civil Rights Commission Watch

Darryl Fears writes in The Washington Post about the changing composition on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, after Mary Frances Berry, the liberal chairman, who is black, and Cruz Reynoso, the liberal vice chairman, who is Latino, stepped down Tuesday.

"President Bush appointed a black Republican, Gerald A. Reynolds, to replace Berry as chairman, and another black Republican, Ashley L. Taylor, to replace Reynoso as a member. Abigail Thernstrom, an independent who is conservative and white, became the new vice chairman.

"Thus the commission went from a 5 to 3 liberal majority to a 6 to 2 conservative majority."

Interestingly, however, Thernstrom was until very recently a Republican. (And according to the Washington Times, nominally independent commissioner Russell Redenbaugh was a Republican at one point, too.)

The commission's rules state that not more than four members shall at any one time be of the same political party.

So how, um, convenient that the two commissioners had such propitious changes in their political affiliation.

Ambassador to Baseball

Dave Sheinin writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush yesterday urged MLB and union leaders, through a spokesman, to take 'strong steps to address the problem' of steroids, but offered no specific policy suggestions. . . .

"President Bush, the former managing partner of the Texas Rangers, has not been involved in negotiations but has maintained indirect contact with officials of MLB and the players' association through Roland Betts, a longtime Bush associate who is serving as an 'informal conduit' between the president and the sides in the baseball negotiations, McClellan said.

"Betts has ties to management and the union, having been part of the Rangers' ownership group with Bush and serving on the board of directors for the U.S. Olympic Committee alongside union chief Donald Fehr."

The Sordid Truth About the White House Press Corps

Mo Rocca, comic and author of "All The Presidents' Pets, The Story of One Reporter Who Refused to Roll Over," was on CNN with Larry King last night. (So was Jon Stewart.)

"ROCCA: I was trying to figure out what it is that the White House is trying to hide from the public. Quite honestly, in the run up to the Iraq war, we saw the price that we are now paying for White House secrecy and for a press that doesn't scrutinize the White House enough. I thought, what are they trying to hide? Well, it's clearly something that would undermine the image of infallibility that they try so hard to cultivate. What could be more humbling than the truth, which is that animals have been making a lot of the key decisions for presidents throughout our history. This makes the president appear a lot less super heroic. . . .

"KING: Why has the mainstream media missed all this . . . ?

"ROCCA: Because the mainstream media is, I think, afraid of the White House and played into the supersizing of the presidency. There are many great members of the Washington press corps, but, in effect, a lot of them become flacks for the White House and allow the president, who in this case, has given fewer press conferences than any in history to continue to perpetuate this image."

What a kidder.

© 2004