Bush Takes It on the Chin

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, May 24, 2004; 11:19 AM

It's a battered President Bush -- literally and figuratively -- who takes to the stage at the Army War College in Pennsylvania tonight for a prime-time speech intended, as one official told Steven R. Weisman of the New York Times, to dispel "this idea that we don't know what we're doing" on Iraq.

Less serious Bush-watchers were absorbed by the accident-prone president's mishap when he fell on his face while biking Saturday, leaving him with some pretty serious road rash.

And it marked the unofficial coming-out of the Bush twins. The press has voraciously turned its eyes on the two young women, who are apparently fair game now that they've graduated from college.

But first, the news.

The First of the Big Iraq Speeches

This morning, communications director Dan Bartlett went on the three network morning shows and shared the talking points for tonight's speech.

Msnbc.com reports: "The president will offer five 'concrete' steps for the handover of sovereignty in Iraq, White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett told NBC's 'Today' show, as well as outline what a new interim Iraqi government will look like and how it will operate in the run-up to elections early next year."

On CBS's "Early Show," Bartlett said: "Tonight the president's going to talk about the successful transition of power to the Iraqi people. . . . He's going to talk about the security process and how we're going to work with the new interim government to secure the country. He's going to talk about the infrastructure and what we need to continue to do to rebuild the country. He's going to talk about the international process, submitting a new resolution to the United Nations Security Council. And obviously, he'll talk about the most important aspect of this plan and that's for there to be elections. And he's going to talk about how the interim government will work with the international community to make sure we have successful elections as quickly as possible."

Responding to the latest barrage of criticism regarding the administration's Iraqi strategy from former generals Anthony Zinni and Joseph Hoare, Bartlett told ABC's "Good Morning America": "They're respected commanders, but they're also retired commanders. President Bush is listening to the active commanders on the ground who he consults with on a daily basis."

While you may not actually hear too many details tonight, either, you're sure to hear a lot of talk about not cutting and running.

Susan Page writes in USA Today: "An embattled President Bush, his support imperiled at home and abroad, launches a five-week campaign today intended to reassure Americans that he has an effective plan for Iraq and persuade foreign leaders to do more to help it succeed. . . .

"White House aides say Bush won't propose a change in course or offer a timeline for withdrawal of U.S. forces. He'll describe the steps to be taken next and defend the reasons for having gone to war in the first place."

Robin Wright wrote in Sunday's Washington Post that Bush's upcoming speeches are intended "to shift attention from recent setbacks that have eroded domestic and international support for U.S. policy in Iraq, particularly the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the escalating violence, and focus instead on the future of post-occupation Iraq.

"The president will open a tightly orchestrated public relations effort in a speech at the Army War College outlining U.S. plans for the critical five weeks before the limited transfer of political power June 30."

Deb Riechmann of the Associated Press writes: "President Bush is seeking to reassure voters that hundreds of Americans have not died in vain, and tell the world that he has a blueprint to create a democratic nation."

Evelyn Leopold of Reuters writes that as a precursor to the speech: "The United States plans to disclose on Monday the text of a new U.N. resolution that would call for 'full sovereignty' for Iraqis, despite the presence of 130,000 U.S. troops, U.S. and U.N officials said."

The speech will be carried live from 8 to 9 p.m. EDT by CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC. The major broadcast networks are sticking with their regular programming, which in NBC's case means an episode of "Fear Factor," and in ABC's case means the broadcast premiere of Oscar-winning "A Beautiful Mind."

The Fall of Bush

Bush was riding a mountain-bike downhill on his Crawford ranch early Saturday afternoon when he wiped out.

Here's Deb Riechmann's story for the Associated Press.

In his story for The Washington Post, Dana Milbank notes Bush's prior history of accidents.

"In January 2002, Bush was on the third floor of the White House residence, watching a football playoff game between the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins when he choked on a pretzel. This caused him to faint and fall, bruising and scraping his face. Bush was accompanied only by dogs Spot and Barney.

"Then, in June 2003, Bush was visiting his parents at the family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, when he fell from a motorized Segway scooter. Bush, who was holding a tennis racket that may have interfered with his coordination, did not hurt himself -- but the incident was captured by photographers and quickly beamed across the world."

Spokesman Trent Duffy seemed to blame the accident on muddy conditions. "It's been raining a lot and the topsoil is loose," he said.

But Daily Kos blogger Markos Zúniga did a little Web-crawling and found that it hadn't rained in a week in Crawford. Here are the stats, from wunderground.com.

Twins Watch Begins in Earnest

Milbank writes in today's Washington Post Style section: "With their graduation from college over the weekend and the announcement that they will work on their father's reelection campaign, President Bush's twin daughters are leaving the zone of privacy the White House imposed and the press accepted, at least when the two were not getting in trouble with the law."

(Milbank notes in another pool report, this one after deplaning from Air Force One: "Among the luggage disgorged from the belly of AF1: a pink table, a pair of chairs and various storage boxes that appeared to be the contents of a college dorm room.")

Peter Wallsten writes in the Los Angeles Times: "The 22-year-olds -- Jenna is the blond and Barbara the brunet [sic] -- sat for a joint interview with Vogue a few weeks ago, and each posed in a variety of casual and dressy outfits in two undisclosed locations in New York for the photo spread. . . .

"Whatever they ultimately do, the twins had better get used to the spotlight, experts say. By submitting to the Vogue spread, the old rules of hands-off are no more.

" 'With the interview and photo spread, this is an unspoken concession by the campaign that these two girls will now be figures, if not of political interest then certainly public interest, whose personal lives may be intruded upon by the press,' said Carl Sferrazza Anthony, an author and presidential family historian."

A team of five reporters for People magazine report:

"Jenna, a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority at UT with an interest in education, will move to Manhattan, share an apartment with friends and do volunteer work with school kids. 'She's so excited,' says Giacomo Forbes, her Austin hairstylist. 'She's looking for something where she can give back.' Barbara, a frequent visitor to New York City during her Yale years, will intern with a pediatric AIDS program at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. The work will take her to clinics in Africa and Eastern Europe. 'I'm very impressed with Barbara,' says her future boss Dr. Mark Kline. 'She is extremely thoughtful and caring.' And outgoing: According to a bartender at Manhattan's Beauty Bar, which Barbara visited with pals in the spring, the young Bush flirted sweetly but politely refused to take his number. 'She's really, really, really cute and really pretty and really nice,' says the bartender."

Riveting stuff, don't you know?

Here's a video twins retrospective from CBS.

Skull and Bones Watch

John Tierney of the New York Times reports that Barbara Bush does not belong to Skull and Bones, the secret society whose members include her father and grandfather.

He offers two competing explanations:

"Bones snubbed her. Some members of Bones say that she was not asked to join because she was known less for achievement than for partying, most notably when she and her twin sister, Jenna, who graduates from the University of Texas this weekend, were cited for underage drinking."


"She snubbed Bones. Perhaps Ms. Bush was following a different family tradition. Her father, never fond of Eastern elitism, seriously considered joining a different secret society at Yale less known for ancient rituals than for its parties. Although he acceded to his father's wishes, he became a relatively unenthusiastic member who did not even bother thinking up the requisite Bones name for himself. He ended up being called Temporary."

Unanswered Questions

It appeared to be a particularly frustrating trip yesterday for those in the news business. Milbank filed a number of reports chronicling what he wasn't being told.

From the pool filing center at Yale: "For all your pool knows, Potus has left the President's House and is now at Mory's Temple Bar, spinning a silver cup on his head and singing old Yale songs. . . . Sadly, our good friend Trent Duffy has not yet granted your pool's request to speak with us."

When Duffy teased the pool by e-mail with an offer to come by, "maybe later," Milbank solicited questions from his colleagues. Then, he sent those out.

"Your pool really does not mean to pick on Trent, who is a fine spokesman and much beloved. Your pool is merely voicing the frustration of the larger press corps, which is trying to write stories about Barbara's graduation today and walk-ups for tomorrow's speech. So, in a further inducement to Mr. Duffy to appear, your pooler is printing a list of questions, submitted by other reporters on the trip, that we would like answered.

• "Is Potus REALLY going to make any news about the transition or just show us a flow chart of Brahimi's plan? Will he name names (ie Pres, PM, VP?)

• "Anything on the U.N resolution being circulated this week?

• "Anything on Pakistan's objections to U.S. forces crossing into Pakistan?

• "Is the president taking any painkillers for his injuries?

• "There is photographic evidence that both Barbara and Jenna Bush were on the tarmac at TSTC. Can you confirm?

• "Hosts of tonight's parties? Attendees? Menus?

• "When will the text of his Monday remarks be available to reporters? Excerpts?

• "Is it possible the names of possible members of the Iraqi interim government will be mentioned in the speech?

• "Might the president make a surprise announcement about needing additional funds to help pay for the non-military portion of the transition? If so, how much might he request?

• "Is the US officially abandoning Mr. Chalabi as a political ally in Iraq?

• "Wouldn't it have been easier for Barbara and Jenna to attend dinners at the White House?"

Bush in a Bubble

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "All presidents live in a bubble, but Democrats, European officials and a group of moderate Republicans say that Mr. Bush lives in a bigger bubble than most. As the problems of the occupation and insurgency in Iraq have intensified, they say, Mr. Bush has appeared to retreat more than ever into his tight circle of aides. . . .

"The larger question is this: Inside the bubble, what is Mr. Bush's level of concern about the turmoil in Iraq? Does he think that the sunny predictions of Vice President Dick Cheney and the deputy defense secretary, Paul D. Wolfowitz, were all wrong? Does he blame them, or himself?

"In public, a president who is determined not to be Jimmy Carter is relentlessly upbeat. In private, he is described by some people who have seen him recently as grim and subdued."

Appearing on CNN's Late Edition on Sunday, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) told Wolf Blitzer: "What I'm saying is that, at a time that's as complicated and dangerous as any time in modern history, today, a president of the United States needs to hear other opinions. He must reach out. He must understand a bigger view, wider-lens view of the world.

"To essentially hold himself hostage to two or three key advisers and never reach beyond that is very dangerous for a president. Any president gets isolated. That's not new. This one, I think, is particularly that way."

Valerie Plame Watch

Susan Schmidt reported in The Washington Post on Saturday: "Journalists at Time magazine and NBC News were subpoenaed yesterday to appear before a federal grand jury investigating whether administration officials illegally leaked the name of an undercover CIA officer last summer."

Economy Non-Watch

Richard W. Stevenson writes in the New York Times: "Despite a big rebound in hiring in the last few months, President Bush has been unable to translate the economic improvement into political benefit, leaving Republicans increasingly anxious that the White House might let slip away its best chance to counter the bad news from Iraq."

Michael Moore Watch

The Cannes Film Festival jury awarded its top prize to "Fahrenheit 9/11," Michael Moore's stridently anti-Bush documentary.

Patrick Barkham writes in the Guardian: "Accepting the award after a standing ovation, Moore said he hoped Fahrenheit 9/11 would now be shown across the US. Disney blocked the distribution of the film, made by its subsidiary Miramax, and Miramax is now trying to find someone else to put the film out before the presidential election in November. 'Perhaps this film will have a tremendous impact. I hope it will,' Moore said, adding that he hoped Mr Bush would not choke on a pretzel when he heard the news."

Countdown to Memorial Day

Jon Meacham writes in Newsweek: "What would Churchill make of what he's seeing? What would FDR think of the man sitting at his desk? By drawing on the drama of World War II in talking about his own war, Bush himself has invited the questions -- and the comparisons. . . .

"Bush eschews complexity; FDR and Churchill embraced it. Bush prefers to decide, not go into details or revisit issues; FDR and Churchill were constantly examining their own assumptions and immersing themselves in postwar planning. Bush is largely incurious about the world; FDR and Churchill wanted to know everything."

Meacham does give Bush some credit: "Bush has the courage part down, which is no small thing," he writes.

June's Diplomatic Gantlet

Ronald Brownstein writes in the Los Angeles Times: "From Rome to Istanbul, President Bush faces a diplomatic gantlet in June that could burnish his image as an international leader or provide new ammunition for Sen. John F. Kerry's charge that he has isolated the U.S. in the world.

"With anxiety over Iraq dominating the presidential race, an unusual concentration of international summits offers Bush probably his best opportunity before election day to highlight his credentials as a world leader on a stage unavailable to Kerry, his presumptive Democratic challenger."

Commencement Watch

While the president avoided his twins' commencement ceremonies at Yale or the University of Texas, where he could have encountered protests, he did travel to Louisiana State University to deliver an address on Friday.

Here's the text. "I've seen how things can work out pretty well for a C student," he said.

Wall Street Still Behind Bush

Thomas B. Edsall and Jonathan Weisman write in The Washington Post that Merrill Lynch personnel alone have contributed almost half a million dollars to the Bush campaign during this election cycle.

"The money flowing from Merrill Lynch employees is part of a $12.14 million tidal wave of cash to the Bush campaign from the finance and insurance sectors.

"Wall Street has stepped up to the plate in support of Bush, and Bush has sponsored legislation producing billions of dollars in revenue on Wall Street."

Profile of a Speechwriter

Shankar Vedantam writes in The Washington Post about an unlikely sidelight for White House speechwriter Matthew Scully, who has "emerged as a potent voice for animal welfare in what is widely regarded as a red-meat White House."

Bush and the Media

Howard Kurtz writes in The Washington Post: "More than half of those surveyed say the media haven't been tough enough on President Bush."

Here are the survey results.

Kurtz also had an interview with Tim Russert in the Sunday Post Magazine. One Q and A:

"Q. You let the president give some pretty long answers. Is it harder to interrupt the president of the United States in the Oval Office than a candidate in your studio?

"A. Oh, it's different, you know. As I said, I've interviewed President Clinton twice and President Bush in the Oval Office. If you compare the interviews to when they're candidates it's a different interview, a much different interview, because when you're interviewing the president of the United States in the Oval Office, there's a certain sense of respect, and people around the world are watching, and I'm very mindful of it."

Who Would Stay and Who Would Go?

Chuck Concini writes in Washingtonian: "Attorney General John Ashcroft plans to leave if George W. Bush is reelected, but the White House has quietly sent word that if Ashcroft wants to leave earlier, that's okay with the President."

Tom Raum of the Associated Press speculates on who would stay and who would go if Bush is reelected. His bets:

Leaving: Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, CIA Director George J. Tenet.

Staying: National security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge (though not necessarily in those positions.)

Wild Card: Vice President Cheney.

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