Rove Teases Press Corps 'Weenies'

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Tuesday, January 27, 2004; 10:03 AM

Members of the "travel pool" -- the reporters and photographers who actually travel with the president on Air Force One -- normally arrive early and get in position outside the plane to watch the president alight, so they can capture his deportment.

Yesterday, because of the foul weather, the pool was instructed to stay inside so that workers could de-ice the plane just before the president arrived for his quick trip to Little Rock.

As designated print pool reporter Edwin Chen of the Los Angeles Times wrote in his briefing to his colleagues, "the pool's absence on the tarmac as POTUS arrived did not go unnoticed."

Senior adviser and White House political guru Karl Rove himself popped his head into the press cabin and snarled, "Weenies!"

Chen described Rove's demeanor as "mocking disdain. . . . In the same vein, he also offered to take orders for hot drinks and blankets, as press secretary Scott McClellan smiled benignly."

Shortly afterward, Rove returned, "this time with pen and paper, again asking to take orders for hot drinks. . . .

"In Little Rock, on the tarmac, your pool had a third encounter with Mr. Rove," Chen wrote. " 'Oh yeah, you can get off the plane when it's 62 degrees,' he said with a laugh as he walked to the staff van."

Affection or hostility? You decide.

Just Friday, President Bush himself razzed the press pool during an unscripted stop at a New Mexico rib joint. (See Friday's column.) And all of this comes in the wake of a searing New Yorker article by Ken Auletta (see Jan. 12 Howard Kurtz column, second item) in which Rove is quoted as saying Bush has "a cagey respect" for the press but views it as "elitist," a bunch of people trying "to get a headline or get a story that will make people pay attention to their magazine, newspaper or television more."

Rehnquist: Recusal Request 'Ill-Considered'

Charles Lane of The Washington Post (second half of story) writes that Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist "responded curtly to a request from two Democratic senators for more information about how justices decide whether to recuse themselves from cases."

The request (read their letter here) came after Justice Antonin Scalia spent several days duck hunting with Vice President Cheney, who is a named party in a case pending before the court.

"A Justice must examine the question of recusal on his own even without a motion, and any party to a case may file a motion to recuse," Rehnquist wrote. "And anyone at all is free to criticize the action of a Justice -- as to recusal or as to the merits -- after the case has been decided. But I think that any suggestion by you . . . as to why a Justice should recuse himself in a pending case is ill considered."

One of the senators who raised the issue, Democrat Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, said the lack of a recusal policy "risks an irreversible, tainted result." (See his full response.)

Scalia told the Los Angeles Times's David G. Savage two weeks ago that "I do not think my impartiality could reasonably be questioned."

Cheney's European Adventure

Mike Allen reports in The Washington Post that Vice President Cheney's trip to Europe has been plagued by "a spate of questions about his part in the decision to go to war in Iraq and in selling it to the public."

Allen also writes that "A new biography of the British prime minister, 'Tony Blair: The Making of a World Leader,' quotes an unidentified aide to Blair as saying that Cheney opposed 'at every twist and turn' efforts by the Bush administration and Blair to get U.N. backing for the Iraq war. . . . 'He's a visceral unilateralist,' one of the Blair aides is quoted as saying.

Eric Schmitt of the New York Times takes note of Cheney's "calculated election-year makeover." He reports that "A New York Times poll this month found that Mr. Cheney's favorable ratings had declined to 20 percent of the voters surveyed compared with 39 percent in a similar poll in January 2002. His unfavorable ratings increased to 24 percent, from 11 percent, in the same period."

It's question No. 14 in this polling document.

Dove in Hand, Hawk Meets Pope

Cheney met with the Pope today in the Vatican, where they had a 15-minute talk.

Randall Mikkelsen of Reuters reports that Cheney presented the Pope with a crystal dove.

But the Pope, who opposed the war in Iraq, was having none of it. The 83-year-old pontiff, who has Parkinson's disease, called on Cheney and Bush to seek international cooperation to achieve "unity, peace and respect for the dignity of all."

"In a world marked by conflict, injustice and division . . . I encourage you and your fellow citizens to work at home and abroad for the growth of international cooperation," he said.

What's the News From Little Rock?

Dana Milbank reports in The Washington Post: "President Bush on Monday hailed the capture of an al Qaeda leader in Iraq, as the White House moved to defend U.S. intelligence capabilities after several government officials said Saddam Hussein may not have had weapons of mass destruction."

James Risen of the New York Times had a different take, writing that the White House "began to back away on Monday from its assertions that Iraq had illegal weapons, saying it now wanted to compare prewar intelligence assessments with what may be actually found there."

What was the president doing in Little Rock anyway? Blaming trial lawyers for the high cost of health care, Mark Sherman reports for the Associated Press.

Although Richard W. Stevenson in the New York Times writes about "how difficult it is to distinguish between George W. Bush the president and George W. Bush the candidate for re-election" sometimes, and he uses the trip to Little Rock as a case in point.

More from the First Comedian

In the second item of his Reliable Source column in The Washington Post, Richard Leiby has some more of President Bush's jokes from the top-secret Alfalfa Club dinner Saturday night. (See yesterday's White House Briefing column for others.)

Here's one of them:

"But what a stellar crowd," Bush said. "It looks like the index of Paul O'Neill's book. Let me say something about that book. Paul said I was disengaged because he talked to me for 45 minutes and I didn't say a word. I wasn't disengaged. I was bored as hell and my mother told me never to interrupt. . . . "

Ribs, Socks, Whatever

In his White House Notebook, Dana Milbank of The Washington Post notes the similarities between the current president's visit to a rib joint in New Mexico and an event "staged by the president's father in November 1991 -- when he, too, faced reelection during a time of stubborn unemployment. Then-President George H.W. Bush walked into a J.C. Penney in Frederick, Md., and bought four pairs of 'USA' athletic socks for $15.

"Back then, Pat Buchanan, who challenged Bush the elder for the Republican nomination, mocked him for an economic plan consisting of 'going up to J.C. Penney and buying four pair of socks.'

"It's a good thing the current president's would-be rivals are distracted in New Hampshire, or we would surely have heard taunts that his solution for the 2.3 million jobs lost on his watch is to buy a platter of baby backs."

Milbank also notes some other father-son similarities, digs up another interesting allegation from the White House tell-all book starring former Treasury secretary Paul H. O'Neill, and observes that "Bush used the word 'junk' 14 times in a speech in Little Rock yesterday to refer to excessive medical malpractice lawsuits. Just in case anybody missed the point, he said: 'I call them junk suits because they don't have any merit.'"

Deficit Watch

Jonathan Weisman writes in The Washington Post about a new report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that says the federal deficit will reach $477 billion this year, up sharply from last year, "and the government is on track to accumulate nearly $2.4 trillion in additional debt over the next decade."

Weisman writes: "A White House official said the president's own deficit forecast will look 'substantially different' when he releases his 2005 budget on Monday."

Edmund L. Andrews in the New York Times notes that the new outlook "casts new doubt on the ability of President Bush to fulfill his promise of cutting the deficit in half over the next five years, particularly if he persuades Congress to make his tax cuts permanent, which he has vowed to do."

From John D. McKinnon in the Wall Street Journal: "Republicans chose to focus on good news in the report: an improving economy during this year and next, fueled in part by the big tax cuts and heavy federal spending that have contributed to the current rash of deficits. But even Republicans conceded that it is time to start exercising more control."

Or, as Kenneth R. Bazinet writes in the New York Daily News, "It's not just President Bush's plans for NASA that are to the moon and beyond: His budget shortfalls are also proving astronomical."

© 2004