What Would Bush Do?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, July 19, 2004; 11:49 AM

How Sen. John Kerry would govern as president is one of the obvious topics of the 2004 campaign coverage.

But how President Bush would govern in a second term is an open question as well.

Dan Balz writes in a Washington Post news analysis: "As he campaigned around the country last week, President Bush asked voters to give him another four years to make the nation 'safer and stronger and better.' But with the election less than four months away, one of the biggest mysteries surrounding the president's campaign is what he would actually do if he wins a second term.

"Bush's failure to detail a second-term agenda -- beyond his pledge to keep waging an aggressive war on terrorism -- represents a stark contrast to his previous campaigns, in which he set out a handful of priorities almost from the opening day and rarely deviated from them."

But Bush advisers insist this is all part of the plan.

"'After their [the Democrats] convention is over and we're into the August phase and into our convention, we will begin aggressively talking about the president's vision for the next four years,' White House communications director Dan Bartlett said. . . .

"White House senior adviser Karl Rove has told Republican allies that, in the 2000 campaign, Bush suffered from having little new to say in September and October, and that the 2004 campaign plan was drawn up to avoid that mistake."

Capitol Hill Becomes a Sinkhole

For Bush to achieve his yet-unstated vision would also require that a November election victory give him enough of a mandate to break the current deadlock in Congress.

Janet Hook writes in the Los Angeles Times: "After three years of getting most of the major legislation he wanted through a cooperative Congress, President Bush is coming up almost empty-handed this year as he heads into the homestretch of his reelection campaign.

"Capitol Hill has turned into a sinkhole for the unfinished business on Bush's agenda, which includes bills to spur domestic energy production, crack down on lawsuits, extend his 2001 tax cuts and liberalize immigration rules. . . .

"Last week's Senate debate on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage was symptomatic of the many forces conspiring to turn this year into a legislative bust for the White House. Despite Bush's strong push for the amendment -- a crowd pleaser for his party's conservative wing -- it met with resounding defeat in the face of solid Democratic opposition and a divided Republican Party."

Rove Speaks

Carla Marinucci of the San Francisco Chronicle got some time Friday in California with a confident Karl Rove, who explained his view of the campaign.

On the one hand, Democrats have failed to articulate their vision on key issues, he says.

On the other: "At the end of the day, there's no doubt in my mind that people will say we have a steady, solid, resolved leader who knows what it is that he wants to do and how he's going to get there . . . particularly somebody who shares our values and views on the economy . . . our communities, and the challenges facing our society."

Speaking of Confidence

Associated Press reporter Scott Lindlaw passed a note via staff to the president on the flight down to Tampa on Friday, in which he asked what the president thought of the Tour de France and whether fellow Texan Lance Armstrong would pull off a record-breaking sixth win.

Pool reporter Maura Reynolds of the Los Angeles Times wrote to her colleagues: "Following the gaggle, Bush wandered into the adjacent cabin, caught Lindlaw's eye, and said: 'He's going to win and I'm going to win. There's no need to worry about either race any more.'"

Lindlaw himself writes that Bush grinned and flashed two thumbs up when he said it.

9/11 report

The book-length report from the 9/11 commission will be out this week, and it looks like the White House will be spending a lot of time trying to deflect criticism.

Dan Eggen and Steve Coll write in The Washington Post: "The final report of the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks recommends a major restructuring of the nation's intelligence community and includes broad criticism of the White House, Congress and other parts of the U.S. government for failing to detect, thwart and better respond to the deadly hijackings, according to panel members and other officials."

Eggen and Coll write that the commission staff has documented previously unknown meetings, memos, chronologies and messages, many of which support former counterterrorism coordinator Richard A. Clarke's position that Bush and his national security team had been slow, distracted and cautious about the bin Laden threat during the first months of 2001.

Susan Schmidt writes in The Washington Post that, just in time for inclusion in the report, the White House agreed to declassify another one of the highly-guarded President's Daily Briefs -- this one prepared for President Bill Clinton in December 1998.

"The PDB shows that the intelligence community and the White House had been aware of al Qaeda's interest in hijacking U.S. airliners long before the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001," Schmidt writes.

But a Bush administration official charges that the outgoing Clinton administration didn't brief them about it.

Iran Watch

The final report will also reassert that al Qaeda and Iraq did not form a close working relationship -- while al Qaeda's contacts with Iran were far more advanced than previously believed.

Robin Wright writes in The Washington Post that the 9/11 report " may further intensify the policy debate" about Iran.

Scot J. Paltrow writes in the Wall Street Journal: "The anticipated disclosure by the 9/11 Commission of contacts between Iran and al Qaeda before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks could ratchet up pressure on the White House to explain its subsequent emphasis on a threat from Iraq despite apparently far greater evidence of Iran's terrorist dealings."

Michael Isikoff and Michael Hirsh write in Newsweek that the report "raises new, sharper questions about whether the Bush administration was focused on the right enemy when it decided to remove Saddam Hussein."

Andrea Myers says on NBC's Today show that "the commission is silent on the ultimate judgment: Could 9/11 have been prevented?"

Cheney Family Values

Tamara Lipper and Evan Thomas write in Newsweek: "Around Bush-Cheney headquarters, they are known, respectfully but also with a certain amount of eye-rolling, as The Family. Vice President Dick Cheney's wife, Lynne, and daughters Liz and Mary can be intense, insular and prickly as they protect their man, his reputation and his place on the GOP ticket. For White House and campaign staffers, the Cheney family can be dangerous to cross and easy to disappoint."

Cheney and McCain

Amy Goldstein writes in The Washington Post: "The good feeling at a campaign rally Friday between Cheney and the maverick Republican senator from Arizona, John McCain, was palpable."

Peter Luke of Booth Newspapers writes that Cheney and McCain spoke to "a smaller-than-advertised crowd of less than a thousand at the Lansing Center."

Cheney said he and Bush would be back in Michigan again. "'You're going to be seeing a lot of both of us in the next 109 days,' Cheney said to cheers of 'four more years.'

"As the Republican crowd departed the downtown convention center, a couple dozen protesters across the street shouted: 'Four more months.'"

Joel Feick of ABC12 in Flint reports that "the United States Secret Service examined my briefcase on the way in. I was carrying, among other things, an apple and a banana.

"They confiscated the apple, saying I could have thrown it at the vice president. But the banana made it through."

Here's the text of Cheney's remarks -- which, in a break with White House Web site protocol, also includes some of McCain's introduction. Guess they liked it.

McCain: Not Interested

Does McCain have any desire for Cheney's job? Doesn't sound like it.

On Sunday, Beth Fouhy of the Associated Press reports, McCain recycled a line he used while being courted by Democrat John Kerry for the Democratic ticket, comparing the job of vice president to his experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

"I spent a number of years in a North Vietnamese prison camp in the dark and (was) fed scraps, and I don't know why I would want to do that all over again," McCain said.

Cheney in Minneapolis

The Associated Press reports that conservative talk show host Sean Hannity and Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) were among the warm-up acts for Cheney at a Minneapolis rally on Saturday.

"Coleman compared Bush's allegiance to Cheney, who some have called a drag on the ticket, with Abraham Lincoln's faith in Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant.

"'He was rough at times. He didn't look so hot in his uniform. He sometimes used a cuss word,' Coleman said of Grant. But he said Lincoln countered critics with, 'He fights.'"

Cheney on the Move

Thomas M. DeFrank writes in the New York Daily News: "Cheney's reputation as the power behind the Bush throne, particularly with respect to Iraq, has damaged his public standing. Yet he has never been more beloved by the GOP faithful, and re-election planners have mapped out a heavy travel schedule for the veep in battleground states in the next 15 weeks."

DeFrank, who's been traveling with Cheney a lot lately, writes that the vice president delivers "crowd-pleasing broadsides with the passion of a stalactite," but that his "taciturn, serious-to-a-fault style is seen as a definite virtue by Bush-Cheney strategists, a perfect foil to the youthfulness and inexperience of Edwards."

Today's Calendar

Bush meets with President Ricardo Lagos of Chile and Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi of Malaysia. Then comes the big event: Bush holds a photo op with Indianapolis 500 champion Buddy Rice, complete with props. The Indy 500 trophy and the winning No. 15 Rahal Letterman Argent/Pioneer Panoz G Force/Honda/Firestone car will be on display on the South Lawn.

Bush has invited NASCAR drivers to the White House several times, but Rice will be the first Indianapolis 500 winner to visit the White House following his victory since Rick Mears visited President George H.W. Bush in 1991, writes Dave Lewandowski of Indy500.com.

Cheney delivers remarks at the Boone County Lumber Co. in Columbia, in the great swing state of Missouri, then at the Medical College of the great swing state of Ohio in Toledo.

Poll Watch

Richard W. Stevenson and Janet Elder report that the latest New York Times/CBS News poll "found that Mr. Bush's approval ratings were at low levels for an incumbent at this point in a presidential campaign and that for the first time a majority of Americans feel the United States should have stayed out of Iraq.

"The results suggested that the country is as deeply divided as ever, leaving both sides struggling to alter the campaign's basic story line, in which Mr. Bush is showing clear vulnerabilities but Mr. Kerry has been unable to exploit them."

Here are the complete poll results.

National Guard Watch

The Associated Press reports that it has now "asked a federal judge Friday to order the Pentagon to quickly turn over a full copy of President Bush's military service record. . . .

"The news service asked U.S. District Judge Harold Baer to hear arguments in the case and to direct the Pentagon to comply with the FOIA request within three days."

I've posted a copy of the lawsuit

Human Trafficking . . . and Cuba?

Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush on Friday furthered his effort to raise the importance of cultural issues in the campaign, tailoring a speech here on sex trafficking to appeal to Florida's Cuban exiles and to religious conservatives."

Bush's speech was officially a nonpolitical appearance at a Justice Department conference on trafficking in forced labor.

Attorney General John D. Ashcroft "compared Bush to Abraham Lincoln and introduced him as 'a leader who has called us to an understanding of freedom, not as America's gift to the world, but as the Almighty's gift to humanity.'"

Elaine Silvestrini writes in the Tampa Tribune: "Rallying law enforcement to his familiar portrayal of good versus evil, President Bush stopped in Tampa on Friday to address a conference on human trafficking. . . .

"Bush made a point of vowing to bring democracy to Cuba, an issue that plays especially well in Florida, and he singled out Fidel Castro in his speech even though a Justice Department report on human trafficking makes no mention of him."

Tamara Lush and Dong-Phuong Nguyen write in the St. Petersburg Times that Bush's remarks addressed "an issue of vital concern to Evangelical Christians, one of the most important components of Bush's political base."

Here is the text of his speech in Tampa.

Friday's Unannounced Stop

Bush and his entourage stopped off at a Cuban cafe after his speech in Tampa.

Accompanied by daughter Barbara and brother Jeb, Bush walked into La Tropicana Cafe and ordered four Cuban sandwiches. (Well, actually, he was just picking them up; his advance team had already placed the order, according to the St. Petersburg Times.)

The bill came to $19.11. Bush paid with a twenty. His brother asked if he left a tip. "You take care of it," the president said.

Those 16 Words

Richard W. Stevenson and David Johnston ask in the New York Times: "Were those infamous 16 words correct after all?

"It has been a year and a half since President Bush's 2003 State of the Union address, in which he suggested in a single sentence that Iraq might have been trying to acquire uranium in Africa for its nuclear weapons program. And it has been a year since the White House and the C.I.A. acknowledged that the evidence behind that assertion was flawed, opening Mr. Bush to a torrent of criticism about the credibility and reliability of the intelligence he used to justify toppling Saddam Hussein.

"But now two new reports have reopened the question of whether Mr. Bush was indeed correct when, on Jan. 28, 2003, he told the nation and the world, 'The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.'"

Valerie Plame Watch

Last week's Senate intelligence committee report challenged former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV's credibility on key elements of his -- and his wife, Valerie Plame's -- role in the uranium saga.

Stevenson and Johnston writes that "Patrick Fitzgerald, the federal prosecutor examining the leak of Ms. Plame's identity, is expected to announce in a matter of weeks whether he will prosecute anyone."

David S. Cloud and Gary Fields write in the Wall Street Journal that "the sparring about Mr. Wilson's veracity could give the Justice Department an excuse to back away from indictments, at least until after the November presidential election. Even if charges are brought, the details in the Senate report about Mr. Wilson give the White House more ammunition to use against him, blunting the blow if someone in the administration is accused of being behind the leak."

But Cloud and Fields also write that "the report, in strictly legal terms, shouldn't have any effect on Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation into whether the White House violated a law that makes it a crime to disclose the name of a clandestine intelligence officer."

Wilson had a letter to the editor in The Washington Post on Saturday in which he insists: "The decision to send me to Niger was not made, and could not be made, by Valerie."

Motivating the Base

Anne E. Kornblut and Susan Milligan write in the Boston Globe: "With just 108 days left in the campaign, the president is still proudly in step with his conservative base rather than gravitating toward more centrist issues as candidates usually do at this point. On issue after issue, from stem cell research to Cuba policy, Bush has shown little appetite for 'tacking to the middle,' as political operatives call it -- and his campaign advisers freely describe their strategy as one designed to motivate millions of conservatives to vote rather than attract the narrow slice of the electorate that is still undecided.

"This new base-centered approach, chiefly championed by Bush strategists Karl Rove and Matthew Dowd, marks a sharp departure from the broad campaign Bush waged in 2000 as a 'compassionate conservative,' when his goal was to emphasize his softer, moderate side. And the current strategy is the exact opposite of the race run by George H. W. Bush in 1992, when he disappointed his conservative supporters and lost."

CIA Watch

Walter Pincus writes in The Washington Post: "The White House has put off for now a decision on whether to name a new CIA director before the November election, as officials continue to search for a candidate they believe could do the job and survive Senate confirmation during a heated campaign, according to senior administration and congressional officials."

The Michael Moore of Hip-Hop

Joe Heim writes in The Washington Post about the furor over New York rapper Jadakiss's new hit single "Why?" in which, "[a]gainst a thudding, almost hypnotizing beat, the 29-year-old artist growls, 'Why did Bush knock down the towers?'"

Bush's Short(er) Vacation

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in her White House Letter in the New York Times that "the 2004 campaign has ruined Mr. Bush's Texas vacation. Or put another way, if Mr. Bush doesn't give up a lot of his summer holiday, the fear at the White House is that he could be on a permanent one after the first of the year.

"In a summer when Michael Moore's film 'Fahrenheit 9/11' is attacking Mr. Bush for spending 42 percent of his first eight months in office on vacation instead of worrying about Al Qaeda (Mr. Moore's calculation came from The Washington Post), the image of Mr. Bush lazing away August on his 1,600 acres was not one that Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's chief political adviser, particularly relished."

Bush spent almost all of August on the ranch during the past three years. This year, Bumiller writes: "Final details are to come, but the bottom line is that Mr. Bush will spend only two weeks at the ranch compared with his usual four."

Rove Caption Contest

On Friday, I asked you readers to propose captions for this photo. Hundreds of you e-mailed me entries, and I didn't have time this weekend to read them all. (The ones I did see are a scream, though!) So, apologies to everyone, but I won't be posting the winners until tomorrow.

Bush Book Watch

Elise Soukup writes in Newsweek about language expert Allan Metcalf's "Presidential Voices," a just-published book that examines the speaking style of each of our presidents.

Metcalf calls Bush the "Blunderer in Chief."

Paul Bedard writes in his Washington Whispers column for U.S. News: "Republicans have had it with the wave of anti-Bush books and movies popular in today's media, so they are penning their own thank you to the president in a book set for release the day before the Republican National Convention opens in New York later next month. Titled 'Thank You President Bush,' the book will include chapters from many well-known Republicans and conservatives explaining why they like the president."

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