No Worries?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, June 1, 2005; 1:03 PM

Consider this astonishing assertion from President Bush yesterday in response to a question at his press conference about whether he is concerned about having lost political momentum:

"I don't worry about anything here in Washington, D.C.," he said.

He continued: "I mean, I feel -- feel comfortable in my role as the President, and my role as the President is to push for reform. The American people appreciate a President who sees a problem and is willing to put it on the table."

But is it conceivable that an American president could not worry at all about politics?

And as for what the American people appreciate, public opinion polls decisively show that where Bush has put a problem on the table -- Social Security and Iraq come to mind -- overwhelming majorities of Americans don't appreciate it at all.

So maybe Bush was simply being disingenuous.

But here's another thought: Maybe he was being unusually and genuinely revealing about his approach to his job. Perhaps he really doesn't care about political ups and downs -- at least not in the short run, and certainly not enough to change course. Perhaps he's really that resolute.

A little while later Bush was talking about his Social Security proposals, which are floundering, and offered another glimpse into his thinking.

"I will give you some insight into what I think is going to happen in the process. It's just going -- it's like water cutting through a rock. It's just a matter of time. We're just going to keep working and working and working, reminding the American people that we have a serious problem and a great opportunity to act, not as politicians, but as statesmen and women to solve a problem."

So, faced with opposition from Democrats, the general public, and even from within his own party, Bush chooses to basically ignore it -- and instead repeat his positions over and over again until, he hopes, they sink in.

His resoluteness and strong leadership, after all, have gotten him this far. He clearly sees them as his greatest strengths. "The President has got to push. He's got to keep leading. And that's exactly what I'm going to do," he said in his closing remarks.

But at some point, it's not leading anymore if the country's not following.

The Coverage

Jim VandeHei writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush dismissed yesterday suggestions that his influence is waning less than six months into his second term, blaming partisanship and timidity in Congress for the lack of action on his plans to bring change to the United Nations, restructure Social Security and enact a new energy policy this year."

Peter Wallsten and Edwin Chen write in the Los Angeles Times: "News conferences have become a monthly feature of Bush's second term, an effort that administration strategists hope will help him to continue to set the agenda. The president's words Tuesday, however, reflected the stark contrast between his declaration after the November election that he had won a mandate to spend 'political capital' and the realities that now exist, less than six months into his final four years in office."

William Douglas writes for Knight Ridder Newspapers: "Alternating between confidence and frustration, President Bush Tuesday acknowledged that his Social Security plan and other top agenda items are moving slowly, but vowed to fight for them and insisted that his presidency isn't inching toward lame duck status."

Richard W. Stevenson notes in the New York Times: "He dodged or deflected a number of questions, like whether he would be willing to back off his call for investment accounts in Social Security if doing so would lead to a bipartisan agreement. He deviated little from his standard responses on a variety of issues, including Iraq."

David Gregory told Chris Matthews on MSBNC: "The president insisted today that he's not worried about anything going on here in Washington. But, privately, Chris, aides admit to some frustration about the second-term agenda, which, in many ways, seems like it's increasingly stalled."

Noting Bush's comment about water cutting through a rock, Bob Franken told Suzanne Malveaux on CNN: "Suzanne, everybody was too polite [to mention] that that usually takes several thousand years to have an effect."

Live Online

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Getting It Wrong

Talking about detainees who have alleged abuse, Bush called them "people who hate America, people that had been trained in some instances to disassemble -- that means not tell the truth."

Disassemble, however, means to take apart. He was looking for the word "dissemble."

And speaking of China, Bush asserted: "Its economy is still small, but growing."

But according to the CIA World Factbook , China in 2004 stood as the second-largest economy in the world after the United States.

Moving Numbers

"I was heartened to see the Iraqi government announce 40,000 Iraqi troops are well-trained enough to help secure Baghdad," Bush said yesterday.

But CNN reports: "U.S. military officials said the operation involves 13,000 to 20,000 Iraqi security forces, backed by 7,000 U.S. forces in direct combat support. Iraqi officials earlier said 40,000 Iraqi security forces would be involved, a figure Bush also cited Tuesday."

Human Rights and the Absurd

James Gerstenzang writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Speaking at a news conference in the Rose Garden, the president used the word 'absurd' four times in the course of a 10-sentence response when asked his reaction to a highly critical report by Amnesty International that challenged the administration's respect for the human rights of detainees in the campaign against terrorism."

There was no follow-up question.

Mark Silva , writing in the Chicago Tribune, quotes William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA: "In the face of all this evidence, to try to dismiss this with a wave of the hand is really to fail in one's public duty."

On Consultation

Tom Raum writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush is promising to consult with senators on a Supreme Court nominee, although he says he'll also hold fast to his determination to 'find people of a certain temperament' to serve on the bench.

"Bush didn't say during a Rose Garden news conference on Tuesday how early in the process those talks would come or whether he would seek advice from Democrats as well as Republicans.

"Still, Bush's comments went further than the White House usually goes when discussing a possible Supreme Court vacancy."

About That Agreement

Bush confirmed last week's speculation that the White House was simply going to ignore the part of the Senate compromise that called for at least two of his judicial nominees to be denied a vote on the Senate floor.

"Now, in terms of whether that agreement means that a senator [sic] is going to get an up or down vote, I guess it was vague enough for people to interpret the agreement the way they want to interpret it. I'll put a best face on it, and that is that since they're moving forward with Judge Owen, for example, and others, that 'extraordinary circumstances' means just that -- really extraordinary. I don't know what that means. (Laughter.) I guess we're about to find out when it comes to other appellate judges. (Laughter.)"

The Plane

Ken Herman of Cox News Service asked: "Back on May 11th, I believe was the date, as you were off campus for recreation, a small plane came into restricted airspace, the alarm went off here at your house, a military operation ensued over Washington. Your staff says you were not notified because that was the protocol. Two questions: Do you think you should have been notified, and is there something wrong with protocols that render the President unnecessary when there's a military operation over Washington?"

Bush replied: "Obviously, we do have a protocol in place to be dealing with a situation that can unfold very rapidly. And these planes enter the airspace quickly, and so there's got to be something in place that can be dealt with in an expeditious matter. And we have such a plan, and I'm comfortable with the plan. And, secondly, I was comfortable with the decision by the people around me there, out there in Maryland. Anytime a situation like this comes up, people are constantly reviewing the situation, but I was very comfortable with the decision they made."

Herman shouted: "Do you often disagree with your wife?"

Bush replied: "Herman -- (laughter) -- here's the way it is. She often disagrees with me. (Laughter.) Thank you very much, Herman, for that."

Repetition Watch

No one who follows the president at all closely could have failed to note that many of his responses were, well, familiar. As in lifted almost whole from previous speeches and events.

Bush himself joked about it as he started in on a particularly hoary leftover from his campaign stump speech, about his relationship with the Japanese prime minister.

"I -- you probably suffered through this part of my speech on the campaign a lot when I talked about my relationship with Koizumi. And since you haven't heard it for a while I thought I'd bring it up again. I know."

Muttered objections, I'm presuming from Bloomberg's Richard Keil, ensued.

"Okay, Stretch, look, it's nice and warm, it's a good chance for you to hear the story again. (Laughter.)"

Bolton Watch

Richard W. Stevenson writes in the New York Times: "President Bush criticized Senate Democrats on Tuesday for 'stalling' a vote on John R. Bolton's nomination as ambassador to the United Nations, and indicated that he would not grant them access to intelligence documents they have demanded to see before allowing the confirmation to go ahead."

Douglas Jehl reports in the New York Times: "The information that the White House has refused to provide to Congress for its review into the nomination of John R. Bolton includes the names of American companies mentioned in intelligence reports on commerce with China and other countries covered by export restrictions, according to government officials who have been briefed on the matter. . . .

"The administration has permitted the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee to review copies of the 10 intelligence reports, based on communications intercepted by the N.S.A., about which Mr. Bolton requested the additional information. But the names of American people and companies were deleted, and the administration has refused to provide the names to Senate leaders."

Bush yesterday insisted that "the intelligence committee reviewed the NSA intercept process and confirmed that Bolton did what was right."

Uzbekistan, At Long Last

"Thanks for bringing it up," Bush said, after being asked why he has been silent about the violent crackdown in Uzbekistan.

Reuters reports: "President Bush said on Tuesday he wanted a full inquiry into a bloody government crackdown on protesters in Uzbekistan, and the United States expected 'all our friends' including Uzbekistan and Egypt to honor human rights."

Venezuela Watch

The Chavez-Bush battle is heating up.

Alex Kennedy writes for Bloomberg: "President George W. Bush said he's concerned that Venezuela brought treason charges against some of the organizers of last year's referendum to recall President Hugo Chavez, a White House spokesman said.

"Bush met with Maria Corina Machado, leader of the opposition group Sumate, for about 15 minutes today at the White House, Frederick Jones, White House National Security Council spokesman, said in a statement. Venezuela's Attorney General last year charged four Sumate members, including Machado, with illegally accepting $31,000 from the National Endowment for Democracy, a private American group financed in part by the U.S. government."

Meanwhile, in South America, Juan Forero writes for the New York Times: "Mr. Chávez is burnishing his image by mining latent anti-American sentiment and capitalizing on Washington's mistakes, like the tacit support the White House gave to a short-lived coup against him in 2002. . . .

"Washington's initiatives around the globe receive dour news coverage in Latin America, from the war in Iraq to prisoner abuses in Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba."

Social Security Watch

Dennis Cauchon writes in USA Today about an idea that isn't getting much air time in Washington -- although it's quite popular with the public: "Taxing all income and capping benefits would fix Social Security -- mathematically, at least. The program would run a permanent surplus if all income -- including the millions earned by athletes, movie stars and corporate tycoons -- were subject to the 12.4% Social Security tax and if benefits for the affluent were capped at current levels, according to the Social Security Administration."

Blair Watch

Reed Landberg writes for Bloomberg: "U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair will travel to Washington next week to seek U.S. President George W. Bush's support for alleviating poverty in Africa and fighting global warming."

Today's Calendar

Bush meets with the president of South Africa and the secretary general of NATO.

Vice President Cheney delivers the commencement address at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado.

Dinner With the Powells

The Bushes headed over to the Powell place for dinner last night.

Gwyneth Shaw of the Baltimore Sun filed the pool report: "On short notice, your pool scrambled to catch a previously unannounced motorcade to take POTUS and FLOTUS off-campus for dinner. They left the White House at 6:43 pm, and arrived just under 20 minutes later at a private house in McLean, VA. Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and his wife Alma opened the door -- surprising the members of the pool, who had not been told in advance who would be hosting. Powell was dressed in a light-colored dress shirt and khakis (no jacket or tie); POTUS embraced him and, turning to wave at the cameras, removed his suit jacket and grinned. FLOTUS wore a light-colored pantsuit."

The private dinner, with just the two couples, lasted more than two hours.

Here are the photos .

More Bushes Watch

CNN reports: "Florida Gov. Jeb Bush would be 'awfully good' in the job of president, but the timing isn't right, his father and former President George H.W. Bush told CNN Tuesday.

"Asked if he would want Jeb to run, Bush said, 'Someday I would, yes.' . . .

"But the former president, who turns 81 this month, said, 'The timing's wrong. The main thing is, he doesn't want to do it.'

"But he added, 'Nobody believes that.' "

Bush made the comments on Larry King Live .

Question Time

Sydney H. Schanberg writes in his media column in the Village Voice, apropos the Newsweek retraction: "I submitted a single question to six [top] officials by fax today, starting with the president. The question was (in various wordings, depending on the official): 'Given subsequent events and information, do you wish to retract or apologize for or amend any mistakes or statements you have made in relation to the Iraq war -- from the preparation for the war to the present?' Their responses, should they come, didn't make the Voice's early holiday deadline for this issue. But I will keep you posted."

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