The Increasingly Unpopular President

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, June 10, 2005; 12:57 PM

When President Bush says "polls go up, and polls go down," he's about half right.

Two new public-opinion surveys show Bush's poll numbers are dropping into solidly negative territory.

In the just-out Associated Press/Ipsos poll , Bush's job approval ratings and the public's confidence in the direction he's taking the nation are both at their lowest levels ever.

A whopping 55 percent of those polled actually disapprove of the job he's doing, compared to 43 percent who approve.

Bush's "favorability" ratings have consistently been higher than his "approval" ratings, but even there, for the first time, there is trouble. This week's Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that 51 percent of respondents said they had an unfavorable impression of the president.

Pollingreport.com lets you track and compare all the various job approval and favorability ratings over time.

And the more you dig into the results, the worse it gets.

Will Lester writes for the Associated Press: "While Bush has gotten generally low scores for his handling of domestic issues for many months, most Americans have been supportive of his foreign policy. Not any more."

In fact, as with The Post's poll, the AP poll shows there is no longer a single area in which the public approves of the job Bush is doing.

On the economy, the approve/disapprove split in the AP poll is 43/54; on health care, education and the environment, 40/57; on foreign policy issues and the war on terrorism, 45/52; on the situation in Iraq, 41/56; and on Social Security, 37/59.

When is it time to start referring to Bush as an unpopular president? When his approval ratings are solidly below 50 percent for at least three months? Check. When his approval ratings on his signature issues are in the red? Check. When a clear majority of Americans say he is ignoring the public's concerns and instead has become distracted by issues that most people say they care little about? Check.

And a Reality Check

Here's how Bush described his plan for Iraq, at his joint press availability with Prime Minister Tony Blair on Tuesday: "We'll support Iraqis as they take the lead in providing their own security. Our strategy is clear: We're training Iraqi forces so they can take the fight to the enemy, so they can defend their country. And then our troops will come home with the honor they have earned."

Anthony Shadid and Steve Fainaru write from Baiji, in northern Iraq, with a chilling and gripping tale about the U.S. military's attempt to train the Iraqi army's Charlie Company.

They put it bluntly: "The reconstruction of Iraq's security forces is the prerequisite for an American withdrawal from Iraq. But as the Bush administration extols the continuing progress of the new Iraqi army, the project in Baiji, a desolate oil town at a strategic crossroads in northern Iraq, demonstrates the immense challenges of building an army from scratch in the middle of a bloody insurgency."

Here's what one of the training officers -- Lt. Kenrick Cato, 34, of Long Island, N.Y., who sold his share in a database firm to join the military full time after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks -- tells Shadid and Fainaru:

"I know the party line. You know, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Army, five-star generals, four-star generals, President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld: The Iraqis will be ready in whatever time period. . . . But from the ground, I can say with certainty they won't be ready before I leave. And I know I'll be back in Iraq, probably in three or four years. And I don't think they'll be ready then."

Time to Level with the Public?

Carl P. Leubsdorf writes in the Dallas Morning News: "A top congressional Democratic supporter of U.S. action in Iraq said Thursday that President Bush should make a nationally televised speech and 'level with the American people' about the long road ahead there.

"Faced with declining public support, Mr. Bush needs to tell Americans 'it's going to take a lot more time . . . at least through the end of 2006,' and explain what still has to be done there, Sen. Joe Biden told reporters after returning from his fifth visit to Iraq.

"The Delaware senator, senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said he gave his suggestion Tuesday to Stephen Hadley, Mr. Bush's national security adviser, after finding 'a total disconnect' between the situation in Iraq and optimistic statements by Mr. Bush and his top aides. . . .

"A White House aide acknowledged the Biden-Hadley meeting but had no comment on the senator's proposal, noting that Mr. Bush often speaks about the situation in Iraq."

Every Question Is an Opportunity

White House Communications Director Nicolle Davenish, in an interview on CNN with Dana Bash yesterday, modeled classic White House non-responsiveness to tough questions. Briefly knocked off the talking points, she explained the rationale.

"BASH: I want to ask you about Guantanamo Bay, the prison camp there. The president said in an interview yesterday that the government was looking at all alternatives regarding Guantanamo and terror prisoners. The press secretary, Scott McClellan, essentially said the same thing today.

"The defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said that no one in the U.S. government is looking into the possibility of closing Guantanamo. So, who's right?

"DEVENISH: Well, look, I think that the president of the United States is always looking at the best way to accomplish our objectives here. Now, we remain a country at war. It's important to keep in mind who the prisoners are that are at Guantanamo. These are enemy combatants who were picked up on the battlefields of Afghanistan primarily, and when the president talks about looking at alternatives and the best ways to get -- to meet our objective, that objective is keeping America safe, so of course, the president of the United States is always looking for the best way to keep America safe.

"BASH: So, it sounds like there's a formal review underway.

"DEVENISH: I'm not aware of that, but, you know, I think the president spoke clearly and plainly and you heard from the White House, as well.

"BASH: You're the communications director. Has this been a bit of a PR nightmare for you?

"DEVENISH: Oh, there are no PR nightmares in Washington. It's always an opportunity to get to talk about the president's vision for getting things done."

Reporters also fruitlessly tried to get Scott McClellan to clear up the administration's position on the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba at yesterday's gaggle .

A short excerpt:

"Q So the bottom line is --

"MR. McCLELLAN: And that's all the President was saying, is that we're always looking at all alternatives.

"Q Bottom line is he's completely ruled out closing down Guantanamo?

"MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

"Q The bottom line is that he's completely ruled out --

"MR. McCLELLAN: I would leave it -- I would say what the President said, that we're always looking at all alternatives for dealing with detainees. That's what he said yesterday and that's where we are."

Downing Street Memo Watch

A potpourri of Downing Street Memo items:

Philippe Naughton writes from London in the Times Online: "It is not that often, we have to admit, that an item posted one night on Times Online is still getting hundreds of thousands of hits six weeks later, especially when what bloggers like to call 'the mainstream media' have largely ignored its existence.

"But that is what happened to the now infamous secret Downing Street memo, posted on the site on May 1 alongside a story by Michael Smith of The Sunday Times. And if the document has taken on a life of its own it is largely because of the bloggers and their web-savvy allies on the US Left."

A red-state paper that endorsed Bush comes out for disclosure. Here's today's Houston Chronicle editorial : "Intelligence agents' observations can be inaccurate. The head of the CIA at the time, George Tenet, erroneously thought the case for Iraqi WMD was a slam dunk. But the Downing Street memo accurately foresees the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the administration's attempts to link Saddam to al-Qaida and weapons of mass destruction -- links that were found after the invasion not to exist. The memo's observation that U.S. intelligence would be shaped to policy might be mistaken, but the administration did wind up using flawed analysis to justify its war policy to the American people. . . .

"In the interest of the nation and the administration, the source and content of the Downing Street Memo need to be fully explained."

Former New York Times ombudsman Daniel Okrent tells Terrence Smith on PBS that he is convinced that the American media is pursuing other stories on the memo. "My . . . thought is that something is coming, that it is a story that calls for a great deal of reporting, and sometimes the absence of something in the newspaper doesn't mean that it's not being reported, but they're waiting until they have it right. I hope that's the case.

"TERENCE SMITH: Do you have any evidence that it is?


Allegre , who keeps a diary on the liberal Daily Kos blog, reprints the e-mail she got in reply to her note about the Downing Street memo from John Walcott, Washington bureau chief for Knight Ridder newspapers:

Writes Walcott: "Knight Ridder was, in fact, the first American news organization (more than a week before our local paper here in Washington) to write about the Downing Street memo and the light it shed on the Bush administration's decision to go to war in Iraq.

"And almost six months before the memo was written, in early February 2002, we reported that the President had decided to oust Saddam Hussein and ordered his advisors to begin preparing plans for doing so. To read this and all our other Iraq coverage (we were the only news organization to consistently challenge the administration's assertions about Iraq's WMD programs and ties to al Qaida, go to http://www.realcities.com/mld/krwashington/ and click on the Iraq intelligence and preparations for war buttons. Please feel free to share that link with anyone else you think might be interested."

Also on the Daily Kos blog, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), author of this petition , writes: "[O]n Thursday, a week from today, I will be holding a hearing with my Democratic colleagues to begin to hear evidence about the [Downing Street Memo]. We will have a number of witnesses, including Joe Wilson, who frequent readers here already know is a WMD expert and former Ambassador; Ray McGovern, a 27-year CIA analyst; Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in Iraq; and John Bonifaz, a renowned Constitutional attorney. At the conclusion of the hearing, we will go to Lafayette Park and I will personally deliver your signatures to the White House.

"This hearing is just one step in an investigation that I am commencing that will literally span the Atlantic. I am in touch with British officials and former U.S. intelligence officials and I am determined to get to the truth."

Social Security Watch

Mike Glover writes for the Associated Press: "U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said Thursday he is pushing ahead with a plan to ensure solvency of Social Security, even if personal accounts aren't included.

"This follows lengthy meetings with White House advisers, including top political adviser Karl Rove, said Grassley. . . .

"Grassley said he will not discuss the substance of his meetings with White House officials and was delicate in his general descriptions.

" 'I see these meetings as fully supportive of my efforts to get a bill out of committee,' said Grassley."

David E. Rosenbaum writes in the New York Times about how Republican legislative leaders are dropping hints that action on Social Security may not be in the cards this year, an indication that "the top item on the president's domestic policy agenda is faltering."


Edward Alden writes in the Financial Times: "The White House yesterday offered to negotiate with congressional Democrats over enforcing labour rights provisions in a trade agreement with Central America and the Dominican Republic, the latest sign that the administration fears the proposed deal is in jeopardy.

"President George W. Bush met more than a dozen Democrats who had raised concerns that weak labour standards in the region could undercut US workers. It was his fourth meeting with members of Congress to try to build support for the Central American Free Trade Agreement."

Patriot Actor

Judy Keen writes in USA Today from Ohio: "President Bush said here Thursday that unless Congress makes permanent the provisions of the USA Patriot Act that are set to expire on Dec. 31, efforts to stop future terrorist attacks would be imperiled. . . .

"Bush's speech lasted 23 minutes, and he spoke to 150 law enforcement officers. It was a much smaller audience than is usually assembled for a presidential visit, and his speech was about half as long as most speeches he gives on overhauling Social Security.

"But Bush's target audience wasn't the cops in the room; it was members of Congress who are deciding whether to extend and expand the law that was passed hurriedly by big margins weeks after 9/11 to give law enforcement more power to pursue terrorists."

Jennifer Loven writes for the Associated Press: "During Bush' 2004 re-election campaign, he made preserving the law a common refrain, but he has rarely spoken of it since. His renewed focus came as Congress has begun working on the act's renewal amid fresh criticisms -- from members of both parties -- that it undermines basic freedoms."

Edwin Chen writes in the Los Angeles Times: "On Tuesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to expand the Patriot Act, approving a provision that would allow the FBI to use 'administrative subpoenas' to obtain medical, financial, library and other records without a judge's approval in terrorism cases.

"The president Thursday did not mention expansion of the act, but White House spokeswoman Dana Perrino said Bush supported such efforts."

Here's the transcript of Bush's speech:

"Over the past three-and-a-half years, America's law enforcement and intelligence personnel have proved that the Patriot Act works, that it was an important piece of legislation. Since September the 11th, federal terrorism investigations have resulted in charges against more than 400 suspects, and more than half of those charged have been convicted."

Can someone get me a run-down on those 400 suspects, and what they were accused of doing?

Today's Calendar

Bush visited the National Counterterrorism Center in Tysons Corner this morning and tapped retired Vice Admiral John S. Redd to be its director.

Redd most recently served as executive director of the White House's WMD Commission. Here's the White House announcement .

Bush also spoke again about the Patriot Act. Here's the transcript .

Korea Watch

Anthony Faiola and Joohee Cho write in The Washington Post: "South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun will press President Bush in a meeting in Washington on Friday to reaffirm the United States' commitment to a diplomatic resolution of the North Korean nuclear standoff, according to South Korean officials familiar with Roh's plans. Roh intends to underscore Seoul's position that any military option is 'unacceptable.' "

Ambassador Picks

Peter Wallsten writes in the Los Angeles Times: "President Bush has nominated two wealthy California supporters and Republican fundraisers for two of the government's most coveted overseas postings.

"If the Senate gives its approval, Los Angeles venture capitalist Ronald Spogli will become U.S. ambassador to Italy, and Orange County automobile dealership executive Robert H. Tuttle will become ambassador to Britain."

Edward Alden writes in the Financial Times: "Other countries typically send their most experienced and skilled diplomats to head missions in Washington, such as Sir David Manning, the current British ambassador to the US who has more than 30 years of diplomatic experience and is one of Prime Minister Tony Blair's closest foreign policy advisers. But US presidents have frequently rewarded political loyalists with ambassadorial appointments in the most glamorous European capitals."

Where's Osama?

James Gordon Meek writes in the New York Daily News about his exclusive interview with Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmoud Kasuri.

"Kasuri met privately with President Bush yesterday, but the subject of Bin Laden didn't come up, he said."

Obnoxious Pop-Up Ad

No one likes pop-up ads. But the Secret Service might take issue with this one: Punch Out George W. And Get a FREE* XBOX 360 .

Cavuto Redux

FishbowlDC blogger Garrett M. Graff reports that Neil Cavuto's interview with Bush on Fox News on Wednesday (See yesterday's column ) was the talk of A-list media parties last night.

Reports Graff: " 'Is it any wonder that the President will sit down for an interview with Fox News?' one reporter asked at the Atlantic event last night. '[The White House] couldn't come up with easier questions themselves.' "

© 2005 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive