Blame the Democrats

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, June 15, 2005; 12:14 PM

With his party solidly in control of two, going on three, branches of government -- but his agenda flailing in part due to lackluster support from his own fellow Republicans -- President Bush yesterday made it clear where the blame lies: With the Democrats.

Mike Allen and Michael A. Fletcher write in The Washington Post: "President Bush poured out his most politically confrontational rhetoric since his reelection to a huge gathering of Republican donors last night, asserting that Democrats 'stand for nothing but obstruction' on Social Security and other issues on his agenda. . . .

"Republican congressional aides said that by framing Democrats as obstructionist, he is beginning to insulate himself against possible defeat on Social Security. Administration officials said he is as determined as ever."

The presidential rhetoric and the stagecraft were at new heights yesterday. Bush abandoned any attempt to sound bipartisan and spoke in front of a dramatic set of the east front of the White House that, as Allen and Fletcher write, made it look like he was speaking from his driveway. Here's an AP photo .

Adam Entous writes for Reuters: "President Bush on Tuesday unleashed his harshest criticism yet on Democrats for thwarting his second-term agenda, demanding they put forward ideas of their own or 'step aside' and signaling a more aggressive administration strategy of attack.

"With approval ratings the lowest of his presidency and critics suggesting he is already losing political clout, Bush blamed 'do-nothing' Democrats for holding up an overhaul of Social Security and delaying votes on his nominees to the federal bench and the United Nations.

"The assault highlighted administration frustrations over Democratic tactics, and offered a preview of Republican strategy in the run-up to the 2006 mid-term elections."

Here's the text of Bush's speech.

"This is a very important dinner because, through your generosity, we're going to keep control of the Senate and the House, and America will be better off for it," he said at the opening.

"I'm proud to be the head of a party that has a positive and hopeful and optimistic vision for every single person who lives in this country. (Applause.) And I'm proud to be a head of a party that is driving the debate on all the key domestic and foreign policy issues. (Applause.) Because of our achievements, the American people see us as the party of reform and optimism and results -- the party that is moving this nation forward. (Applause.)"

As for the "other party," Bush said: "On issue after issue, they stand for nothing except obstruction, and this is not leadership. (Applause.) It is the philosophy of the stop sign, the agenda of the roadblock, and our country and our children deserve better. (Applause.)

"Political parties that choose the path of obstruction will not gain the trust of the American people. If leaders of the other party have innovative ideas, let's hear them. But if they have no ideas or policies except obstruction, they should step aside and let others lead. (Applause.)"

On the Fundraising Circuit

Last night's dinner raised $23 million for the two Republican congressional campaign committees.

Earlier in the day, before a speech on Social Security, Bush headlined a $1.5 million fundraising lunch for Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), a top target of Democrats in the 2006 midterm elections. Reporters were not allowed into the event, held at the home of real estate developer Mitchell Morgan in the Philadelphia suburb of Bryn Mawr.

Edwin Chen writes in the Los Angeles Times: "He is done running for office. The next round of congressional elections is still more than 16 months away. But President Bush is already flexing his muscles around the country as fundraiser-extraordinaire. . . .

"The president's prodigious prowess on the money trail is about far more than vanity, however.

"Many of his legislative initiatives, especially Social Security, are foundering on Capitol Hill, with even members of his own party openly taking him on, as many House Republicans did in defying his veto threat by voting to expand funding for embryonic stem cell research. As Bush moves deeper into his second term, that uphill climb will only become steeper, and come at a time when he will need all the congressional allies he can muster."

But Is Bush Hurting the Party?

Richard W. Stevenson writes in the New York Times: "The political risks of his decision to push doggedly ahead with his ambitious agenda were on full display as Mr. Bush appeared twice in Pennsylvania, a battleground state with one of the oldest populations in the nation, alongside Mr. Santorum, one of his most ardent supporters on Social Security.

"In part because of his support for the changes sought by the president, including the establishment of individual investment accounts and benefit cuts for future generations of middle- and upper-income workers, Mr. Santorum is trailing in his 2006 re-election race and is perhaps the No. 1 target next year for Democrats as they seek to cut into or wipe out the Republican majorities in the House and Senate."

Ron Fournier writes for the Associated Press: "Fearing that President Bush's political problems may become their own, Republicans in Congress and elsewhere are beginning to yearn for the good old days of seven months ago, when he had somebody to run against. . . .

"The Bush campaign succeeded in its 2004 strategy -- to make the election a referendum on Kerry and not the incumbent. Now, every day is a referendum on Bush. . . .

"The president proudly considers himself a politician who forges ahead, despite the obstacles, but some Republicans are worried that Bush's resolve could cost them control of Congress in 2006 or 2008."

Live Online

I'm Live Online today at 1 p.m. ET, eager to hear your questions and comments about all things White House.

Bush Meets Dissidents

Peter Baker and Glenn Kessler write in The Washington Post: "Bush lately has begun meeting personally with prominent dissidents to highlight human rights abuses in select countries, a powerfully symbolic yet potentially risky approach modeled on Ronald Reagan's sessions with Soviet dissidents during the Cold War. . . .

"The sessions -- which come at a time when the Bush administration has itself come under international criticism for abuses at the prison facilities in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and elsewhere -- represent a personal follow-through on Bush's inaugural address in January, when he vowed to activists around the world that 'we will stand with you' in battles against repression."

The most recent such meeting: Monday's Oval Office encounter with Kang Chol Hwan, a journalist who wrote a book recounting a decade spent in a North Korean prison camp.

Baker and Kessler write that Bush asked Hwan to autograph a copy of the book. " 'If Kim Jong Il knew I met you,' Bush then asked, referring to the North Korean leader, 'don't you think he'd hate this?' "

The visit, incidentally, was not exactly kept secret. Within hours of the meeting, the White House distributed this official photo to the media.

Cheney Watch

Vice President Cheney was the keynote speaker on Monday at the Gerald R. Ford Journalism Awards for distinguished coverage of the presidency and national defense, held at the National Press Club. Here's the video .

Jim VandeHei and Josh White wrote in Tuesday's Washington Post: "Vice President Cheney offered a vigorous defense yesterday of the secretive prison for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and said the United States has no plans to shut it down.

"Although President Bush kept open the possibility of closing the prison outpost in Cuba, Cheney said such a move would be unwise because the United States needs a special prison to hold and interrogate potential terrorists captured around the world. Cheney said prisoners there are treated 'far better' than they would be by any other government and disagreed sharply with critics who charge the United States' image has been undermined by allegations of abuse at the facility."

Cheney took a number of questions, including one about how this administration defines excellence in journalism. Cheney replied: "I'll know it when I see it." Nervous laughter ensued, then a smattering of applause, then silence. Then the next question.

Hannity and Cheney

Fox News commentator Sean Hannity didn't make fellow Fox Newser Neil Cavuto's mistake. After Cavuto's interview last week with Bush, I noted that Cavuto asked Bush about Michael Jackson -- but neglected to ask about Iraq.

Hannity had Cheney on his program Monday. Not one word about Michael Jackson, and a real grilling on Iraq.

Here's the transcript :

"HANNITY: You keep, in the administration, coming under fire for Iraq. We just had elections in Iraq. The security forces are growing in Iraq.

"CHENEY: Right.

"HANNITY: There's still an insurgency, but there's a lot of progress. What do you make of how that war has been politicized? Where would we be today if we didn't go to Iraq?"

At the end of the interview, Hannity apparently turned to Cheney's wife and rued his hard-hitting style. "A lot of fun. Lynne, I was too tough on him,' he said.

Cheney Revisionism

Cheney has thoroughly and consistently rejected any notion that he might run for president in 2008. But in talking to Hannity, his answer makes you wonder.

"HANNITY: All right, in spite of all your denials, there is still tremendous speculation that you may run for president yourself in 2008. Do you give it any consideration?

"CHENEY: Sean, I looked at it many years ago, and concluded back about 1994, '95 that I was not going to run, and went off to private life. I came back at the request of the then-governor of Texas to be his running mate. I've loved being vice president. It's been a tremendous experience. But it works in part because my agenda is his agenda. I don't have anything here that I'm trying to do. I'm not worried about what I'm going to do in the Iowa Caucuses in 2008. I'm here to serve the president and to focus on the problems of the moment. And I think it's very important that I continue to do that."

But let's remember just how Cheney was brought out of private life last time: After being appointed to lead Bush's search committee for a vice presidential candidate, he picked himself.

Cheney even jokes about it sometimes. For instance, he told graduates at Auburn University last month: "The lesson I want to share with you is this: If you ever get asked to head up an important search committee, say yes."

And when it comes to 2008 Republican presidential candidates , Cheney (along with Rove) will likely be leading the search committee that carries the most weight.

Social Security Watch

In between his two fundraisers, Bush spoke for 35 minutes to a group of young future farmers gathered in a Pennsylvania State University auditorium.

Larry Eichel writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer: "The polls are dismal, and any signs of progress in Congress are hard to discern.

"But an upbeat President Bush brought his ongoing campaign to overhaul Social Security to Penn State's main campus here yesterday afternoon, after his fund-raising appearance in Bryn Mawr."

Here's the text of his speech, only about half of which was actually about Social Security.

I'm not sure exactly where he was going here: "We're living in historic times. These are amazing times. And I hope you're as excited about them as I am. I wish I could tell you this wasn't the truth -- the case, but the case is, we're still fighting the war against terrorists. It's a different kind of war. But it's a necessary war, because our most solemn duty is to protect the homeland."

DSM Watch

John Daniszewski writes in the Los Angeles Times about what now appear to be six secret leaked British memos in all.

"In March 2002, the Bush administration had just begun to publicly raise the possibility of confronting Iraq. But behind the scenes, officials already were deeply engaged in seeking ways to justify an invasion, newly revealed British memos indicate. . . .

"Publication of the Downing Street memo at the height of Britain's election campaign at first garnered little notice in U.S. media or other British newspapers. But in the weeks that followed, anger has grown among war critics, who contend that the document proves the Bush administration had already decided on military action, even while U.S. officials were saying that war was a last resort."

A new memo from British Foreign Office political director Peter Ricketts to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on March 22, 2002, "bluntly stated that the case against Hussein was weak because the Iraqi leader was not accelerating his weapons programs and there was scant proof of links to Al Qaeda. . . .

"Ricketts said that other countries such as Iran appeared closer to getting nuclear weapons, and that arguing for regime change in Iraq alone 'does not stack up. It sounds like a grudge between Bush and Saddam.' That was why the issue of weapons of mass destruction was vital, he said."

Todd S. Purdum wrote in the New York Times on Tuesday that the memos "are not the Dead Sea Scrolls." They're old news, he writes.

But, he concludes: "For better or worse, the questions raised anew by the memos are not likely to go away."

Conyers Watch

As Terry Neal writes for washingtonpost.com: "Democrats this week are escalating their efforts to highlight the so-called 'Downing Street Memo.'

"Rep. John Conyers Jr. (Mich.), the senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, has scheduled a public forum for Thursday on the subject. And 104 House Democrats have signed a letter written by Conyers to President Bush asking him for a detailed response to the memo."

And a rally has been threatened for later in the day across from the White House.

Confrontation Over Africa

Here's what was going on behind the smiling photo op :

Richards W. Stevenson writes in the New York Times: "The leaders of five African nations confronted President Bush on Monday about what they said was the slow pace at which the United States is releasing aid to poor nations, and got a pledge from Mr. Bush to speed things up."

And Peter Wallsten writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Several influential black pastors who were recently courted by Bush administration officials as potential partners in crafting African relief policies are now questioning the White House commitment to the continent."

Today's Calendar

Bush talks about energy today at the Ronald Reagan Building, then attends the Congressional picnic on the South Lawn this evening.

Revolving Door Watch

Andrew C. Revkin writes in the New York Times: "Philip A. Cooney, the White House staff member who repeatedly revised government scientific reports on global warming, will go to work for ExxonMobil in the fall, the oil company said today.

"Mr. Cooney resigned as chief of staff for President Bush's environmental policy council on Friday, two days after documents obtained by The New York Times revealed that he had edited the reports in ways that cast doubt on the link between the emission of greenhouse gases and rising temperatures."

The Unwelcome Intern

The Wonkette blog calls attention to the story of a college student who campaigned for Kerry, served as president of the College Democrats at the University of Pennsylvania, and nevertheless got a job in the White House correspondence office.

For a day.

The Politics PA Web site has a Q&A with Jess Smyth: "I was excited about having an opportunity to serve my government. The President is the leader of the United States, not just of the people who voted for him, and I believe that the Office of the Presidency transcends partisan divisions. In my mind, when the White House accepted me, knowing I was a Democrat, it somehow confirmed this belief."

But at the end of her first day at work, Smyth says, "my supervisor came in and told me that due to a stricter intern policy that security was enforcing, until I received FBI clearance, I could not return. They indicated that they weren't sure how quickly it would be processed: no timeline was given, but they would call me.

"Nine days later, on June 1st, I had not yet heard from them."

The President and the Porn Star

The Associated Press reports: "A typical political fundraiser on Tuesday night got a not-so-typical guest, porn star Mary Carey.

"Carey was a guest at the President's Dinner in Washington, D.C. The annual fund-raiser is put on by committees helping Republican congressional candidates.

"Earlier, the blonde attended a Republican lunch that featured a speech by White House adviser Karl Rove. Carey said she met 'a lot of nice people' who talked about helping her raise money for her next campaign.

"Carey plans on running for lieutenant governor in California next year as an independent, after an unsuccessful bid in the last gubernatorial campaign."

White House, the Brothel

The Washington Times reports: "Heidi Fleiss -- the once-famous 'Hollywood madam' -- intends to build a brothel in Nevada that looks just like 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., not as 'a political statement, just a marketing one,' according to Las Vegas ABC affiliate KLAS ."

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