Rove Questions Liberals' Sympathies

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, June 23, 2005; 12:20 PM

In an unusually incendiary public attack on the political opposition, Karl Rove last night suggested that liberals sympathize with the enemy and are intent on endangering American troops.

Rove's comments at a fundraising dinner in Manhattan for the Conservative Party of New York State were reported by Sam Dolnik of the Associated Press and Patrick D. Healy of the New York Times.

Rove, who is President Bush's chief political adviser and deputy chief of staff, derided remarks made last week by Senator Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.).

"Has there ever been a more revealing moment this year?" Rove asked "Let me just put this in fairly simple terms: Al Jazeera now broadcasts the words of Senator Durbin to the Mideast, certainly putting our troops in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals."

On the Senate floor last week, Durbin read from an FBI agent's description of treatment of prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility at the hands of American troops and said it sounded like something "done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime -- Pol Pot or others." On Tuesday, Durbin apologized for his analogy.

Rove last night also criticized Democrats for responding weakly to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001: "Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers," Rove said.

Jim Abrams of the Associated Press reports this morning: "Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, called on Bush to 'immediately repudiate Karl Rove's offensive and outrageous comments.' Rove, he said, 'should also apologize to the people of this country and particularly to the people of New York for his efforts to divide the country.' "

Rove's new comments come on the heels of an interview with David Gregory on MSNBC on Tuesday, in which Rove provided indications that Bush's new PR blitz to regain support for the war in Iraq may include the implication that criticizing Bush's plan is tantamount to supporting the insurgency.

When Gregory asked Rove about the dwindling public support for the war, Rove answered: "We need to remember, that's part of the goal of the insurgents. Their goal is to weaken our resolve by being so violent and so dangerous and so ugly that they hope that we will turn tail and run."

And consider that all this is coming from a man who in April, in a talk at Washington College in Chestertown, Md., lit into the press corps for hyping political conflict.

As Dana Milbank wrote in The Washington Post: "Rove attested that 'most people I know on both sides of the aisle actually believe in the positions they take,' and he proposed a rule: 'Unless you have clear evidence to the contrary, commentators should answer arguments instead of impugning the motives of those with whom they disagree.' "

Rove is set to appear on MSNBC tonight in an interview with conservative commentator Joe Scarborough.

The PR Push

Ronald Brownstein writes in the Los Angeles Times: "President Bush launches a major effort this week to reinvigorate support for the war in Iraq, but he faces a fundamental question: Can his words about the conflict still move public opinion?"

The problem: "[M]any experts believe that events now enormously outweigh arguments in shaping U.S. attitudes about the conflict. That means that unless security in Iraq improves, Bush may find it extremely difficult to reverse the steady erosion of support for the war evident in recent public opinion polls. . . .

"If Bush seems too upbeat while Americans are seeing almost daily carnage in Iraq, he could appear out of touch or disingenuous," Brownstein writes, adding: "White House officials insist that Bush will not change direction, even if his new effort fails to rally public support."

Kenneth T. Walsh writes in U.S. News: "Senior Republicans are increasingly concerned that the once-vaunted White House PR machine is misfiring or not firing at all. A big problem, they say, is that senior aides to President Bush who used to deal directly with the media during his first term and the campaign don't have much time to talk to reporters anymore. . . .

"White House insiders tell U.S. News that new recruits to the West Wing are gun-shy about talking to reporters because they fear making a gaffe or being accused by colleagues of leaking to the media--a cardinal offense in Bushworld. White House officials are still wedded to message control, with everyone speaking with one voice according to a script. But in the first term, a handful of senior White House and campaign officials divided up 50 influential reporters in Washington and took turns calling them --- to keep the journalists up to date, give the administration's spin on events, and acquire intelligence on what the media were about to report. . . .

"Even Bush's solo press conferences --- which he is holding at the rate of one per month -- aren't doing much to impress voters. That appears to be because Bush says the same things over and over again."

The Capitol Hill Disconnect

Judy Keen and Kathy Kiely ask in USA Today why Bush isn't doing better with his agenda on Capitol Hill?

"The bottom line, according to political veterans and analysts: Republicans in Congress have to run again. Bush doesn't.

"Alan Simpson, a Wyoming Republican who served in the Senate leadership and is a friend of the Bush family, says the president's 'uncharacteristic rigidity' on some issues is causing heartburn for Republicans. 'They're thinking re-election and the president is asking them to go over a cliff,' he says."

Message: I Care

Jim VandeHei writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush sounded a bit like Bill Clinton yesterday, telling Americans who are out of work, short on cash or frustrated by the rapidly changing economy that he feels their pain.

"Speaking at the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant in Lusby, Md., Bush delivered his standard call for a national energy policy with a new rhetorical twist -- an appeal to the millions of people not cashing in on global trade, the recent rounds of tax cuts or the business-friendly environment fostered by the president. . . .

"Bush did not promise new policies. Instead, a top aide said, the president was reviving a strategy first tested in 2002 to present his agenda as one aimed at the working man and woman. 'It's a familiar message . . . but one we have turned to again because we want people to consider the legislative priorities . . . in the context of a larger strategic goal of creating economic security for working families,' said a senior White House aide, who demanded anonymity to discuss the tactical shift."

Here's the text of Bush's 45-minute ramble through his domestic agenda.

"See, even though the numbers are still good, there are still worries out there in the country," Bush acknowledged. "And we've got the responsibility in government to take the side of our working families. So we're moving aggressively -- we're not taking the good numbers for granted; we're moving aggressively with a pro-growth, pro-worker set of economic policies that'll enhance economic security in the country."

Going Nuclear

Matthew L. Wald writes in the New York Times: "George W. Bush on Wednesday made the first presidential visit to a nuclear plant in 26 years, and declared, 'It is time for this country to start building nuclear power plants again.'

"Mr. Bush laid out steps that he said the government should take to help. None of those proposals were new, but his venue was: an office building next to the twin-unit Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant here, about 50 miles southeast of the White House."

Warren Vieth writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Nearly 50 years after Dwight D. Eisenhower waved a 'neutron wand' to fire up America's first atomic power plant, President Bush sought today to launch a new round of plant construction financed in part with federal dollars."


Bush also had some harsh words about opponents of his Central American free trade agreement: "See, I have a different approach than some of the economic isolationists who oppose this agreement. I believe they're pessimistic about America. I believe American workers can compete with anybody, anywhere, any time if the rules are fair. And so they need to pass CAFTA to be fair to our farmers and ranchers and workers and small business owners."

Jonathan Weisman wrote in The Washington Post yesterday about the White House's efforts to chip away at the opposition to the agreement on both sides of the aisle.

Social Security Watch

Mike Allen and Jonathan Weisman write in The Washington Post about a new approach to restructuring Social Security embraced by House Republican leaders yesterday.

"Republicans hope the new proposal will shift the debate away from future benefit cuts, as Bush envisions, to ending what they call the 'raid' on the current Social Security surplus. But the plan, unlike Bush's, would do nothing to remedy the New Deal-era program's long-term fiscal problems. . . .

"Although the new plan is considerably less broad than Bush's approach, it would still fundamentally change the way the Social Security system operates."

Richard Wolf explains in USA Today: "For months, congressional Republicans seeking to overhaul Social Security have been locked in a fight between the 'Pain Caucus' and the 'Free Lunch Caucus.' On Wednesday, the lunch bunch won the first round."

And Suzanne Malveaux reports on CNN: "Well, here's the White House strategy. Publicly, of course, they're saying that [Bush] is sticking with his plan, that he is behind those private investment accounts and that he is not moving away from that. Of course, privately, what they're trying to do is embarrass the Democrats, put them on the spot, and basically call their bluff, say: 'If you say that you're not willing to move forward, [that] you want the private investment accounts taken off the table and then you'll talk about Social Security reform, well, then, let's see it. Bring your ideas to the table.' "

Downing Street Memo Watch

Jefferson Morley writes in his washingtonpost.com column: "The DSM story, as the top-secret British document it is known on the Internet, has legs because it really represents two stories: an emerging alternative history of how the United States came to attack Iraq and a story of how the New Media has usurped some of the Old Media's power to set the agenda."

Bob Deans of Cox News Service profiles a couple at the heart of the Internet campaign to call attention to the memo. " 'When the media in the United States just basically took a pass on it, we decided that we wanted to get it out there,' said Bob Fesmire, who writes press releases for an industrial company.

"Working from their home in Sunnyvale, Calif., Fesmire and his wife, Gina, a graphic designer, created a Web site called Downingstreet memo.com in early May, posted the memo and related information there and generated a mass e-mail campaign to urge reporters and editors across the country to keep the story alive."

Michael Smith , the British journalist to whom a series of memos were leaked, writes in a Los Angeles Times op-ed today: "The way in which the intelligence was 'fixed' to justify war is old news.

"The real news is the shady April 2002 deal to go to war, the cynical use of the U.N. to provide an excuse, and the secret, illegal air war without the backing of Congress."

Today's Calendar

Bush attends another "conversation on Social Security" this morning, this time not too far away -- at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Md. He's being accompanied by comedian Ben Stein , Blair Class of 1962.

Around 1:45 p.m. ET he's expected to make a statement on CAFTA.

Eye on Ohio

Could Ohio have gone for Kerry?

James Dao writes in the New York Times about a new study for the Democratic National Committee which suggests that Republicans had tried to suppress the vote in heavily Democratic districts in Ohio.

James Drew and Steve Eder wrote in the Toledo Blade on Sunday: "In the final weeks of the 2004 presidential race, the nation focused on Ohio as both campaigns carefully choreographed every move by their candidates, knowing one misstep could throw the keys to the White House into the hands of the opponent. . . .

"At the same time - beneath the surface and out of public view - allegations were swirling that Tom Noe had laundered contributions into President Bush's campaign, and facts were emerging that the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation had lost $215 million meant for injured workers in a Bermuda hedge-fund.

"Now, more than six months later, those bombshells have created the biggest state government scandal in decades in Ohio. Democrats are charging that Republican leaders suppressed the potentially explosive information until all the votes were counted to save the President's re-election campaign."

Ticking Off North Korea

Burt Herman writes for the Associated Press: "North Korea condemned President Bush for meeting a prominent defector detained as a child in a prison camp, saying Thursday the move chilled the atmosphere for a return to nuclear disarmament talks. . . .

"Bush met last week at the White House with Kang Chol Hwan, a defector now working as a journalist in the South and author of 'The Aquariums of Pyongyang,' detailing his life in a North Korean prison where he was incarcerated as a child with his family."

NBC Exclusive?

Washington media blogger Garrett M. Graff writes that the White House press corps is "in an uproar" over what he describes as an exclusive deal with Laura Bush's press secretary that gives NBC exclusive video coverage of the first lady's upcoming trip to Africa.

Briefing Question of the Day

From yesterday's briefing with press secretary Scott McClellan:

"Q Scott, can you disavow me of the notion that the 'sharpening the focus' message you said the President was going to engage so far looks and sounds like summer reruns? What's new or what will be new in style or substance?"

"MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you heard a new speech today where the President was sharpening his focus on the economic agenda. . . . "

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