They Don't Apologize

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, June 24, 2005; 1:54 PM

There are at least two reasons why no one should expect any apologies from Karl Rove or the White House for Rove's controversial comments Tuesday night, in which he described the liberal approach to national security as being weak and possibly even treasonous.

1) This White House doesn't apologize.

2) Why apologize when you said exactly what you meant to say?

Karl Rove didn't get George W. Bush this far just by luck. Rove has a brilliant and so far unbeatable strategy when it comes to political warfare: He doesn't defend his candidate's weaknesses, he attacks his opponent's strengths. Unapologetically.

Consider the 2004 campaign, when Rove was faced with a Vietnam problem. A war hero was running against his boss, who had opted to stay well out of harm's way. Rather than defend, Rove attacked -- and put John Kerry on the defensive.

Today, Democrats are uniting against the war and the public is increasingly worried and critical about Bush's leadership. So what's Rove doing? Rather than defend against their criticisms, Rove has decided to go for the jugular.

The most compelling anti-war arguments are that the war in Iraq was a diversion from the war on terror and that American troops are dying daily for no good reason. So Rove's response is to liken war critics to al Qaeda sympathizers intent on subverting the American military.

On Tuesday night, Rove said that after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks liberals "wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers."

And excoriating Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) for comments which he said put American troops in greater danger, Rove concluded: "No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals."

In the wake of a hue and cry from Democrats demanding that Rove apologize or be fired, the White House distributed the full text of Rove's remarks to the press corps yesterday and deployed a phalanx of spokespeople to rally round.

At yesterday's briefing , press secretary Scott McClellan said Rove was just "telling it like it is."

"Q So will the President ask Karl Rove to apologize?

"MR. McCLELLAN: Of course not."

Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. had this to say on CNN : "Karl Rove's speech was a speech that I think reflected some of the rhetoric that a lot of people feel."

Bush's counselor, Dan Bartlett, did the morning shows today, impishly suggesting that he found it "puzzling" that Democrats are so upset about Rove's attack on liberals. He said Rove was talking about groups like Moveon.org and liberals like filmmaker Michael Moore.

"The fact that Democrats feel they have to rally around Moveon.org and Michael Moore is baffling to me," Bartlett said. "There is no reason to apologize for a statement that was made."

The Coverage

Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post: "Democrats accused Rove, President Bush's top political strategist, of impugning their patriotism, misrepresenting the support they gave Bush after terrorists hit the United States and demeaning the memories of victims. Republicans accused Democrats of overreacting to what they said were accurate characterizations of reactions among some liberals and of having defended slanderous statements against the U.S. military. . . .

"The acrimonious exchanges came just two days after Durbin bowed to Republican-led pressure and apologized for comparing the treatment of prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba to techniques used by the Nazis and the Soviets. Together, the episodes underscored the growing harshness and rising political stakes of the debate over national security at a time of declining support for Bush's handling of the situation in Iraq and pressure on him to outline a strategy for success there."

Edwin Chen writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Democrats said Rove's comments represented an attempt to exploit the fight against terrorism for political gain. But the White House rejected that claim and turned aside Democratic demands for an apology or a presidential condemnation. . . .

"In seeking to refute Rove's contention, Democrats noted that just three days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the Senate voted 98 to 0 -- and the House 420 to 1 -- for a resolution authorizing Bush to 'use all necessary and appropriate force' against those behind the attacks. After those votes, Bush issued a statement praising Congress for being 'united so powerfully.' "

John Harwood 's 'Washington Wire' column in the Wall Street Journal sums it up this way: "Republicans play security card amid political slide."

Rove and Scarborough

Much was made on MSNBC all day yesterday about Rove's upcoming appearance on conservative commentator Joe Scarborough's show late last night. At the top of the show, Scarborough even referred to it as "my live exclusive interview with White House adviser Karl Rove." So I stayed up past my bedtime -- only to find that the interview was taped on Tuesday, before Rove's controversial comments.

Nevertheless, the interview gave some insights into Rove's state of mind.

Democrats, Rove said, "are dominated today by sort of the MoveOn.org wing of the Democratic Party, you know, the Howard Deans, the Dick Durbins, the MoveOn.org, the Michael Moores, and saying outrageous things. . . . " Rove said "there are a lot of Democrats who have not gotten over the last election. They're rage-filled. Look, they thought they were going to win. . . . They have never gotten over 2000. They will not get over 2004. And they are just letting their rage work its way through. And that's not helpful for them or for the system. . . .

"We ought to let elections be elections, and then, once the elections are past, there ought to be a time where we try and find common cause."

Rove on Bolton

Rove also made some news. Until now, White House officials have been noncommittal about whether or not Bush will give John R. Bolton a recess appointment if he's not confirmed by the Senate. Rove made it pretty clear.

"ROVE: John Bolton is going to be the United States ambassador to the United Nations. We will get either an up-or-down vote or he will be the ambassador one way. . . .

"SCARBOROUGH: A recess -- possible recess appointment?

"ROVE: Well, I'm not going to -- we have got plenty of options. . . . "

Cheney on Iraq

Paul Richter writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Vice President Dick Cheney defended his controversial comment that the Iraqi insurgency is in its 'last throes,' saying Thursday that the recent spike in violence is a final convulsion before the opposition forces collapse.

"In a CNN interview, Cheney compared the recent fighting in Iraq to the Battle of the Bulge and combat on Okinawa in World War II, climactic confrontations that preceded the surrender of Germany and Japan."

Here's the video .

CNN posted a partial transcript. But the White House took the unusual step of releasing the full transcript of an "exclusive" interview. (It's all part of the PR blitz.) Blitzer started things off by asking: "Let's talk about some controversial comments you recently made suggesting the insurgents in Iraq were in, your words, in their 'last throes.' Do you want to revise or amend those comments?"

"CHENEY: No, but I'd be happy to explain what I meant by that. . . . I think the months immediately ahead will be difficult months. I think there will be a lot of violence, a lot of bloodshed, because I think the terrorists will do everything they can to try to disrupt that process and that flow that's well underway.

"But I think it is well under way. I think it is going to be accomplished, [and] that we will, in fact, succeed at getting a democracy established in Iraq. And I think, when we do, that will be the end of the insurgency."

Blitzer pointed out that Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf, had just testified on Capitol Hill that that the insurgency appears undiminished.

Cheney went to the dictionary. "If you look at what the dictionary says about throes, it can still be a violent period -- the throes of a revolution. The point would be that the conflict will be intense, but it's intense because the terrorists understand if we're successful at accomplishing our objective, standing up a democracy in Iraq, that that's a huge defeat for them. They'll do everything they can to stop it."

Bradley Graham writes in The Washington Post that Abizaid yesterday "offered an assessment of the Iraqi insurgency that contrasted with more optimistic portrayals by some administration officials. He said that the resistance remains about as strong as it was six months ago and acknowledged the possibility that enemy fighters still have sufficient reserves to mount 'a military surprise' such as a surge in coordinated attacks.

"His remarks appeared at odds with a claim last week by Vice President Cheney -- reaffirmed yesterday in an interview with CNN -- that the insurgency is in its 'last throes.' Pressed on the seeming difference, Abizaid said, 'I'm sure you'll forgive me' for not criticizing the vice president."

Cheney on Social Security

Cheney for the first time indicated that Bush might sign a Social Security bill that does not include private accounts Blitzer: "If it's not part of a final solution, if the House and Senate pass legislation that doesn't include these private accounts, will he sign it into law?"

Cheney: "I wouldn't say that. I don't know. It would depend on what's in the bill."

Cheney on Gitmo

"The treatment they're getting -- they got a brand new facility down at Guantanamo. We spent a lot of money to build it. They're very well treated down there. They're living in the tropics. They're well fed. They've got everything they could possibly want. There isn't any other nation in the world that would treat people who were determined to kill Americans the way we're treating these people."

Iraq Watch

Reuters reports this morning: "President Bush will deliver a major address to U.S. troops and the nation about Iraq on Tuesday night from the U.S. military base at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the White House said.

" 'This is a critical moment in Iraq,' White House spokesman Scott McClellan said on Friday in announcing the speech. 'This is a real time of testing.' "McClellan said the speech would be delivered at 8 p.m., and that the White House has asked U.S. television networks to air the address live."

Bush meets and appears with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari today.

Robin Wright and Jim VandeHei write in The Washington Post that "the legacies of the U.S. and Iraqi leaders may now depend on how much they can achieve together over the next six months. Today they will meet at the White House to map out a joint strategy for the final phase of Iraq's transition. And for all their differences, they sound increasingly alike, from charting the political future in a new constitution to silencing an insurgency."

Invitation Required

So there was President Bush on stage at Montgomery Blair High School yesterday, with comedian Ben Stein, talking about Social Security. But here's the strangest thing: When Stein announced that he was Blair Class of 1962, there was no applause!

Maybe because there was no on in the auditorium actually from Blair High?

Nancy Trejos writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush visited Montgomery Blair High School yesterday for a town hall-style meeting to discuss his plan to partially privatize Social Security -- an appearance that drew about 400 protesters outside the Silver Spring school.

"The loudest voices came from some Montgomery County residents and Blair students who questioned why they were not allowed inside. They were kept far from the president, but their shouts and beating drums could be heard by some of the 500 invitees waiting to pass through security. . . .

"Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, said blocks of tickets were distributed to several nonprofit organizations, including Young America's Foundation, which selected the individuals who received them. . . .

"Duffy said he did not know if any of those invited were county residents."

Richard Benedetto writes in USA TODAY: "Many in the audience were college students, some of whom came on buses from Georgetown University to hear the president's speech."

Bush said he was pleased that Republicans are "laying out ideas" for Social Security, but as Caren Bohan writes for Reuters, he "did not address specifics of the starkly different proposals offered by the U.S. House of Representatives Republican leadership and Republican Sen. Robert Bennett of Utah. Both also differ from what Bush has proposed."

Mike Allen and Jonathan Weisman write in The Washington Post: "For six months, Republicans have traveled the country as fiscal Paul Reveres, sounding the alarm about the coming collapse of Social Security. Polls showed that although voters did not warm to President Bush's proposed solution, he made substantial headway in convincing them the retirement system is headed for insolvency.

"But when House leaders finally rolled out their Social Security plan this week, it did nothing to address the problem that lawmakers and the president have convinced the public is looming as baby boomers retire. Instead, the GOP proposal would create a temporary system of personal accounts that Democrats dismissed as a costly shell game."

Here's the transcript of yesterday's event.

And Ben? Nice shoes!

Bush and CAFTA

Libby Quaid writes for the Associated Press: "The White House sent Congress legislation late Thursday in an effort to secure passage of a controversial Central American trade agreement as Bush administration officials offered new concessions to the sugar industry to win support."

Here's the official White House letter , and here's the text of Bush's remarks about CAFTA yesterday.

NBC Exclusive No More

FishbowlDC blogger Garrett M. Graff reports on the demise of NBC's exclusive access to the first lady's upcoming Africa trip.

Are You Ready For Some Tee-Ball?

The first game of the fourth-annual "Tee Ball on the White House South Lawn" will be held Sunday, June 26, 2005, the White House announced .

The Gay Aide

New York Daily News gossip columnists George Rush and Joanna Molloy publicly out White House aide Israel Hernandez this morning: "President Bush isn't letting potential howls from the Christian right stop him from nominating an openly gay man as assistant secretary of commerce. . . .

"The 35-year-old Republican go-getter has been a Bush acolyte since the President's 1994 campaign for governor of Texas. (Among Hernandez's duties was supplying the candidate with breath mints, prompting Dubya to dub him 'Altoid Boy.'). . . .

"One source tells us Hernandez waited until Bush was sworn in for a second term to formally tell him he is gay. By then, says a source, he'd brought his partner to several official events.

"Hernandez appeared yesterday before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Asked by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) if he'd like to introduce anyone, Hernandez mentioned his sister, mother and father."

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