The First Veto?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, August 3, 2005; 12:30 PM

The battle lines are drawn.

President Bush reaffirmed yesterday his intention to veto legislation that would relax his restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist threw his support behind such legislation last week, making passage more likely when Congress returns from its August recess.

It would be Bush's first veto in more than four and a half years as president.

Stem cells, eminent domain and base closures were among the major topics during a 50-minute roundtable interview Bush held yesterday with reporters from eight regional newspapers, one of his last official acts before heading out to his Texas ranch for five weeks.

I have not been able to get my hands on a full transcript this morning, but one of the participants told me that after a rambling, 13-minute opening statement, Bush went around the table only once. Most of the questions had a local flavor.

There were no questions about Karl Rove and the CIA leak inquiry and no follow-ups to Bush's assertion in a roundtable with Texas newspaper reporters on Monday that he supports the teaching of "intelligent design" in public school science classes.

Yesterday's interview was with reporters from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the Detroit News, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Portland (Maine) Press Herald, the Harrisburg (Pa.) Patriot News, the Hartford (Conn.) Courant, the Des Moines Register and The New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Jane Norman writes for the Des Moines Register: "President Bush stood firm Tuesday on his stem cell research policy despite the defection of a key Senate Republican, raising the possibility Bush soon may face the first veto of his presidency.

" 'I am confident I have achieved the right balance between science and ethics,' the president said during a round-table interview with The Des Moines Register and seven other regional newspapers."

Kevin Diaz writes in the Minneapolis Star Tribune: "President Bush said Tuesday that he would veto legislation by Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman and other Republicans who want to relax his 2001 restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research."

David Lightman writes in the Hartford Courant: "President Bush said Tuesday he was 'troubled' by the Supreme Court's ruling in the New London eminent domain case and will give 'serious review' to congressional efforts to ease its impact.

" 'I'm concerned about the government overreaching,' Bush said in a 50-minute interview with eight newspapers, including The Courant. . . .

"During the interview, conducted a few hours before Bush left for Texas and a long working vacation, the president reiterated familiar positions on stem cell research, Social Security and the war on terror."

Bart Jansen writes in the Portland Press Herald about Bush's insistence that he will not interfere with the ongoing base-closure process.

Bill Walsh writes in the New Orleans Times-Picayune: "After his administration vociferously opposed sending $540 million to help repair Louisiana's eroding coast, President Bush said Tuesday that the money is a 'good start' and acknowledged for the first time a federal responsibility to help shore up the state's land. . . .

"Bush also defended his decision to limit federal financing of embryonic stem cell research, continued to press for private investment accounts in Social Security, and pointed to the elections in Iraq and the writing of a new constitution as signs of success in the face of a rising death toll from the active insurgency in Iraq."

Brett Lieberman writes in the Harrisburg Patriot News: "In a discussion shortly before leaving on a monthlong vacation to his Texas ranch, Bush said he was enthusiastic about progress in Iraq and recently passed transportation, energy and trade legislation.

" 'I am leaving town upbeat about the accomplishments the last couple weeks,' said the relaxed-looking president, who joked about packing his bags for Crawford himself during the 50-minute session in the Roosevelt Room adjacent to the Oval Office.

"Though Bush lost Pennsylvania by 100,000 votes after dozens of campaign swings through the state, he retained a sense of humor about it.

" 'Maybe that was part of my problem,' he said of the 45 visits, more than any other state than Texas, since he took office in 2001."

Denver Three Update

Jim VandeHei reported in The Washington Post over the weekend: "The Secret Service has determined the identity of a mystery man who forcibly removed three people from a March appearance by President Bush in Denver, but it has decided to not press charges.

"In a letter sent to three Colorado members of Congress, the Secret Service said that its investigation is over and that it will not name the man because no charges were filed.

"The terse letter -- released by the Colorado lawmakers -- puts to rest a months-long Secret Service probe into the identity of the man accused of impersonating a Secret Service agent to kick three anti-Bush Democrats from the president's rally."

Ann Imse wrote in the Rocky Mountain News: "U.S. Attorney William Leone said the investigation was 'thorough and complete.'

" 'I am certain that the Secret Service would demand, and our office would aggressively prosecute, any person who was found to be impersonating a Secret Service agent if the facts warranted such a prosecution,' Leone said in a statement. 'This is not such a case.' . . .

"Congressman Mark Udall, D-Colo., took issue with the investigation, saying 'it's puzzling that the Secret Service would take four months to come up with nothing.'

" 'Frankly, if the Secret Service and White House have nothing to hide, and if no law was broken, don't the American people have a right to know the results of the investigation and who was responsible for ejecting the Denver Three,' Udall said in a statement."

Denver Post columnist Jim Spencer today reports that officials of the museum where the event was held also know the identity of the man -- whom they describe as a member of the White House security detail.

Spencer reports that museum president told him yesterday "that Courtney Walsh, the museum's director of sales and corporate events, escorted [the three] to the door after they were ordered to leave by 'an individual on the (White House) security team.'

"Anderson knows that individual's name but said it's 'not appropriate' for the museum to reveal it."

A Denver Post editorial today proclaims: "Now that the U.S. attorney has declined to prosecute a Secret Service agent look-alike who ejected three people from a March 21 presidential forum, why does the White House refuse to say who he is? . . .

"The 'case' of the Denver Three isn't the biggest political scandal going, but it does seem to provide an intriguing look into how the White House works to control its image and message at what are purported to be public events. It also bespeaks an unseemly pettiness.

"Many of us remain curious about the identity of the mysterious and officious enforcer, and about who gave him his marching orders."

Imse quotes prosecutor Leone as saying: "Criminal law is not an appropriate tool to resolve this dispute. The normal give and take of the political system is the appropriate venue for a resolution."

And yet the give-and-take of the political system these days is not so good at getting answers from the White House.

Bush and 'Intelligent Design'

Peter Baker and Peter Slevin write in The Washington Post: "President Bush invigorated proponents of teaching alternatives to evolution in public schools with remarks saying that schoolchildren should be taught about 'intelligent design,' a view of creation that challenges established scientific thinking and promotes the idea that an unseen force is behind the development of humanity."

There's more about Bush's comments in yesterday's column. And here's the transcript of Bush's Monday interview.

Baker and Slevin write: "His remarks heartened conservatives who have been asking school boards and legislatures to teach students that there are gaps in evolutionary theory and explain that life's complexity is evidence of a guiding hand. . . .

"Opponents of intelligent design, which a Kansas professor once derided as 'creationism in a cheap tuxedo,' say there is no legitimate debate. They see the case increasingly as a political battle that threatens to weaken science teaching in a nation whose students already are lagging."

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "At the White House, where intelligent design has been discussed in a weekly Bible study group, Mr. Bush's science adviser, John H. Marburger 3rd, sought to play down the president's remarks as common sense and old news.

"Mr. Marburger said in a telephone interview that 'evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology' and 'intelligent design is not a scientific concept.' Mr. Marburger also said that Mr. Bush's remarks should be interpreted to mean that the president believes that intelligent design should be discussed as part of the 'social context' in science classes. . . .

"Mr. Marburger said it would be 'over-interpreting' Mr. Bush's remarks to say that the president believed that intelligent design and evolution should be given equal treatment in schools.

"But Mr. Bush's conservative supporters said the president had indicated exactly that in his remarks."

The Vacation Begins

Jim VandeHei and Peter Baker write in The Washington Post: "President Bush is getting the kind of break most Americans can only dream of -- 33 days away from the office, loaded with vacation time.

"The president departed Tuesday for his longest stretch yet away from the White House, arriving at his Crawford ranch in the evening for five weeks of clearing brush, visiting with family and friends, and tending to some outside-the-Beltway politics. By historical standards, it is the longest presidential retreat in at least 36 years.

"The August getaway is Bush's 49th trip to his cherished ranch since taking office and the 319th day that Bush has spent, entirely or partially, in Crawford -- nearly 20 percent of his presidency to date, according to Mark Knoller, a CBS Radio reporter known for keeping better records of the president's travel than the White House itself."

Bush is a divisive figure these days, so maybe it's no surprise that there are two completely different schools of thought on his long vacation.

VandeHei and Baker explain: "To critics and late-night comics, they symbolize a lackadaisical approach to the world's most important day job, an impression bolstered by Bush's two-hour midday exercise sessions and his disinclination to work nights or weekends. . . .

"To Bush and his advisers, that criticism fundamentally misunderstands his Texas sojourns. Those who think he does not remain in command, aides say, do not understand the modern presidency or Bush's own work habits. . . . And from the president's point of view, the long Texas stints are the best way to clear his mind and reconnect with everyday America."

Rove Watch

David Johnston writes in the New York Times: "Two aides to Karl Rove, the senior White House adviser, testified last Friday before a federal grand jury investigating whether government officials illegally disclosed the identity of an undercover C.I.A. operative, according to a person who has been officially briefed on the case.

"The aides, Susan B. Ralston and Israel Hernandez, were asked about grand jury testimony given on July 13 by Matthew Cooper, a reporter for Time magazine, the person who was briefed said. Mr. Cooper has said that he testified about a July 11, 2003, conversation with Mr. Rove in which the C.I.A. officer was discussed.

"The aides' grand jury appearances were first reported by ABC News and provided the first sign that the prosecutor in the case was interested in following up on Mr. Cooper's testimony with more questions for the White House about Mr. Rove. A person sympathetic to Mr. Rove said that the questions seemed typical of those posed by a prosecutor wrapping up the loose ends of an inquiry."


Tom Raum writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush signed a free trade agreement with six Latin American countries on Tuesday, celebrating a victory in Congress so narrow and grueling that it cast doubt on the future of other trade-opening pacts the administration is negotiating."

Here is the text of Bush's remarks at the signing ceremony.

It's Global War Again

Al Kamen writes in his Washington Post column: "Former State Department counterterrorism official Larry C. Johnson reported on his blog yesterday that the Global War on Terrorism, or GWOT, or The WOT, 'may still be alive.'

"A couple months ago, our colleague, Susan B. Glasser, reported that the Bush administration was undertaking a major review of its strategy on counterterrorism, and that officials wanted to change the name GWOT to something like GSAVE -- Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism. That would take into account the changed nature of the battle against international terrorism. . . .

"Apparently nobody told President Bush. At a White House meeting of senior officials Monday, Johnson wrote, 'Bush reportedly said he was not in favor of the new term. . . . In fact, he said, 'no one checked with me.' That comment brought an uncomfortable silence to the assembled group of pooh-bahs. The president insisted it was still a war as far as he is concerned.' "

Another Recess Appointment

The Associated Press reports: "President Bush again invoked a constitutional provision enabling him to bypass the Senate and install directly a nominee who had been blocked in the Senate. This time, he named Peter Flory to be an assistant secretary of defense. . . .

"Flory was first nominated to the post on June 1, 2004, but the nomination was blocked by Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, the senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, in a dispute over release of intelligence-related documents that Levin sought from Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy."

As Bradley Graham reported in The Washington Post in June, Levin has been trying "to press a probe, begun two years ago, into how Feith and his subordinates shaped the administration's view of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda before the U.S. invaded Iraq.

"Levin has criticized Feith for portraying the relationship as more extensive and significant than U.S. intelligence agencies thought at the time. Administration officials have defended Feith's prewar efforts as reflecting a legitimate attempt to provide an alternative analysis. The Pentagon produced many documents that Levin requested, but has withheld others, citing confidentiality and legal concerns."

Palmeiro Watch

A day after Bush said he still believes his friend, Baltimore Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, has never used steroids, Lee Jenkins reports in the New York Times: "The positive drug test that has left Rafael Palmeiro's legacy in doubt involved the potent anabolic steroid stanozolol, a person in baseball with direct knowledge of the sport's drug-testing program said yesterday."

Roberts and the White House

Mike Allen and R. Jeffrey Smith write in The Washington Post: "John G. Roberts Jr. said in a questionnaire released yesterday that he was first interviewed as a potential Supreme Court nominee in April and was questioned by Vice President Cheney in May, showing that the White House had been focusing on him months before a seat came open. . . .

"He said that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales interviewed him April 1, and that he met on May 3 with Bush confidants including Cheney, Gonzales, Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, White House counsel Harriet Miers and I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, Cheney's chief of staff. Roberts said he was interviewed separately by Miers on May 23. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor announced on July 1 her decision to retire. Roberts said he had a telephone interview with Miers and deputy counsel William K. Kelley on July 8 and was interviewed by Bush on July 15, with Miers present. He said none questioned him about his views on any case or legal issue."

Today's Calendar

Bush helicopters over to Grapevine today to speak at the American Legislative Exchange Council's annual meeting.

Off to Saudi Arabia

The Associated Press reports: "Vice President Dick Cheney will lead the American delegation to Saudi Arabia to pay respects after the death of King Fahd and the accession of King Abdullah.

"President Bush's father, former President George H.W. Bush, also will be in the delegation, along with Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and James Oberwetter, the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

"Cheney is to leave Washington on Wednesday evening and return early Friday."

FishbowlDC blogger Garrett M. Graff reports on a hilarious memo from the head of the White House Correspondents Association looking for a print reporter to volunteer for what sounds like an unpleasant and journalistically humiliating trip.

AP Radio's Mark Smith wrote: "[T]he VP's people warn me that the Saudis are not allowing any coverage of those meetings. Not even stills. In fact, most of the brief time on the ground in Saudi Arabia will be spent holding at the U.S. Embassy. In addition, they tell me there'll be no access to Cheney on either the outbound or the return trip. Filing after the meetings, if any, would be from the U.S. air base near Riyadh where Cheney's landing. Plus there's this added attraction -- it's expected that whoever volunteers for this trip will land his/her news organization with the airfare for the trip, and any other expenses."

Nobody volunteered.

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