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Cheney's Still Got It

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, March 8, 2006; 12:12 PM

Faced with the frightening prospect of public hearings and active Congressional oversight into President Bush's contested domestic spying program, the White House sent out its big dog -- Vice President Cheney -- to bring straying moderate Republicans to heel.

Indeed, no matter what you have may have heard lately, the fact is that Cheney is still the Bush Administration's most ferocious warrior. Never mind the rumpus about his initial refusal to tell anyone -- even Bush -- that he shot someone while hunting in Texas. Disregard those reports of tensions between the vice president's office and, well, pretty much everyone else at the White House.

Cheney took point in the White House effort to quash a full-blown investigation into the program. And the guy still gets the job done.

Walter Pincus writes in The Washington Post: "The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence voted along party lines yesterday to reject a Democratic proposal to investigate the Bush administration's domestic surveillance program and instead approved establishing, with White House approval, a seven-member panel to oversee the effort.

"Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) told reporters after the closed session that he had asked the committee 'to reject confrontation in favor of accommodation' and that the new subcommittee, which he described as 'an accommodation with the White House,' would 'conduct oversight of the terrorist surveillance program.' . . .

"The panel's vice chairman, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), took a sharply different view of yesterday's outcome. 'The committee is, to put it bluntly, basically under the control of the White House through its chairman,' he told reporters. 'At the direction of the White House, the Republican majority has voted down my motion to have a careful and fact-based review of the National Security Agency's surveillance eavesdropping activities inside the United States.' "

David D. Kirkpatrick and Scott Shane write in the New York Times: "Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee said Tuesday that they had reached agreement with the White House on proposed bills to impose new oversight but allow wiretapping without warrants for up to 45 days.

"The agreement, hashed out in weeks of negotiations between Vice President Dick Cheney and Republicans critical of the program, dashes Democratic hopes of starting a full committee investigation because the proposal won the support of Senators Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine. The two, both Republicans, had threatened to support a fuller inquiry if the White House did not disclose more about the program to Congress."

So what happened?

"Mr. Hagel said the group worked out the last-minute deal in long telephone calls with Mr. Cheney; the White House counsel, Harriet E. Miers; and Stephen J. Hadley, the assistant to the president for national security."

There's some dispute about whether the White House gave in a bit, or not at all.

Greg Miller and Maura Reynolds write in the Los Angeles Times: "The developments enraged Democrats but delivered mixed results for the White House, which avoided a full-scale investigation of the spying operation, according to Senate Republicans, by agreeing to provide detailed briefings on the program to a larger number of lawmakers."

Rick Klein and Charlie Savage write in the Boston Globe: "Critics contend that the bill would allow the Bush administration to skirt the 45-day deadline by declaring that national security is at stake whenever a case is questioned. [The proposed] bill would not give the committee the authority to intervene, even in cases in which wiretapping appears to be unjustified.

" 'The White House could just decide not to tell them everything, and there's no sanction,' said Bruce Fein, a former Reagan administration lawyer who said he believes that the NSA program is illegal. 'And the president can still claim that he has inherent power to conduct surveillance.' "

James Kuhnhenn of Knight Ridder Newspapers got an interview with the committee chairman. Roberts made it sound like he was the one doing the arm-twisting.

" 'My message to the White House was that the status quo was not satisfactory,' Roberts said. 'They were pretty intransigent. I kept saying, "You're not facing reality.' "

"Roberts said he argued that if the White House didn't yield on Congress' assertion of greater oversight authority, Democrats would succeed in getting a broader investigation that could result in subpoenas, claims of executive privilege and, potentially, a court clash between Congress and the White House."

Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid's response: "One is left to wonder what it would take to make this Congress stop rubberstamping the Bush Administration and actually do real oversight."

Even When He Loses, He Wins in the End

Remember Cheney's one big defeat in the Senate? The vice president publicly took the lead in trying to scuttle Sen. John McCain's anti-torture proposal late last year. When that proved both unseemly and ineffective, Cheney was equally publicly pulled off the case.

Bush then embraced both McCain and his legislation in the Oval Office. Cheney was nowhere to be seen.

Big defeat for Cheney, right? Well, he had the last word. As Charlie Savage wrote in the Boston Globe in January: "When President Bush last week signed the bill outlawing the torture of detainees, he quietly reserved the right to bypass the law under his powers as commander in chief.

"After approving the bill last Friday, Bush issued a ' signing statement ' -- an official document in which a president lays out his interpretation of a new law -- declaring that he will view the interrogation limits in the context of his broader powers to protect national security. This means Bush believes he can waive the restrictions, the White House and legal specialists said."

Ron Hutcheson and James Kuhnhenn wrote for Knight Ridder Newspapers: "The roots of Bush's approach go back to the Ford administration, when Dick Cheney, then serving as White House chief of staff, chafed at legislative limits placed on the executive branch in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal and other abuses of power by President Nixon. Now the vice president and his top aide, David Addington, are taking the lead in trying to tip the balance of power away from Congress and back to the president."

Cheney's Big Stick

Cheney was out in public yesterday, pumping up the administration rhetoric on Iran. But in this case, he may have been a bit ahead of the White House, which discounted the significance of his comments.

Ken Herman writes for Cox News Service: "Vice President Cheney on Tuesday promised 'meaningful sanctions' if Iran does not back away from its nuclear program, a comment the White House said was not intended as an upgraded threat of possible military action. . . .

"At the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan said Cheney merely was restating the administration's position, which has been to steer clear of threatening the use of military force but to decline repeatedly to rule anything out.

" 'We're pursuing a diplomatic solution to this,' McClellan said."

Janine Zacharia writes for Bloomberg: "While Vice President Dick Cheney said yesterday that Iran would face 'meaningful consequences' if it continues to defy the international community, [Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice said the U.S. doesn't expect to see fresh international sanctions imposed on Iran right away."

Here's the text of Cheney's speech.

He also made this dubitable assertion: "Ladies and gentlemen, one of the basic truths of the world we live in today is that George W. Bush is a man of his word."

House Not Backing Down

It's unclear, however, if even Dick Cheney could stare down the House Republicans on the Dubai port deal.

Jonathan Weisman writes in The Washington Post: "Efforts by the White House to hold off legislation challenging a Dubai-owned company's acquisition of operations at six major U.S. ports collapsed yesterday when House Republican leaders agreed to allow a vote next week that could kill the deal. . . .

"A House vote on the measure next week will set up a direct confrontation with President Bush, who sternly vowed to veto any bill delaying or stopping Dubai Ports World's purchase of London-based Peninsular & Oriental Steamship Co."

Carl Hulse writes in the New York Times: "The House effort marked a remarkable public breach with the White House after years of working in tandem or quietly settling any differences behind closed doors. It demonstrated that the administration's effort to dampen opposition by negotiating a new security review and emphasizing Dubai's strategic value as an asset was failing. . . .

" 'What this shows is that the Republican leadership realized this cannot be swept under the rug and that time, if anything, will make things worse,' said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, a strong critic of the port proposal."

But Schumer apparently thinks things may not be entirely as they seem. He added: "The only question is, 'Is the Republican leadership acting with the quiet acquiescence of the White House or over their objections?' I think it is the former."

Gulf Coast Visit

Even the last-minute itinerary for Bush's trip today to the Gulf Coast -- sent out to the press corps late last night -- was full of "TBDs" instead of actual locations. Was the White House travel office worried about security? Or scrambling to find appropriate backdrops? Either one is kind of embarrassing.

Matt Spetalnick writes for Reuters: "President George W. Bush returns to hurricane-ravaged New Orleans on Wednesday seeking to fend off the latest fallout from a political storm that has battered his popularity and shows no sign of blowing over.

"Bush's trip, his 10th to the city since Hurricane Katrina, comes amid fresh scrutiny of his administration's botched response to the disaster, high on a list of troubles that have shaken public confidence in the president in his second term. . . .

"More than six months after Katrina struck, much of New Orleans, once best known as a boozy tourist mecca that lived by the motto 'Let the good times roll,' is still in ruins."

Spetalnick writes that many New Orleans residents "were disappointed by Bush's last stopover in January when his motorcade bypassed the worst devastation. His comment that the city was a 'heck of a place to bring your family' became fodder for late-night TV comedians."

Here is the transcript of Bush's talk on Jan. 12. "It may be hard for you to see, but from when I first came here to today, New Orleans is reminding me of the city I used to come to visit," he said then. "It's a heck of a place to bring your family. It's a great place to find some of the greatest food in the world and some wonderful fun. And I'm glad you got your infrastructure back on its feet."

Scooter Libby Watch

R. Jeffrey Smith writes in The Washington Post: "The CIA said in an affidavit released yesterday that meeting the demand of former White House official I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby for copies of highly classified intelligence documents he saw before he was indicted would 'impose an enormous burden' and divert its analysts from more important tasks."

David Johnston writes in the New York Times: "In response to the agency's objections, Mr. Libby's lawyers said in a court filing on Tuesday that they needed the material to show that the issues Mr. Libby dealt with in the presidential briefs 'dwarfed in importance' the matters related to the exposure of the identity of a covert C.I.A. officer, Valerie Wilson."

Angry Libertarians

Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post about all the Bush-bashing at the libertarian Cato Institute yesterday.

The first speaker was "former Reagan aide Bruce Bartlett. Author of the new book 'Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy,' Bartlett called the administration 'unconscionable,' 'irresponsible,' 'vindictive' and 'inept.' "

The second speaker was "conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan. Author of the forthcoming 'The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It; How to Get It Back,' Sullivan called Bush 'reckless' and 'a socialist,' and accused him of betraying 'almost every principle conservatism has ever stood for.' "

The Ungrateful Rich

Heidi Przybyla writes for Bloomberg: "High-income Americans may have benefited most from President George W. Bush's economic policies over the past five years. That doesn't mean they like them. . . .

"While high-income Americans have prospered from Bush's policies, reaping most of the benefits from the tax cuts he pushed through Congress during his first term, a majority of high-end earners told pollsters that former President Bill Clinton did a better job than Bush in managing the economy."

Have Faith

What's more effective, the Department of Homeland Security or prayer? Bush's answer: both.

Spencer S. Hsu writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush ordered the Department of Homeland Security yesterday to create a center for faith-based and community initiatives within 45 days to eliminate regulatory, contracting and programmatic barriers to providing federal funds to religious groups to deliver social services, the White House announced last night."

Here's the executive order .

Abortion Watch

Ken Herman writes for Cox News Service: "The White House noted on Tuesday that South Dakota's new anti-abortion law is significantly more restrictive than what President Bush supports.

"Spokesman Scott McClellan dodged questions about whether the administration would back the law in the expected court battle over it. He noted that Bush supports 'a culture of life,' but McClellan pointedly delineated the difference between Bush's position and what's in the South Dakota law."

Here's the transcript of McClellan's briefing.

Costly Vote

Agence France Presse reports: "President George W. Bush flew to his hometown to vote in a local Texas election, prompting questions about the cost to taxpayers of his long-distance trip. . . .

"Local journalists pointed out that Bush's aides let the deadline pass for submitting an absentee ballot while Bush was in Asia. Bush, who has spoken out against unnecessary government spending, could have mailed an absentee ballot for 39 cents instead of traveling nearly 1,500 miles."

No More Payne

Will Evans writes in Salon: "President Bush's nomination of Judge James H. Payne to one of the highest courts in the nation has been withdrawn, following questions raised in late January about Payne's ethics."

Impeachment Watch

David Gram writes for the Associated Press from Newfane, Vt.: "In a white-clapboard town hall, built circa 1832, voters gathered Tuesday to conduct their community's business and to call for the impeachment of President Bush. . . .

"The article, approved 121-29 in balloting by paper, calls on Vermont's lone member of the House, independent Rep. Bernie Sanders, to file articles of impeachment against the president, alleging that Bush misled the nation about Iraq and engaged in illegal domestic spying. . . .

"At least four other Vermont towns, spurred by publicity about Newfane's resolution, endorsed similar resolutions during Tuesday's meetings: Brookfield, Dummerston, Marlboro and Putney."

Harold Meyerson writes in his Washington Post opinion column that "this impeachment stuff is really getting around."

"It's all over the blogosphere. It's the cover story in the current Harper's. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has passed an impeachment resolution. Antiwar activists, civil libertarians, all the usual-suspect constituencies have growing impeachment tendencies. But it's reaching beyond the usual suspects, as I discovered last month when I appeared on a media panel before the national legislative conference of a major union. Local activists from across the nation spent an hour asking us questions, and one out of every three queries, it seemed to me, boiled down to, 'How can we impeach this guy?' "

But Meyerson writes: "To dwell on impeachment now would be to drain energy from the election efforts that need to succeed if impeachment is ever truly to be on the agenda."

Briefing Room Follies

Over the weekend, NPR's Brooke Gladstone invited ABC News's Sam Donaldson, himself a former denizen of the White House briefing room, to opine on the current state of the briefing. Donaldson said that televising it makes the press look bad.

"SAM DONALDSON: Well, in the White House briefing room, the press secretary for whichever administration - it doesn't matter - comes out to say only what the President wants him to say and no more. And, of course, reporters want to know more and want to talk about maybe the bad news, not just the good news. So it can get very tense at times, and you go back and forth. And when people see this on television, they say, well, what are these nasty, vicious dogs of the press doing assailing that fine, upstanding individual who's press secretary to the President? And it just really doesn't help the press. . . .

"BOB GARFIELD: Well, let me make a proposition in defense of having cameras in that room. It seems to me that if the reporters are asking questions and the press secretary is deflecting them, dodging them or what have you, it's nice to see Scott McClellan, in non-answer to David Gregory's question, say something along the lines of this administration wants to focus on the priorities of the American people and put the Cheney shooting behind us. Isn't it to the, I don't know, benefit of media and democracy to watch those questions not being answered in real time?

"SAM DONALDSON: You have a point. And if all the viewers were discerning or the majority of them were discerning and they watched daily and they understood the issues and went back and forth and saw that the press secretary was dodging something, because most press secretaries are very artful; they will simply say, for instance, the President has said as long as the ongoing investigation continues, it would be inappropriate for him to say anything. Well, that sounds very reasonable. But, of course, if you point out that the President last week, in fact, commented on the investigation, when it served his purpose, then you're going to have a little fight with the press secretary. And so I think at first glance, people watching, when they see that little fight develop, may not say to themselves, 'ah-ha, this press secretary is dissembling, is doing the light fantastic.' They will simply say, at least it's been my experience that they say, 'well, why are you being so mean? I mean, he's answered the question. Well, why do you keep persisting with the very same question that he's answered? I don't understand. Have you got an agenda?' "

Cheney's Heart

Sam Levenback writes in George Washington University's student newspaper, the Daily Colonial: "Vice President Dick Cheney is giving back to the hospital that saved his life.

"The GW Medical Faculty Associates and School of Medicine and Health Sciences announced yesterday the establishment of the Richard B. and Lynne V. Cheney Cardiovascular Institute, which will be funded by a $2.7 million gift from the vice president and his wife."

Levenback reprises Cheney's various visits, including the one hours after he learned that the Bush-Cheney victory was being threatened by the Florida Supreme Court's ruling backing recounts.

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