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Preparing for Snow

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, May 9, 2006; 1:12 PM

Tony Snow, the new White House press secretary, is expected to hold his first full-fledged press briefing next Monday.

How he responds to the first questions put to him should be a pretty good indicator of whether President Bush is committed to greater transparency in the remaining years of his presidency -- or whether Snow is just a new face for the same old stone wall.

So the questions on Monday would ideally be tough, important ones that on the one hand put Snow to the test, but on the other hand give him a fair chance to show that he's serious about explaining White House actions more forthrightly than his predecessor.

And that's where you readers come in. What questions would you like to see the press corps ask Snow on Monday? E-mail me with your suggestions -- and please include your full, real name and hometown . I'll publish the results on Friday.

Here's the thing, though. I'm not so much interested in smart-aleck, gotcha questions. What I'm looking for is questions to which the average American would say: "Yeah, I'd like to know the answer to that."

Those sorts of questions makes it particularly hard for anyone to argue that the press corps has any agenda other than the public's right to know.

And if Snow doesn't answer them, he looks like an obstructionist, pure and simple.

The questions can have some edge -- after all, most Americans now disapproves of the job Bush is doing -- but the goal here is not to get Snow to take part in a debate (he's a fine debater, we know that already). It's to see if he's there to answer questions.

Here are two sample questions:

* Why did Porter Goss resign as CIA director? Is the public entitled to know the real story, on the record?

* Surely you're concerned about all the signs that the White House has lost its credibility with the American people. For instance, more than half of Americans say they don't find the president honest or trustworthy. How does the president think that happened, and what can he do about it?

The Washington Post editorial board had some thoughts on this topic yesterday: "[H]ere's our challenge to -- and advice for -- the incoming press secretary, Tony Snow: Rather than a steady drip, drip, drip of Abramoff news, get it all out, quickly and with enough details to make clear what, exactly, transpired between the corrupt lobbyist and the president's aides."

And media blogger Jay Rosen wrote on Sunday: "Let's see if reason-giving can make a comeback. . . .

"Reason-giving is basic to government by consent of the governed. Very basic. An Administration that doesn't have to give reasons for what it is doing is unaccountable to the American people and their common sense, to world opinion -- even to itself."

He concludes: "If Snow turns out to be [Scott] McClellan with better hair, the press ought to quit the briefing room and give up on getting explanations from the White House."

Live Online

I'll be Live Online tomorrow at 1 p.m. EDT. Send me your questions and comments .

The Hayden Nomination

Greg Miller writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Ignoring opposition from Congress, President Bush nominated Gen. Michael V. Hayden on Monday to be the next CIA director, setting the stage for a confirmation struggle that is certain to focus on Hayden's military background and his role in a controversial domestic eavesdropping operation. . . .

"Hayden, who for six years was director of the National Security Agency, is also associated with almost every intelligence issue that has become a problem for the administration -- including the failure to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks, misjudgments about weapons programs in Iraq, and eavesdropping on U.S. residents without court warrants. . . .

"House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) declared his opposition to Hayden's appointment, siding with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra, a Republican from Michigan.

"Hastert 'believes a military figure should not be the head of a civilian agency,' said Ron Bonjean, Hastert's spokesman. Bonjean also said that Hastert had been 'informed but not consulted' about Hayden's selection. . . .

"Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, complained in a recent letter to Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte that he was dismayed that Hayden had become 'a key participant in this White House public relations strategy intended to deflect criticism of the NSA program.' "

Peter Baker and Charles Babington write in The Washington Post: "The White House moved quickly yesterday to defuse concern over the nomination of Gen. Michael V. Hayden for CIA director, promising to balance the leadership of the nation's premier civilian spy agency with a well-known and popular veteran of the organization in the No. 2 position.

"In a highly unorthodox move, the White House disclosed the plan shortly after President Bush's formal announcement of Hayden's nomination in the Oval Office, in hopes of reassuring those worried about too much military influence over the intelligence community."

Elisabeth Bumiller and Carl Hulse write in the New York Times: "White House officials said they wanted to have confirmation hearings before the Senate Intelligence Committee completed and General Hayden confirmed before Mr. Goss leaves his post on May 26. But Senator Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican who is chairman of the intelligence committee, said only that he hoped to have the hearings begin before May 26, the last scheduled day of the Congressional session before a weeklong recess after Memorial Day."

Tom Raum writes for the Associated Press: "Once again, President Bush may have misjudged the extent of GOP resistance to one of his decisions. His nomination of a four-star general to serve as CIA director has drawn complaints from Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike."

Peter Wallsten and Janet Hook write in the Los Angeles Times: "The political calculations over Hayden's nomination reflected the uneasy terrain facing Republicans just six months before voters decide whether to keep the GOP in control of Congress. White House strategists are angling to exploit the party's traditional strength on national security, but some Republicans are wary of being tied too closely to a president whose approval ratings seem to drop by the day."

General Who?

Is the White House suddenly trying to play down Hayden's military background? Well, consider this: Last year, when Bush announced that he was nominating Hayden as deputy director of national intelligence, three out of the four times he referred to Hayden, he called him "general."

In yesterday's announcement , Bush called him "General Mike Hayden" on first reference -- but the next 11 times referred to him as "Mike" or "Mike Hayden."

Fourth Amendment Redux

I wrote in yesterday's column that Hayden had misinterpreted the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution during a January speech , when he asserted that the standard for searches was "reasonableness," not "probable cause."

Several readers wrote in to say that Hayden was technically correct -- and that reasonableness is the standard for searches, while probable cause is the standard for warrants for such searches.

But my understanding is that the traditional reading of the amendment is that it is the obtaining of a warrant (which requires probable cause) that determines whether a search is reasonable or not.

There are some specified exceptions to the warrant requirement -- but historically they've been identified by the courts.

Having unilaterally decided they didn't need warrants, I'm assuming Hayden and his lawyers felt they could then take it upon themselves to decide what was reasonable or not. But that's not how it's supposed to work.

So I guess it's conceivable that Hayden's view is not an out-and-out misinterpretation of the Fourth Amendment. But at the very least, it's certainly an activist way of looking at things.

Poll Watch

Susan Page writes in USA Today: "President Bush's approval rating has slumped to 31% in a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, the lowest of his presidency and a warning sign for Republicans in the November elections. . . .

"His disapproval rating also reached a record: 65%. . . .

"Only four presidents have scored lower approval ratings since the Gallup Poll began regularly measuring it in the mid-1940s: Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and the first George Bush. When Nixon, Carter and the elder Bush sank below 35%, they never again registered above 40%."

A USA Today sidebar explains: "Since he ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Bush's approval rating has been tied to attitudes toward the war. At the beginning, when an overwhelming 75% said the war was 'not a mistake,' his approval rating was a robust 69%.

"After the 2004 election, Americans were divided: 51% said the war 'wasn't a mistake.' Bush's rating was 55%. Now, just 42% say the war 'wasn't a mistake,' and Bush's standing has sagged to a record-low 31% in a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday.

"Iraq has become 'just a constant fog that's settled over the political landscape,' says Amy Walter of the non-partisan Cook Political Report. It obscures other issues and intensifies feelings that the country is headed in the wrong direction."

CNN finds Bush's approval up two ticks to 35 percent in its latest poll.

Here are the complete results .

Asked of those who disapproved of Bush whether it was mostly because of rising gas prices or mostly because of Iraq, 13 percent said gas and 56 percent said Iraq.

Only 33 percent said they think the war with Iraq has made the U.S. safer, compared to 53 percent who said less safe.

By Comparison

Heidi Przybyla writes for Bloomberg: "Three years into major combat in Vietnam, 28,500 U.S. service members had perished, millions of families were anxious about the military draft and antiwar protests had spread to dozens of college campuses.

"Today, at the same juncture in the Iraq war, about 2,400 American soldiers have died, the U.S. military consists entirely of volunteers and public dissent is sporadic.

"There's one other difference: The war in Iraq is more unpopular than was the Vietnam conflict at this stage, polls show.

"More Americans -- 57 percent -- say sending troops to Iraq was a mistake than the 48 percent who called Vietnam an error in April 1968, polls by the Princeton, New Jersey-based Gallup Organization show. That's because more people believed that Vietnam was crucial to U.S. security, scholars say. . . .

"The poll numbers suggest that President George W. Bush may come under overwhelming pressure from voters to resolve the war, as did President Lyndon B. Johnson 38 years ago, even though both men vowed to stay the course."

Jonathan Schwarz writes in his blog: "Bush's disapproval rating now exceeds or equals that of Nixon's in every poll except one -- the final poll in July, 1974 just before Nixon left office, when Nixon's disapproval rating was one point higher at 66%."

Cheney's Trip

E. J. Dionne Jr. writes in his Washington Post opinion column: "It came as something of a shock to have to agree with Vice President Cheney, but what he said last week about human rights in Vladimir Putin's Russia was accurate, even laudable. Then Cheney went to Kazakhstan, and you wondered if it was the same guy talking."

The New York Times editorial board writes: "It's hard to disagree with Vice President Dick Cheney's criticism of Russia on Thursday. Vladimir Putin has indeed reversed the democratizing course set, however clumsily and incompletely, by Boris Yeltsin, and he is using Russia's vast reserves of oil and gas as tools of intimidation and blackmail.

"Still, however much we agree with the content of Mr. Cheney's remarks, the unavoidable reaction is to question their motives and usefulness. There was a time when a strong statement from Washington in support of human rights and democratic behavior carried real authority. But of late the human-rights record of this administration has eroded its moral authority, and Mr. Cheney is closely associated with some of its most offensive policies."

As Peter Baker wrote in Saturday's Washington Post: "A day after scolding Russia for retreating on democracy, Vice President Cheney flew to oil-rich Kazakhstan yesterday and lavished praise on the autocratic leader of a former Soviet republic where opposition parties have been banned, newspapers shut down and advocacy groups intimidated."

A Letter From Iran

Karl Vick and Colum Lynch write in The Washington Post: "Senior U.S. officials dismissed an 18-page letter from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran to President Bush on Monday, saying the document that broke 27 years of official and hostile silence between leaders of the two governments contained no proposals for resolving the confrontation over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

"In the letter, Ahmadinejad sharply criticized Bush on a broad range of fronts, suggesting that the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, abuses of detainees in U.S.-run facilities from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and support for Israel were inconsistent with Bush's Christian faith."

The Kavanaugh Nomination

Charles Babington writes in The Washington Post: "Senate Democrats today will try to make the case that Brett M. Kavanaugh is too much a conservative activist to deserve a federal appellate judgeship. In the process, they may experience some unsettling flashbacks to the Supreme Court confirmation of John G. Roberts Jr. -- a big success for President Bush and Senate Republicans."

David G. Savage writes in the Los Angeles Times: "As a young lawyer in the mid-1990s, Brett M. Kavanaugh spent several years working on Kenneth W. Starr's investigation of President Clinton.

"In that role, he argued that the White House must open itself and its records -- including notes taken by Clinton's attorneys -- for examination by the independent counsel and his deputies. But as an advisor to President Bush, Kavanaugh has taken the opposite view, zealously defending presidential prerogatives."

Laurie Kellman writes for the Associated Press: "The American Bar Association downgraded its rating of President Bush's appellate court nominee Brett Kavanaugh after new interviews raised concerns about his courtroom experience and open-mindedness, the chairman of the peer-review panel said Monday."

The White House press office sent out an aggressive defense of Kavanaugh yesterday. And in its morning update, it trumpeted this Washington Post editorial calling for Kavanaugh's confirmation.

Abramoff Watch

Scott Shepard writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "The Democratic National Committee went to federal court Monday to obtain White House logs that show the comings and goings of prominent Republicans with ties to former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, including political strategist Ralph Reed.

"DNC Chairman Howard Dean said the lawsuit was necessary because of what he called 'stonewalling' by the Bush administration. . . .

"Democrats said they included Reed, who worked with Abramoff on a number of projects and is now a candidate for lieutenant governor in Georgia, on their list because of Reed's close friendship with presidential adviser Karl Rove."

Bush in Florida

Nedra Pickler writes for the Associated Press: "Like a pitchman promoting the last days of a big sale, President Bush on Tuesday urged more Medicare recipients to sign up for the new prescription drug benefit before Monday's enrollment deadline. . . .

"Bush was promoting the prescription drug benefit in three Florida cities before returning to Washington. He also planned to stop at a retirement community in the Tampa area Tuesday and give a speech on the program Wednesday morning in Orlando."

Jim Rutenberg writes in the New York Times from Florida: "President Bush arrived here Monday to face an awkward political situation about which his brother is mincing no words: the candidacy of Representative Katherine Harris for the United States Senate."

Sounding Off

Lorraine Ali writes in Newsweek: " 'Mr. President, how do you sleep at night while the rest of us cry?' asks Pink on her new album, 'I'm Not Dead.' George W. Bush has yet to answer the pop star's question, but he may as well brace himself: Pink's acoustic number is part of an anti-establishment avalanche in music, and this time it's personal. The protest songs of the Vietnam era railed against the war and The Man, but the new wave of dissent is aimed directly at Bush. On his new album, Neil Young sings, 'Let's impeach the president, for hijacking our religion and using it to get elected/Dividing our country into colors, and still leaving black people neglected.' Songs on upcoming CDs by Merle Haggard, Dashboard Confessional and Paul Simon deal more blows against the war and Bush. Even The Boss's new CD, featuring Springsteen's own renditions of protest songs by Pete Seeger, is clearly more than an ode to the folk hero; it's an arrow aimed directly at the White House. 'This whole idea that we have to temper our moral outrage over what's going on here and in Iraq is ridiculous,' says Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder. On the band's single 'Worldwide Suicide,' off its new CD, he sings, 'Medals on a wooden mantel, next to a handsome face/That the president took for granted, writing checks that others pay.' 'I am a citizen who cares about what happens to this country,' says Vedder, 'and right now things are really bad.'

"When the Dixie Chicks spoke out against Bush onstage three years ago, they were all but dropped from country-music radio. But with the president's approval ratings at a record low, criticizing Bush or opposing the war in song isn't quite as risky."

The Best Moments

I wrote at some length in yesterday's column about Bush's statement that the best moment of his presidency came when he caught a seven-and-a-half pound largemouth bass on his lake. (If you missed it -- it came out late -- go read it now.)

The Rubber Hose blog offered a little context: "See how three presidents answered the question 'What was the best moment of your presidency?'

"To summarize:

"Carter: The Camp David negotiations

"Clinton: The resolution of the Kosovo crisis

"Bush: That time I caught a big fish on my ranch "

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