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Rove, Leaving a Sour Taste

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, May 18, 2006; 12:42 PM

White House political guru Karl Rove's chirpy optimism is meeting with more than a little skepticism these days, whether it's his insistence that President Bush's dismal approval ratings simply reflect a public "sour on the war," or his assurance to House Republicans that Bush's immigration plan is a political winner.

And then of course there's the fact that the city's chattering class is madly scratching for clues about his fate in the CIA leak case.

What Me Worry?

As I wrote in Tuesday's column , when Rove spoke on Monday at the American Enterprise Institute, the biggest takeaway was his explanation of President Bush's steeply declining job-approval numbers.

"People like this president," Rove insisted, citing secret Republican National Committee polls that, it appears, directly contradict everything in the public domain. "They're just sour right now on the war."

Carl P. Leubsdorf writes in the Dallas Morning News today: "Karl Rove's virtuoso performance this week before an audience of journalists and policy wonks seemed straight from the pages of Mad magazine's Alfred E. Neuman: 'What, Me Worry?' "

The Denver Post editorial board writes: "So, White House political maestro Karl Rove thinks he has the American people all figured out. Citizens are in a 'sour time,' he says, because of the war in Iraq. ' . . .

"That may or may not be, but to say Americans are 'sour' simply because of the Iraq war is a foolish miscalculation. As any of his neighbors could tell him, Americans have plenty more to be sour about. We wonder if Rove is truly unaware of them."

And Rep. John Murtha , (D-Pa.) the famously anti-war hawk, writes in the Huffington Post: "Karl Rove recently said the public is 'sour' on the war in Iraq. The use of the word 'sour' disgracefully minimizes public reaction to the way this Administration has run the war. Try using disillusioned, betrayed, and deeply concerned about the lives of our service members, the future of the military, and the future of this country if we continue down this open-ended and ill defined path."

Rove Sent Packing

The White House sent Rove to the Hill yesterday to quiet the growing House Republican rebellion over Bush's immigration plans.

In his briefing yesterday, press secretary Tony Snow spun it as a big hit.

"Karl Rove was on the Hill today. Karl came out and he said that his meeting with the Republican Caucus in the House of Representatives was 'hopeful, optimistic, and positive.' The meeting there -- and I'd seen some talk that maybe this was going to be a highly contentious meeting -- the readout I get is that it was not at all. It was respectful; people were obviously having exchanges of views on things."

But Mike Viqueira reports for NBC: "Karl Rove traveled to Capitol Hill this morning to make his pitch for the president's immigration plan, but some GOP members who were canvassed after they left the closed-door gathering were not impressed. Rove stayed for only 10 to 12 minutes total -- just enough time to essentially rehash Bush's Monday speech and answer a few questions, according to 10 or so members NBC News spoke with after the meeting. Rep. Steve King (R-IA), a true-blue conservative who is adamantly opposed to the plan, called the presentation 'boilerplate.' Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), another opponent, said it was 'truncated.' Both professed to be mystified as to why the president is trying to do this before 'securing the border.' To say the least, they were unmoved by what Rove had to say."

Nicole Gaouette writes in the Los Angeles Times: " 'He left with his hat in his hand,' Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) said."

Carl Hulse and Jim Rutenberg write in the New York Times: "One House Republican also warned Mr. Rove that it was dangerous to work too closely with Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, one of the authors of the Senate legislation."

John King talked to Rep. Steven Chabot (R-Ohio) on CNN last night.

KING: "Was Karl greeted politely? Was the skepticism aired out? Do you think there's a majority of the Republican conference that could support a guest worker program?"

CHABOT: "I personally do not think a majority of the Republican conference could support anything that even approaches amnesty that's what many of us consider this so-called guest worker program to be."

Rove Indictment Watch

Tim Grieve in Salon reads the scant tea leaves.

Hardy Har Har

Much mirth in the briefing room over Snow's ducking -- for the second day in a row -- of entirely reasonable questions about the role of the president's chief political adviser in a criminal matter.

"Q Has Karl Rove spoken to you about the CIA leak case?

"MR. SNOW: No, he hasn't.

"Q Has any member of the administration spoken to you about the CIA leak case?

"MR. SNOW: Yes.

"Q Who?

"MR. SNOW: I'm not going to tell you. (Laughter.)

"Q Has any White House lawyer spoken to you about the case?

" MR. SNOW: Again, I just -- didn't I just tell you that I'm not going to tell you who I've spoken with?

"Q I'm just asking.

"MR. SNOW: I know. Good questions. (Laughter.)"

You can hear all the giggles on the video . I wasn't there, so I can't say exactly how widespread it was. But it would have been more appropriate if some members of the press corps had instead demanded that Snow explain why he wouldn't answer.

White House Wanted Felony Provisions

Nothing exemplifies the gulf on immigration between the strident House Republicans and the moderate White House than the provisions in the House bill that would make being in this country without documentation a felony.

But wait!

Frederic J. Frommer writes for the Associated Press: "Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, who has pushed a tough border security bill through the House, accused President Bush on Wednesday of abandoning the legislation after asking for many of its provisions.

" 'He basically turned his back on provisions of the House-passed bill, a lot of which we were requested to put in the bill by the White House,' Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., angrily told reporters in a conference call. 'That was last fall when we were drafting the bill, and now the president appears not to be interested in it at all.' . . .

"He said it was the White House that had requested two controversial felony provisions in the bill the House passed last winter.

" 'We worked very closely with White House in the fall in putting together the border security bill that the House passed,' he said. ' . . . What we heard in November and December, he seems to be going in the opposite direction in May. That is really at the crux of this irritation,' he said of Bush."

Some Choice

Kathy Kiely writes in USA Today: "A key Republican leader said Wednesday that President Bush is forcing lawmakers to choose between putting National Guard troops on the U.S.-Mexican border and giving the law enforcement officers already there the cars, planes and other equipment they need to do their job."

Off to Yuma

Nedra Pickler writes for the Associated Press: "As the Senate debates a major overhaul of the nation's immigration laws, Bush is traveling to Yuma, Ariz. . . .

"The president was to take a tour of the border Thursday, then give a speech. . . . He also planned a round of interviews with all the television networks to help sell his ideas, which face tough opposition in Congress."

National Guard Watch

Robert Salladay and Nancy Vogel write in the Los Angeles Times: "California's highest-ranking officials were reacting with displeasure and exasperation Wednesday to President Bush's plan to use thousands of National Guard troops to support border patrols and curb illegal immigration. . . .

"For his part, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was demanding answers -- to a host of questions -- from Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who briefed him Wednesday. The governor had spent 45 minutes on the phone with Bush senior advisor Karl Rove on Monday about the plan. But after both conversations, the governor complained about being left in the dark."

Big Bucks for Contractors

Eric Lipton writes in the New York Times: "The quick fix may involve sending in the National Guard. But to really patch up the broken border, President Bush is preparing to turn to a familiar administration partner: the nation's giant military contractors."

Cartoon Watch

Cartoonists weigh in on immigration and the National Guard: Tom Toles ; Pat Oliphant ; Mike Luckovich ; Stuart Carlson ; Tony Auth .

My Mistake

It's awfully embarrassing to get my facts wrong while fact-checking, but that's what I did in yesterday's column .

In the column, I catalogued a variety of inconsistencies and sloppiness with facts in Tony Snow's inaugural press briefing on Tuesday, as well as in his morning show appearances on Wednesday.

One of my examples concerned this statement by Snow at the Tuesday briefing : "Again, I would take you back to the USA Today story, simply to give you a little context. Look at the poll that appeared the following day. While there was -- part of it said 51 percent of the American people opposed, if you look at when people said, if there is a roster of phone numbers, do you feel comfortable that -- I'm paraphrasing and I apologize -- but something like 64 percent of the polling was not troubled by it."

I wrote that the "something like 64 percent" figure appeared to be taken from a different, Washington Post/ABC News Poll .

But a reader has called my attention to a post from Stephen Spruiell of National Review's Media Blog, in which he points out a question in the USA Today/Gallup poll that I just plain overlooked.

Spruiell suggests that Snow was referring to that question, which reads: "If you knew that the federal government had your telephone records, how concerned would you be -- very concerned, somewhat concerned, not too concerned, or not concerned at all?" A total of 64 percent of respondents said either "not too concerned" or "not concerned at all."

He's right, and I was wrong.

'Tar Baby' Watch

I wasn't wrong, however, to call attention to Snow's use of the term -- "tar baby" -- that some consider racist.

Snow was on Hugh Hewitt 's radio show yesterday, and while defending his use of the term as utterly innocent, he said he won't be using it again.

"HH: Now I've got a couple of issues of the day for you. First, the Post this afternoon, on their blog, is blasting you for the use of the term tar baby. Is that just a way of smacking Tony Snow around to welcome him into the game?

"TS: Well, apparently, what's happened is, apparently some people are unfamiliar with the pathways of American culture, and don't realize the old Uncle Remus story where somebody hugs a tar baby.

"HH: Exactly.

"TS: And the point is, I wasn't going to get myself involved in an issue that would be very difficult to extract myself from. So I look upon that -- if that's the worst that happens, that's not so bad.

"HH: Agreed.

"TS: I've decided, though, because it's a classic case of, I think, somebody trying to sort of pick a fight. I'll probably take that out of my toolchest of rhetorical devices, rather than having to explain a hundred and fifty years of American culture."

Hayden Hearings

With a combination of last-minute secret briefings and a continued public stonewall, the White House has gone to great lengths to defang today's Senate confirmation hearings for CIA director-designate Michael Hayden.

Dafna Linzer and Charles Babington write in The Washington Post: "In hearings today on President Bush's choice to head the CIA, senators will face an array of questions, loose ends and seeming contradictions about the administration's domestic surveillance techniques. . . .

"Their questions are driven largely by what appear to be inconsistencies between the scale of the surveillance program and administration assertions about its limits."

Mark Mazzetti and Sheryl Gay Stolberg write in the New York Times: "Classified briefings provided to lawmakers on Wednesday about a controversial domestic eavesdropping program have smoothed what might have been a contentious path toward confirmation for Gen. Michael V. Hayden as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, senators and Congressional officials said."

Andrea Stone writes in USA Today: "The Bush administration briefed select members of Congress 30 times on the National Security Agency's surveillance programs since the Sept. 11 attacks, according to a declassified list released Wednesday."

Opinion Watch

USA Today 's editorial board writes: "Congress is supposed to oversee the executive branch's intelligence operations. From all indications, however, that oversight is badly broken.

"Information is dribbled out to a handful of lawmakers. Briefing turns into political cover. Consultation becomes more like inform-and-gag. Republicans act like cheerleaders for the White House. Democrats feign surprise and outrage when dubious programs become public."

The Los Angeles Times editorial board writes: "The administration needs not only to brief Congress fully about what it is doing under this program, it also needs to come clean with the nation about the broad outlines of the program."

Tax Cut Fact Check

Kevin G. Hall writes for Knight Ridder Newspapers: "When President Bush signed legislation Wednesday to extend lower tax rates for capital gains and dividend income through 2010, he suggested that his tax cuts are behind a surge of new revenue into the Treasury, and implied that it's enough to offset the revenue lost by these reductions. . . .

"That's just not true. A host of studies, some of them written by economists who served in the Bush administration, have concluded that tax reductions mean less money for the Treasury.

"The cuts Bush extended Wednesday will cost the Treasury an estimated $70 billion over five years. They may help spur economic growth, but they still lose more revenue than they generate. And unless they're matched by lower federal spending, they worsen federal budget deficits."

Astonishingly, Hall even managed to wangle a concession from Treasury Secretary John Snow.

Here's the text of Bush's remarks upon signing the bill.

Impeachment (Non) Watch

Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), writes in a Washington Post opinion piece today, that if there's a rush for impeachment after the mid-term elections, it'll be a bipartisan one.

"[R]ather than seeking impeachment, I have chosen to propose comprehensive oversight of these alleged abuses. The oversight I have suggested would be performed by a select committee made up equally of Democrats and Republicans and chosen by the House speaker and the minority leader."

Phone Jamming

Jason Szep writes for Reuters: "A senior official in U.S. President George W. Bush's re-election campaign was sentenced to 10 months in prison on Wednesday for his role in suppressing votes in a key U.S. Senate race, a scandal that Democrats charge may involve the White House."

Thomas B. Edsall wrote in The Washington Post yesterday: "Most tantalizingly to Democrats, evidence filed in [Republican National Committee regional political director James] Tobin's trial in December shows 22 phone calls from Tobin to the White House between 11:20 a.m. Election Day, two hours after the phone jamming was shut down, and 2:17 a.m. the next day, four hours after the outcome of the election was announced."

Bupkus for the Press

Ken Herman blogged for the Cox News Service yesterday morning: "Tony Snow opted for Yiddish today in continuing the administration's strategy of not saying anything about top adviser Karl Rove's potential legal problems stemming from a special prosecutor's investigation of the leak of a CIA operative's name.

" 'What I do know is bubkes,' Snow said, using the Yiddish word for nothing.

"And he offered an alibi for why he might not be up to speed on any breaking developments concerning Rove.

" 'As far as I can tell nothing has changed,' he told reporters this morning, 'but I don't want to give you a steer on it because I was standing out there giving TV interviews this morning during senior staff meeting.' "

Snow returned to the theme at the on-camera briefing .

"MR. SNOW: Okay, let's begin. Welcome, one and all. Good afternoon. For those of you who weren't here, we have coined the term 'bupkes list' for items that the Press Secretary may not have had complete and full answers for during the gaggle. . . .

" Q How do you spell 'bupkes'?

" MR. SNOW: Bupkus -- b-u-p-k-u-s.

" Q Yiddish.

" Q E-s.

" MR. SNOW: Thank you, corrected, e-s."

Actually, there is no one accepted spelling of bupkus (Google finds 103,000 mentions of bupkis; 22,400 of bupkiss; 30,900 of bupkus; and 23,100 of bupkes.)

For the Yiddish challenged, it literally means "beans" -- and figuratively means "nothing."

The Mystery of the Abramoff FOIA

Paul Kiel of TPM Muckraker figures out why, when the Secret Service turned over its records of convicted ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff's White House visits to Judicial Watch, the records showed only two visits.

It turns out "the Secret Service doesn't have the records - the White House does."


Blogger Billmon crunches Bush's state-by-state approval numbers, and comes up with a whole new red-state-blue-state map.

Jay Rosen Watch

Media blogger Jay Rosen suggests that the White House hold a full schedule of briefings, from 8 am to 5 pm. If it's true that we're in a global war of ideas, he argues, the White House has to do much more.

And he's Live Online today at noon ET.

Still Working for Fox News?

Here's an excerpt from former Fox Newser Tony Snow's briefing yesterday: "Chuck Hagel, as you may recall, made a fair amount of news over the weekend when he first said that -- let's see -- 'Well, I want to listen to the details and I want to listen to the President,' said Senator Hagel -- he said this on 'This Week' on a competing network."

"This Week," of course, is on ABC.

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