How Lame a Duck?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Monday, June 11, 2007; 3:04 PM

After the apparent collapse of the compromise immigration bill in the Senate last week, the political obituaries for the Bush presidency started rolling in.

President Bush himself isn't giving up quite yet -- he's headed to Capitol Hill tomorrow in a last-ditch attempt to revive the legislation. He'll be having lunch with Republican senators.

But it's not clear that he still has the ability to change anyone's mind -- even members of his own party.

The Obits

Jim Rutenberg writes in the New York Times: "The breakthrough on the 'grand bargain' on immigration a few weeks ago had brought new life to a White House under siege, putting a long-sought goal suddenly within reach. After many grim months, there was almost giddiness at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

"But that early euphoria only made the grand bargain's grand collapse on Thursday night all the more of a blow, pointing up a stubbornly unshakable dynamic for President Bush in the final 19 months of his term: With low approval ratings and the race to succeed him well under way, his ability to push his agenda has faded to the point where he can fairly be judged to have entered his lame duck period. . . .

"[E]ven some close allies were surprised by how Mr. Bush's advocacy for immigration had seemed to hurt his cause within his party when, in a speech in Georgia last week, he said those opposed to the bill didn't 'want to do what's right for America.' The statement infuriated Mr. Bush's usually reliable allies on talk radio, in blogs and in Congress, galvanizing the right against his plan all the more."

Michael Abramowitz and Dan Balz write in The Washington Post: "Although congressional aides and GOP strategists said it was unfair to blame Bush alone, the collapse of the immigration bill late Thursday was a reflection of the weakened state of his presidency. Those aides said the bill's troubles were exacerbated by Bush's deteriorating relations with congressional Republicans and his inability to combat an unexpectedly fierce attack on the bill by grass-roots conservatives.

"'This is sort of what his life is going to be like for the rest of his term,' veteran GOP strategist Ed Rollins said. 'There are Republicans defecting from him now. He's not going to have any great success on anything that's controversial.' . . .

"Bush has not been able to break through vehement opposition from grass-roots conservatives, which was stoked by conservative talk radio. That vocal opposition gave Republican elected officials little incentive to join with the president in supporting the bill. Even when Bush was in a stronger position politically, revising the immigration laws proved impossible. In his weakened state, his ability to convert opponents proved limited."

Janet Hook and Nicole Gaouette write in the Los Angeles Times: "The collapse of immigration legislation in the Senate this week is a monument to President Bush's enfeebled clout on Capitol Hill, the searing power of hostility toward illegal immigrants, and the difficulty of crafting a compromise on an emotional issue that touches so many diverse economic and political interests."

Tom Raum writes for the Associated Press: "Derailment of President Bush's immigration overhaul plan could be the death knell for his second-term domestic legacy.

"With the president's bids to revamp Social Security, rewrite the tax code and extend expiring tax cuts apparently doomed, the White House sees the immigration bill as the last, best hope for a major domestic victory. . . .

"The president's influence is diminished by his low approval ratings and the shadow cast over his presidency by the war in Iraq."

And Raum reminds us that "even if the president and his congressional allies somehow manage to salvage the legislation in the Senate, prospects remain bleak of getting it through the House, where opposition remains strong among core Republican members."

One Last Try

Peter Spiegel writes in the Los Angeles Times: "The White House is poised to begin a last-ditch effort this week to resurrect the compromise immigration bill that was pulled off the Senate floor Thursday, with administration officials insisting another two days of debate could ensure passage of the contentious legislation.

"Calling the measure 'alive and well,' the administration blamed the Democratic Senate leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, for prematurely abandoning efforts to get the bill passed, and said President Bush would go to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to lobby for the legislation.

"'Rather than doing finger-pointing, if Harry Reid is committed to this -- and this is an historic bill dealing with a problem that a lot of people think has to be solved, and it's got to be solved in a smart way -- why not go ahead and set aside those two days for debate?' White House spokesman Tony Snow said on 'Fox News Sunday.' 'I think you're going to find the Republicans and Democrats are willing to do it.'

"Reid decided to end the Senate's consideration of the bill Thursday evening after a vote to cut off debate failed by 15 votes. Reid, who had allowed debate to continue for two weeks, said he had offered to give Republicans the chance to propose eight amendments to the bill, but GOP officials were seeking to raise as many as 12. The move was seen by Democrats as an attempt to extend debate indefinitely, in effect killing the bill by preventing it from getting to a final vote."

The View From Bulgaria

Near the end of a European tour full of pomp and adulation -- Albania really loves Bush! -- the president was reminded of the ugly domestic realities. From the transcript of this morning's press availability in Bulgaria:

"Q Good morning, Mr. President. You've had a week in Europe, and I wonder, as we head home, if I could ask you to turn to some domestic issues. Your Attorney General is under fire in the Senate. General Pace has had a setback. The immigration reform bill seems not to be moving very quickly. I won't even mention the latest polls. So I'm just wondering, sir, as you head home, to what extent do you still have the political clout and capital to get some of these issues done? Do you have any left? If you do, how do you intend to use it?

"PRESIDENT BUSH: First of all, we've had a great trip, Ed. It's a chance for America to talk about a liberty agenda, and a chance to talk to our allies about how we can advance it and what we can do together to make our respective countries better off.

"Listen, the immigration debate is a tough debate. I'm under no illusions about how hard it is. There are people in my party that don't want a comprehensive bill; there are people in the Democrat [sic] Party that don't seem to want a comprehensive bill. I was disappointed that the bill was temporarily derailed.

"I, frankly, find it interesting that in -- a so-called important subject they need to get to would be to pass a political resolution on my Attorney General that's going to have no bearing on whether he serves in office, or not.

"I believe we can get an immigration bill. Now, it's going to require leadership from the Democrat [sic] leaders in the Senate, and it's going to require me to stay engaged and work with Republicans who want a bill.

"Last -- earlier in this trip, I called three members of the Senate from the Republican Party, and said, what can we do together to get the bill back up? What do we need to do to work with senators like Senator Ted Kennedy, who is strongly committed to a comprehensive bill? And tomorrow I'll be going to the Senate to talk about a way forward on the piece of legislation.

"It's important that we address this issue now. And I believe we can get it done. Listen, there was -- a lot of progress was made between people in both parties making hard decisions necessary to move a comprehensive plan. It's in the nation's interest to get a comprehensive bill done. The political process sometimes isn't pretty to look at it; there's two steps forward, one step back. We made two steps forward on immigration, we took a step back, and now I'm going to work with those who are focused on getting an immigration bill done and start taking some steps forward again. I believe we can get it done. I'll see you at the bill signing."

Amending the Compromise?

In his Saturday radio address, Bush indicated that he is open to amendments to the bill that was so extensively negotiated by the White House and a bipartisan group of senators: "I understand the skepticism some members of Congress have regarding certain aspects of this legislation," he said. "Like any legislation, this bill is not perfect. And like many Senators, I believe the bill will need to be further improved along the way before it becomes law."

On Fox News, Tony Snow also indicated White House support for amendments: "I think what you see in immigration reform right now is that we had a debate going on on the Senate floor where people were issuing amendments and really having a pretty thoughtful debate about how to try to take a bill that had been negotiated between Democrats and Republicans with assistance from the White House and the administration -- and they've been trying to revise it and improve it.

"Well, we got about two-thirds through the process, and the -- it failed what's called a cloture vote. And one of the reasons it failed that vote is that you still have a dozen or so amendments that deserve to be heard. And our view is if those can be heard, you're going to get a bill."

But how many amendments does the White House support? Which ones? And are any of them considered "poison pills" by various factions?

Scooter Libby Watch

Carol D. Leonnig writes in The Washington Post about five myths she has encountered while covering the trial of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff. "[E]ven now, four years after Valerie Plame's name hit the papers, the public still has some startling misconceptions about this fascinating, thorny case," she writes.

Myth: "Valerie Plame wasn't a covert operative."

Fact: "Wrong. She was."

Myth: "Karl Rove would have been indicted in the Plame case if it hadn't been for all the destroyed evidence."

Fact: Missing White House e-mails "may contain interesting stuff, but for now, it's rank speculation to suggest that they hold information about the Plame case or would have pushed Fitzgerald to charge Rove with perjury," Leonnig writes. "Fitzgerald told the court just that. He was exercising standard prosecutorial discretion when he decided not to charge Rove, according to sources close to the investigation. He didn't think he had a strong enough case to prove that Rove had intentionally lied to investigators (though some FBI agents disagreed)."

Myth: "Libby didn't leak Plame's identity."

Fact: "[T]he overwhelming weight of the evidence at the trial -- including reporters' notes of their interviews with Libby -- showed that Libby had indeed leaked classified information about Plame's identity, even though that wasn't what put him in the dock."

The other two myths: "Bad press doesn't get under Cheney's skin," and "The White House would fire any administration official who leaked classified information about Plame."

Opinion Watch

E. J. Dionne Jr. writes in his Washington Post op-ed column: "At times, a single legal case can come to embody an entire controversy, even an entire era. To support pardoning Scooter Libby has come to mean endorsing an approach to politics and a way of governing that most Americans have come to reject."

Robert D. Novak writes in his column: "The president's seeming indifference to the sentencing of Scooter Libby was bad enough. But it coincided with Bush's apparent determination to retain his friend Alberto Gonzales as attorney general against congressional pressure to depose him.

"Prevailing opinion among Republican office holders, contributors and activists could not differ more from Bush's posture. They regard Libby as a valuable public servant who faces serious prison time thanks to prosecutorial abuse made possible by Bush administration decisions. They see Gonzales as an embarrassment to the party who presides over a hollow Justice Department while presidential staffers search for Senate votes to block a no-confidence motion."

In his Washington Post opinion column, David S. Broder tries to have it both ways, sort of: "This whole controversy is a sideshow -- engineered partly by the publicity-seeking former ambassador Joseph Wilson and his wife and heightened by the hunger in parts of Washington to 'get' Rove for something or other.

"Like other special prosecutors before him, Fitzgerald got caught up in the excitement of the case and pursued Libby relentlessly, well beyond the time that was reasonable.

"Nonetheless, on the fundamental point, Walton and Fitzgerald have it right. Libby let his loyalty to his boss and to the administration cloud his judgment -- and perhaps his memory -- in denying that he was part of the effort to discredit the Wilson pair. Lying to a grand jury is serious business, especially when it is done by a person occupying a high government position where the public trust is at stake."

Over on Time's blog, Joe Klein writes in support of jail time for Paris Hilton -- but not Scooter Libby: "His 'perjury' -- not telling the truth about which reporters he talked to -- would never be considered significant enough to reach trial, much less sentencing, much less time in stir if he weren't Dick Cheney's hatchet man."

Glenn Greenwald responds in his blog on Salon: "It is difficult to recall a single episode which has been more revealing of our political culture than the collective Beltway horror over the plight of the poor, maltreated and persecuted (and convicted felon) Lewis Libby. It is hardly surprising that the right-wing movement of which he is a part operates from the premise that their comrades ought to be exempt from political prosecution even when they commit felonies. . . .

"But what the Libby case demonstrates is that so many establishment journalists believe this just as religiously. . . .

"There is no class of people more defensive of the prerogatives of political power than our 'journalist' class, even though, in a healthy and functioning democracy, the exact opposite would be true."

Fouad Ajami outdoes everyone, writing to Bush from the Wall Street Journal op-ed page: "Scooter Libby was a soldier in your -- our -- war in Iraq, he was chief of staff to a vice president who had become a lightning rod to the war's critics. . . .

"The prosecutor, and the jury and the judge, had before them a case that purported to stand alone, a trial of one man's memory and recollections. But you have before you what they and the rest of us don't -- a memory of the passions and the panic, and the certitude, which gave rise to the war. And a sense, I am confident, of the quiet and selfless man who sat in the outer circle when your cabinet deliberated over our country's choices in Iraq, and in those burning grounds of the Arab-Islamic world. Scooter Libby was there for the beginning of that campaign. He can't be left behind as a casualty of a war our country had once proudly claimed as its own."

Legal Scholars Rush In

Carol D. Leonnig writes in The Washington Post: "A dozen of the country's most respected constitutional scholars have leapt to I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby's aid. . . .

"The group argued in a six-page brief that Libby, who was convicted of lying to investigators probing the leak of Plame's identity, has a decent shot at appeal on the question of Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald's appointment to investigate that leak. That appointment was likely inappropriate, they argued, because Fitzgerald lacked any supervision that would make his superiors 'politically accountable.'"

Here, courtesy of The Next Hurrah blog, is the brief; here is Judge Reggie Walton's order allowing it to be submitted, complete with an extremely sarcastic footnote:

"It is an impressive show of public service when twelve prominent and distinguished current and former law professors of well-respected schools are able to amass their collective wisdom in the course of only several days to provide their legal expertise to the Court on behalf of a criminal defendant. The Court trusts that this is a reflection of these eminent academics' willingness in the future to step to the plate and provide like assistance in cases involving any of the numerous litigants, both in this Court and throughout the courts of our nation, who lack the financial means to fully and properly articulate the merits of their legal positions even in instances where failure to do so could result in monetary penalties, incarceration, or worse. The Court will certainly not hesitate to call for such assistance from these luminaries, as necessary in the interests of justice and equity, whenever similar questions arise in the cases that come before it."

Pace's Departure

Is Peter Pace stepping down as chairman of the joint chiefs -- or was he fired? Is the reason for his departure that Democrats threatened a fiery reconfirmation hearing -- or that Gates is cleaning house of boot-lickers from the previous regime?

Josh White and Thomas E. Ricks write in The Washington Post: "Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced yesterday that Marine Gen. Peter Pace will step down as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September, a move that Gates said will avert the contentious congressional hearings that would be needed to reconfirm the nation's top military officer. Pace will leave after just two years in the post, the shortest stint as chairman in more than four decades.

"The surprise announcement yesterday at the Pentagon amounts to Pace being fired before a customary second two-year term. . . .

"Gates said that his decision was rooted in political considerations and that he took guidance from members of Congress who warned that Pace could face a maelstrom on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers would dissect the military's failures in Iraq. . . .

"Pace's departure -- along with the simultaneous retirement of Adm. Edmund Giambastiani, his vice chairman -- completes a nearly clean sweep of top military advisers linked to the tenure of Donald H. Rumsfeld as defense secretary. Both military officers were close to Rumsfeld and have been criticized for not challenging him."

Gonzales Watch

The New York Times editorial board writes: "The Senate has scheduled a no-confidence vote today on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. No one who has followed the news needs to be told why it is necessary. Mr. Gonzales is the Michael Brown of the Justice Department, smilingly presiding over incompetence, chaos and malfeasance, while President Bush insists that he is doing a heck of a job. Today's vote should get the support not only of Democrats, but of every Republican senator concerned about the American justice system."

USA Today reports: "The White House on Sunday dismissed Senate plans to hold a no-confidence vote on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales today and said the outcome will not undermine President Bush's support of him.

"'Not a bit. Purely symbolic vote,' presidential spokesman Tony Snow said. He was asked on Fox News Sunday whether Bush might reconsider his decision to support Gonzales should a sizable number of Republican senators vote for the no-confidence resolution."

Lawyering Up

Ron Hutcheson writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "President Bush is signing up legal help as he girds for battle with the Democratic-led Congress.

"Faced with a flurry of document requests and expanding congressional investigations, the White House announced Friday that Bush had hired nine lawyers, including five who'll fill new jobs in the president's legal office. The recruits have solid experience in white-collar crime, government investigations and constitutional law.

"Legal experts said the hires indicated that Bush was gearing up to fight congressional inquiries that he considered an encroachment on presidential power. . . .

"After six years with a compliant Republican-led Congress, the White House is facing a host of congressional investigations and demands for top presidential advisers to testify."

Here's the White House announcement.

Bush on Kosovo

Michael A. Fletcher writes for The Washington Post that Bush on Sunday "reiterated his support for the independence of Kosovo, a Serbian province under U.N. supervision. Ethnic Albanians make up the vast majority of Kosovo's population.

"'At some point in time, sooner rather than later, you've got to say: Enough's enough -- Kosovo is independent,' Bush said.

"Responding to a reporter's question in Rome on Saturday, Bush had said a deadline should be set for a U.N. resolution on Kosovo's independence. 'In terms of the deadline, there needs to be one,' he said. 'This needs to come -- this needs to happen.'

" Asked Sunday about when he would like that deadline set, Bush seemed flummoxed. 'I don't think I called for a deadline,' he said. Told that he had, Bush responded: 'I did? What exactly did I say? I said, 'Deadline'? Okay, yes, then I meant what I said.'"

Cheney's Heart

The Associated Press reports: "Vice President Dick Cheney's routine checkup on Friday revealed no new blockages in his heart, but doctors said he needs a new battery for a special pacemaker he has in his chest, a spokeswoman said.

"The battery in his implanted cardiac defibrillator is reaching its limit, said Megan McGinn, deputy press secretary for the vice president. She said doctors must replace the entire device to replace the battery, and that the surgery will be scheduled this summer at a convenient time for the vice president."

Trip Odds and Ends

Americablog's John Aravosis catches Bush on Thursday drinking non-alcoholic beer -- which, as he correctly notes, does actually contain some alcohol.

On Friday, Bush called in sick for several hours. Jennifer Loven writes for the Associated Press: "An upset stomach kept Bush in his hotel room for several hours, aides said later, forcing him to miss part of the third and final day of work at the Group of Eight Summit of industrialized democracies, held in this seaside resort."

On Saturday, reports Reuters, "Bush's limousine briefly stalled during a ride to the American embassy in Rome and then could not squeeze through its gates, prompting him to get out, wave to the crowd and enter on foot."

Among those receiving the blessing of the pope during Bush's visit: Chief of Staff Josh Bolten, national security adviser Stephen Hadley, political adviser Karl Rove, counselor Dan Bartlett and Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes for the New York Times from Albania: "His poll numbers may be in the basement, but when he zipped through this small, relentlessly pro-American nation on Sunday, President Bush was treated like a rock star. . . .

"[W]hen the president jumped out of his limousine during a stop near the prime minister's villa in the town of Fusche Kruje, the crowd, chanting 'BOOSH-Y! BOOSH-Y!' went wild, turning a presidential visit into a virtual mosh pit.

"Hands were reaching for the president from all directions, grabbing his sleeves, rubbing his graying hair. Women kissed him on both cheeks. Men jostled to get close to him, as Secret Service agents encircled him. As he stood on the running board of his limousine, waving before ducking back in the car, a second limousine pulled up to protect him from the rear."

And William J. Kole writes for the Associated Press today: "The Bulgarian capital was aflutter with American flags to honor President Bush. There was just one glitch to the patriotic welcome: Every second flag was facing the wrong way."

Karl Rove and the Sopranos

Yes, that really was Karl Rove hopping around on the Sopranos last night. Tony's son, A.J., and his new girlfriend were shown snickering as they watched a video clip of Rove rapping at the Radio and Television Correspondents' Association dinner in March. There was also a short clip of Bush dancing.

Cartoon Watch

Jeff Danziger on the Cheneys and the Sopranos; Tony Auth on Libby; Ann Telnaes on ballast. And an animation from Telnaes on Bush and global warming.

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