By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, July 31, 2007; 1:20 PM
Vice President Cheney is on a PR blitz.
Well, at least by Cheney standards. Yesterday, he spent 14 minutes tersely answering questions with CBS Radio's Mark Knoller. Tonight, he'll be on CNN with Larry King for an hour.
President Bush may well spend the final 18 months of his presidency in a defensive crouch because of policies that Cheney advocated (warrantless surveillance, harsh interrogation policies, an unprecedented expansion of executive power and, of course, the war in Iraq). Cheney's own former chief of staff recently escaped going to prison on perjury and obstruction of justice charges only due to Bush's intercession. A Washington Post series last month documented Cheney's staggering clout within the White House, even as rumors continue to swirl that on some issues he is losing his influence. And Cheney had his defibrillator replaced just last weekend.
Still, with these interviews, Cheney appears to be showing that he's still a power to be reckoned with.The CBS Interview
Dan Eggen writes in The Washington Post: "Vice President Cheney said yesterday that he disagreed with the jury's verdict in the trial of his former chief of staff, who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the investigation into the Bush administration's leak of the identity of an undercover CIA officer. . . .
"Cheney also defended embattled Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, saying that Gonzales 'has testified truthfully' before Congress and has performed well as head of the Justice Department."
A few excerpts from the transcript:
Q. "Do you want Attorney General Gonzales to keep fighting to keep his job?
"THE VICE PRESIDENT: I do. I'm a big fan of Al's.
"Q Does he need to clarify his testimony?
"THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm not going to get into the specifics of it. I think Al has done a good job under difficult circumstances. The debate between he and the Senate is something they're going to have to resolve. But I think he has testified truthfully. . . .
"Q Can he remain Attorney General if the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Pat Leahy, says point blank he doesn't trust the Attorney General?
"THE VICE PRESIDENT: [Chuckling] I've had my differences with Pat Leahy. I think the key is whether or not he has the confidence of the President, and he clearly does."
In his first public response to questions about the I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby verdict, sentence and commutation, Cheney was curt and elliptical.
Q. "Let me ask you, have you spoken to your former top aide since his verdict?
"THE VICE PRESIDENT: I have.
"Q And can you tell us anything about that conversation?
"THE VICE PRESIDENT: I've seen him socially on a number of occasions.
"Q Do you believe the commutation that President Bush gave Scooter Libby for his prison term was enough, or if you had been President, would you have granted a full pardon?
"THE VICE PRESIDENT: I thought the President handled it right. I supported his decision.
"Q Did you disagree with the guilty verdict in the case?
"THE VICE PRESIDENT: I did.
"Q Even though the President said he respects that verdict?
"THE VICE PRESIDENT: I still -- you asked me if I disagreed with the verdict, and I did.
"Q Do you think Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald went too far in pursuing a prosecution of Scooter Libby?
"THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't want to go beyond where I have already. The matter is still pending before the courts. There is an appeal pending on the question, and I don't want to elaborate further."
Cheney was widely ridiculed last month (see my June 22 column) for his assertion that he wasn't required to follow executive-branch reporting rules about the handling of classified material -- because he wasn't actually part of the executive branch. White House spokesmen later abandoned that particular line of argument. But as he made clear in his interview with Knoller, Cheney himself isn't willing to give an inch -- not even if that means denying the obvious.
"Q There was an aide in your office who said that one of the reasons you weren't abiding by that executive order was that you're really not part of the executive branch. Do you have -- are you part of the executive branch, sir?
"THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the job of the Vice President is an interesting one, because you've got a foot in both the executive and the legislative branch. Obviously, I've got an office in the West Wing of the White House, I'm an advisor of the President, I sit as a member of the National Security Council. At the same time, under the Constitution, I have legislative responsibilities. I'm actually paid by the Senate, not by the executive. I sit as the President of the Senate, as the presiding officer in the Senate. I cast tie-breaking votes in the Senate. So the Vice President is kind of a unique creature, if you will, in that you've got a foot in both branches.
"Q But you are principally a part of the executive branch, are you not?
"THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I suppose you could argue it either way. "Knoller's View
Knoller writes on the CBS Web site that he just couldn't resist asking Cheney what he did during the two hours he spent as acting president two weekends ago, when Bush was undergoing a colonoscopy. Cheney said all he did was write his grandchildren a letter.
"Q Were you tempted to take any actions during that period?
"THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I was not."
Knoller also observes: "As I was escorted into his office in the West Wing of the White House, Vice President Cheney was seated behind a big desk cluttered with papers. It was very unlike the president's desk in the Oval Office, which is always swept clean of everything when reporters enter."Note to Larry King
Most White House staffers received a 1.7 percent cost-of-living raise last year. For Bush's top aides, like Karl Rove, that meant a $2,800 boost to a total of $168,000.
Second-level aides -- the "deputy assistants to the president" -- got a more generous 2.9 percent raise, from $137,000 to $141,000.
The list, supplied to Congress by the White House, does not include household staff, the Office of Management and Budget or, most notably, the Office of the Vice President.
Some 40 vice presidential staffers on the Senate payroll are listed on the Legistorm Web site. But top Cheney aides such as chief of staff David S. Addington, national security adviser John Hannah and Middle East adviser David Wurmser, who are paid out of the vice president's executive appropriation, don't show up anywhere in the public domain. (Similarly, Cheney wouldn't allow a listing of his office's positions in the Plum Book, the official listing of presidentially appointed positions that Congress publishes every four years.)
Alexis Simendinger wrote about the list on NationalJournal.com yesterday.
Last year, Democrats had a field day with the discovery that the White House was paying someone $106,641 to be the "Director of Lessons Learned." Stuart Girand Baker was given that title by virtue of the White House's "Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned" report. A detailee from the Department of Homeland Security, Baker's title is now director of response policy. And he got a 5.6 percent raise, to $112,586.Poodle, Bulldog, Scotty, Whatever
But evidently I overlooked a flurry of subtle signs.
Michael Abramowitz writes in The Washington Post: "Brown, a low-key Scotsman who succeeded Tony Blair as prime minister last month, appeared less effusive than Bush -- perhaps mindful of the political perils at home of seeming too close to the American president. While he thanked Bush for his hospitality, he did not discuss their personal relationship and he focused instead on what he described as the shared commitment in Britain and the United States to liberty and human dignity -- values, he suggested, that transcend any individual leader."
Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post: "Brown announced that 'Afghanistan is the front line against terrorism' -- contradicting Bush's frequent claim that Iraq is the 'central front' in that battle. While Bush spoke passionately of terrorists as 'evil,' Brown spoke of terrorism as 'a crime.' Where Bush described their meetings as 'casual' and 'relaxed,' Brown found them to be 'full and frank' -- diplomatic code for tough. . . .
"While Bush has placed blame for the violence in Iraq solely on al-Qaeda -- he mentioned the terrorist group 95 times in a single speech about Iraq last week -- Brown tried to put it in context: 'In Iraq, you're dealing with Sunni-Shia violence, you're dealing with the involvement of Iran, but you're certainly dealing with a large number of al-Qaeda terrorists.'"
Jim Rutenberg writes in the New York Times: "The two leaders showed none of the warmth and coziness that Mr. Bush had shared with Mr. Brown's predecessor, Tony Blair, a closeness that contributed to Mr. Blair's political tumble at home."
William Douglas writes for McClatchy Newspapers that Brown's emphasis on Afghanistan "seemed intended for consumption back in Great Britain and Europe.
"'Most (European) people really believe that Afghanistan is the real test in the war on terror because of the extent to which it was endorsed by the United Nations, by NATO and by the European Union,' said Simon Serfaty, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Europe Program. 'It's easier to sell Afghanistan in the U.K. instead of Iraq.'"The British View
The British press saw the end of an era -- particularly when it came to sartorial choices.
The Daily Mail editorializes: "The love-in is over. Everything about Gordon Brown's demeanour at Camp David yesterday proclaimed that a new chapter is opening in Britain's relations with the United States.
"Gone was the informality of the Blair years: the casual clothes (who can forget ambassador Christopher Meyer's description of Tony Blair's 'ballcrushingly tight corduroys'?) and the matey exchanges of banter between British prime minister and American president.
"Instead, Brown was businesslike almost to the point of coolness.
"Where Tony Blair fell hook, line and sinker for Mr Bush's flattery, Mr Brown seemed utterly impervious to it. . . .
"Good. For won't this new, more formal relationship be far healthier -- for both Britain and the U.S?"
Rupert Cornwell writes in the Independent from Camp David: "At his debut 'Colgate' summit here with Mr Bush, Tony Blair cavorted in a shirt and sweater. . . . Even starchy types such as Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan have entered the spirit of things, donning slacks and dropping the tie.
"Not so Gordon, in the same dark suit he might have worn as Chancellor at a Guildhall banquet. He also did not refer to Mr Bush as 'George', preferring the more distant 'Mr President'. Unusually too for Mr Bush, who prides himself on clockwork punctuality, the press conference began 20 minutes late. Had unexpected disagreements cropped up?"
And then of course there was the body language.
Aislinn Simpson writes in the Telegraph: "For all their protestations of friendship, Gordon Brown and George Bush's first joint press conference was not a reunion of bosom buddies, according to a body language expert.
"Judi James has spent years observing politicians and interpreting their most subtle gestures, and she says that despite their media training, the two men were unable to disguise their unease.
"The US leader seemed browbeaten, she added, as though he had just been given a hard time during his private meeting with the new British premier.
"'Even when Bush was trying to act friendly his shoulders were slumped. 'Sullen' is the word I would use.'"
The Independent editorializes: "For all of George Bush's typical stabs at levity, there was a refreshing tone of seriousness on display at yesterday's press conference with Gordon Brown at Camp David. This was certainly not a 'Yo, Brown!' summit. The Prime Minister's first official trip to the United States came across as strictly a working visit. The backslapping and mutual admiration that were such a feature of Tony Blair's meetings with President Bush had been banished. Even the distance between the two lecterns on the Camp David lawn appeared to have grown a little compared with previous meetings of this nature. . . .
"Mr Brown achieved what he came for. He looked statesmanlike and eloquent (especially next to the inarticulate, and at times irritable, President Bush). At the same time, he managed to signal a subtle change of tone in transatlantic relations, although nothing that is going to cause diplomatic rupture."
The Daily Mirror editorializes: "Mr Brown's admission of a 'full and frank' conversation and his failure to reciprocate personal praise showered on him by Mr Bush opened a new international era.
"And Britain will be stronger if our leader is not a Yankee poodle."
The Scotsman (subscription required) writes: "If Gordon Brown wanted to dispel the notion that Britain would in any way be poodle to the United States, he could not have been clearer.
"Under the carefully couched diplomatic language about facing down struggles united and having 'shared values', the Prime Minister had broken the leash."Signs of Withdrawal
And beyond the superficialities, some of the Brits saw signs of a major break in the making.
Andrew Grice writes for the Independent: "Gordon Brown has paved the way for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq by telling George Bush he would not delay their exit in order to show unity with the United States. . . .
"Mr Brown's willingness to pursue an independent British policy in Iraq will be seen as an important break with Tony Blair."
Jean Eaglesham writes in the Financial Times: "Gordon Brown yesterday put President George W. Bush on two months' notice that all British troops could be pulled from combat duties in Iraq. But the prime minister agreed to delay the decision until after September's crucial report on US military strategy."Needling Watch
As Ben Feller writes for the Associated Press: "Bush offered some trademark needling.
"When Brown said six of his Cabinet members are under 40, Bush replied: 'You must be feeling damn old, then.'
"The president extended the same courtesy to the British press."
As Nick Robinson blogs for the BBC: "[Y]ou may have noticed Mr Bush's warm greeting to me. . . . He said to me, clearly remembering our last encounter, 'you still hanging around?'.
"At a news conference in Washington last year, the day after the Iraq study group report was published, I suggested that his response would lead some to believe that he was in 'denial' about Iraq.
"At the end of today's briefing, the president looked at me, sweating in the swampy conditions, and said, 'next time you should cover your bald head'. I made the fatal error of answering a quip with a quip: 'I didn't know you cared'. To which the president said, quick as a flash, 'I don't'. No Christmas card for me from Washington, then."
(I wrote about Robinson's first exchange with Bush in my December 8 column.)Names, Please
Washington Monthly blogger Kevin Drum notes this Bush comment about Brown yesterday: "He's a problem solver. He's a glass-half-full man, not a glass-half-empty guy, you know. Some of these world leaders say, 'Oh, the problems are so significant, let us retreat, let us not take them on, they're too tough'."
Drum's question: "Where does he come up with this stuff? Who are these foreign leaders who are so overwhelmed with their jobs that they want to go hide in a closet? I want names."President No
Edwin Chen writes for Bloomberg: "Steve LaTourette, a Republican congressman who represents northeastern Ohio, traveled with George W. Bush during the president's July 10 visit to Cleveland. As the men rode in a limo, Bush recited from memory the lineup of the celebrated 1954 Cleveland Indians baseball team.
"'He was in great spirits,' LaTourette recalled. At no time during the seven hours he spent with Bush did the president mention any new policy initiatives. . . .
"While Bush may prevail in some spending fights, few politicians or historians say much of his scaled-back agenda is achievable in the waning days of an unpopular presidency. 'With that bully pulpit, you can never rule him out,' said Senator Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican. 'But no, I don't think he'll get anything more done.'
"Weakened by low job-approval ratings, Bush has little choice but to lower his sights. 'The president can't drive things' in his current position, said George Edwards, a political scientist at Texas A&M University in College Station. 'But he can stop things.'"
Ken Herman writes for Cox News Service: "The ambitious to-do list that President Bush brought to town in 2001 has morphed into a don't-do list as he increasingly depends on threatened use of the veto power he used sparingly before his popularity and political capital disintegrated."
In a Statement of Administration Policy yesterday, the White House made it official: Bush will veto a bipartisan Senate proposal to boost the State Children's Health Insurance Program by $35 billion over five years.
Paul Krugman writes in his New York Times opinion column (subscription required): "President Bush says that access to care is no problem -- 'After all, you just go to an emergency room' -- and, with the support of the Republican Congressional leadership, he's declared that he'll veto any Schip expansion on 'philosophical' grounds."
But, Krugman asks, "What kind of philosophy says that it's O.K. to subsidize insurance companies, but not to provide health care to children?"On the Turkish Border
Liz Sly writes in the Chicago Tribune from the Turkish border that "this forgotten frontier and the leftist revolutionaries living off its land risk becoming the flash point for a future conflict that could draw in players from across the region."
Robert D. Novak writes in his syndicated opinion column: "High-level U.S. officials are working with their Turkish counterparts on a joint military operation to suppress Kurdish guerrillas and capture their leaders. Through covert activity, their goal is to forestall Turkey from invading Iraq. . . .
"[I]n secret briefings on Capitol Hill last week by Eric S. Edelman, a former aide to Vice President Cheney who is now undersecretary of defense for policy . . . [discussed] plans for a covert operation of U.S. Special Forces to help the Turks neutralize" the Turkish Kurd guerrilla fighters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). "They would behead the guerrilla organization by helping Turkey get rid of PKK leaders that they have targeted for years. . . .
"The Turkish initiative reflects the temperament and personality of George W. Bush. Even faithful congressional supporters of his Iraq policy have been stunned by the president's upbeat mood, which makes him appear oblivious to the loss of his political base. Despite the failing effort to impose a military solution in Iraq, he is willing to try imposing arms -- though clandestinely -- on Turkey's ancient problems with its Kurdish minority, who comprise one-fifth of the country's population."The 'War on Terror' in a Nutshell
In the New York Times Book Review Sunday, Harvard professor Samantha Power begins her far-reaching essay on several new books about terrorism and fighting terrorism with this summary:
"The day after the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush declared the strikes by Al Qaeda 'more than acts of terror. They were acts of war.' Bush's 'war on terror' was 'not a figure of speech,' he said. Rather, it was a defining framework. The war, Bush announced, would begin with Al Qaeda, but would 'not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.' The global war on terror, he said, was the 'inescapable calling of our generation.'
"The phrase and the agenda that grew out of it caught on, and from 9/11 onward, the administration used its pulpit to propagate several new premises. First, with the threat of Islamic radical terrorism, new rules, new tools and new mind-sets had to be devised to meet the novelty of the menace. As Vice President Dick Cheney put it, 'old doctrines of security do not apply.' The criminal justice approach of trying terrorists would have to be scrapped, supplanted by a military approach. Second, we were told, the states that sponsored terrorism or offered lodging to terrorists had to be treated the same way as those nonstate actors who carried out the threats. Even more dramatically, America's friends had to prove their loyalty by taking concrete steps in our global war. As Bush put it, the 'duties' of peace-loving people 'involve more than sympathy or words. No nation can be neutral.' By requiring governments to step up, we would be able to root out the unreliable and distribute sanctions and favors accordingly.
"Third, since international treaties and institutions often constrained Washington's ability to combat terrorism on its own terms, they should be dipped into and exploited selectively. While it was true that other countries valued those laws and institutions, the gravity of the terrorist threat would ultimately unite nations with shared interests. The urgency of the common cause would override choosiness about the means. Our allies would need us more than we would need them, so we could count on them to rally to our side in a crunch.
"And fourth, in Bush's view, wartime demanded a strong commander in chief, and he would be far more effective prosecuting the war if he could free himself of the meddlesome legislative, judicial and even interagency checks fashionable in peacetime. Surely, Bush's team argued, the extreme continuing threats to our national security warranted a dramatic expansion of presidential power.
"Six years later, most Americans still rightly believe that the United States must confront Islamic terrorism -- and must be relentless in preventing terrorist networks from getting weapons of mass destruction. But Bush's premises have proved flawed, and the war-on-terror frame has obscured more than it has clarified."Cartoon Watch
Tom Toles on Cheney's defibrillator.