By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, October 31, 2007; 12:52 PM
President Bush went before the television cameras yesterday to rail at Congressional Democrats, who he said are "going alone and going nowhere."
"The leadership that's on the Hill now cannot get [the] job done," he said, adding: "They haven't seen a bill they could not solve without shoving a tax hike into it."
Just a lot of political posturing, right?
Well, maybe not. It's increasingly looking like Bush's petulance is not just for show.
Apparently, a year of dealing with a Democratic Congress -- even one as supine as this one -- has profoundly upset him. And he may have given up on reaching any accommodation with them at all.
Michael Abramowitz and Jonathan Weisman write in The Washington Post: "The White House plans to try implementing as much new policy as it can by administrative order while stepping up its confrontational rhetoric with Congress after concluding that President Bush cannot do much business with the Democratic leadership, administration officials said. . . .
"White House aides say the only way Bush seems to be able to influence the process is by vetoing legislation or by issuing administrative orders, as he has in recent weeks on veterans' health care, air-traffic congestion, protecting endangered fish and immigration. . . .
"The events of recent weeks have 'crystallized that the chances of these leaders meeting the administration halfway are becoming increasingly remote,' said White House spokesman Tony Fratto.
"Bush himself has been complaining more and more bitterly about congressional Democrats in recent weeks."
MSNBC's Keith Olbermann parses what he calls Bush's "tantrum" yesterday.
Mike Soraghan, Klaus Marre and Manu Raju write in the Hill: "House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Democrats have been making progress but have been blocked by Republican obstruction. He said Bush is complaining now only because Congress will not do his bidding as it did when Republicans were in control.
"'This president is defying the will of the American people, and he's chagrined that things have changed, so he's complaining,' Hoyer said.
"Bush pointed to recent legislation to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program, the farm bill, the energy bill and a small-business bill as examples of Democrats' effort to raise taxes.
"Democrats retorted that they have found ways to pay for the programs they have proposed, rather than simply adding to the debt."
David Espo and Charles Babington write for the Associated Press that Bush has apparently dug in even further in opposition to the SCHIP bill: "President Bush told Republican lawmakers on Tuesday he will not agree to legislation expanding children's health insurance if it includes a tobacco tax increase, a decision that virtually ensures a renewed veto struggle with the Democratic-controlled Congress. . . .
"The White House has said previously it opposes tobacco tax increases that Democrats included in the health care legislation, but only after first detailing numerous other objections."
And, as Espo and Babington note: "in an ominous sign for the White House, Republican leaders said during the day they might defy a White House veto."Flashback
In his post-election press conference last November, Bush spoke passionately about working in a bipartisan fashion and challenged skeptics to watch not just his words but his deeds. "There's areas where I believe we can get some important things done," he said. "And to answer your question, though, how do we convince Americans that we're able to do it? Do it. That's how you do it. You get something done. You actually sit down, work together, and I sign legislation that we all agree on. And my pledge today is I'll work hard to try to see if we can't get that done."
But in the interim, it's become clear what Bush means by working together involves Democrats caving in and giving him whatever he asks for.
At his October 17 press conference, he pronounced, once again, that "it's time to put politics aside and seek common ground." But Sheryl Stolberg of the New York Times followed up: "A year ago, after Republicans lost control of Congress, you said you wanted to find common ground. This morning you gave us a pretty scathing report card on Democrats. . . . I'm wondering how have you assessed yourself in dealing with Democrats this past year? How effective have you been in dealing with them on various issues, and do you think you've done a good job in finding common ground?"
Bush's reply: "We're finding common ground on Iraq. We're -- I recognize there are people Congress that say we shouldn't have been there in the first place. But it sounds to me as if the debate has shifted, that David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker's testimony made a difference to a lot of members. I hope we continue to find ground by making sure our troops get funded.
"We found common ground on FISA," he added, referring to the gutting of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that Congress temporarily approved in August but is now reconsidering.Torture Watch
Dan Eggen writes in The Washington Post: "Attorney general nominee Michael B. Mukasey told Senate Democrats yesterday that a kind of simulated drowning known as waterboarding is 'repugnant to me,' but he said he does not know whether the interrogation tactic violates U.S. laws against torture.
"Mukasey's uncertainty about the method's legality has raised new questions about the success of his nomination. . . .
"In a four-page letter to the Judiciary Committee, Mukasey walked a tightrope by outlining the laws and treaties forbidding torture and other cruel treatment, and explaining the legal analysis he would undertake of 'coercive' techniques, while generally declining to render judgments.
"Mukasey said that techniques described as waterboarding by lawmakers 'seem over the line or, on a personal basis, repugnant to me, and would probably seem the same to many Americans.' But, he continued, 'hypotheticals are different from real life, and in any legal opinion the actual facts and circumstances are critical.'
"Mukasey also said he is reluctant to offer opinions on interrogation techniques because he does not want to place U.S. officials 'in personal legal jeopardy' and is concerned that such remarks might 'provide our enemies with a window into the limits or contours of any interrogation program.' His arguments are similar to those advanced by the Bush administration in its refusal to discuss waterboarding or other interrogation techniques."
Scott Shane writes in the New York Times: "The initial response from committee Democrats on Tuesday night suggested that Mr. Mukasey had not assuaged their concerns.
"'I remain very concerned that Judge Mukasey finds himself unable to state unequivocally that waterboarding is illegal and below the standards and values of the United States,' Mr. Leahy, of Vermont, said in a statement.
"He said he would consider Mr. Mukasey's written answers to other questions and consult other committee members before scheduling a vote on the nomination.
"Another Democrat, Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, said Mr. Mukasey had 'spent four pages responding and still didn't provide an answer' to the question, 'Is waterboarding illegal?'"
Meanwhile, Mira Oberman reports for AFP that General Michael Hayden, the director of the CIA, defended his agency's interrogation practices yesterday in a speech in Chicago.
"Our programs are as lawful as they are valuable," he said.
Writes Oberman: "But when asked directly whether or not waterboarding constituted torture, Hayden gave a muddled and confusing response in which he cited domestic and international law.
"'Judge Mukasey cannot nor can I answer your question in the abstract,' he said. 'I need to understand the totality of the circumstances in which this question is being posed before I can even answer that.'"
Blogger Hilzoy writes: "There is an easy way for Mukasey to get around the fact that he has not been briefed on what the CIA did: just define waterboarding, say whether waterboarding so defined is torture, and add that not having been briefed on what the CIA did, he doesn't know whether or not what they did meets his definition. That Mukasey has not taken this obvious route suggests that he is not motivated by his own uncertainty, but by the desire to keep people he believes have engaged in torture from being punished for their crimes.
"That we are even having a debate about this question, and that it is not a foregone conclusion that someone who claims not to know whether waterboarding is torture cannot possibly be confirmed as Attorney General, is a testament to the moral degradation of our country, and of our political discourse."
For more, see yesterday's column: The Stench of Torture.Enemy Combatant Watch
Jerry Markon writes in The Washington Post: "The battle over President Bush's power to indefinitely detain a U.S. resident without charge moves to the full federal appeals court in Richmond this morning, as the judges consider the case of Qatari national Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri.
"A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled in June that Bush had overreached his authority when he declared Marri an 'enemy combatant' and that the Constitution protects U.S. citizens and legal residents such as Marri from unchecked military power. The administration is now appealing to the full court, which will hear arguments from both sides."FISA Watch
Senator John D. Rockefeller IV writes in a Washington Post op-ed: "Within weeks of the 2001 attacks, communications companies received written requests and directives for assistance with intelligence activities authorized by the president. These companies were assured that their cooperation was not only legal but also necessary because of their unique technical capabilities. They were also told it was their patriotic duty to help protect the country after the devastating attacks on our homeland.
"Today there is significant debate about whether the underlying program -- the president's warrantless surveillance plan -- was legal or violated constitutional rights. That is an important debate, and those questions must be answered.
"In the meantime, however, these companies are being sued, which is unfair and unwise. As the operational details of the program remain highly classified, the companies are prevented from defending themselves in court. And if we require them to face a mountain of lawsuits, we risk losing their support in the future."
Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald takes apart Rockefeller's argument: "The 9/11 attacks could be a coherent (though not persuasive) defense to lawless surveillance on September 13, 2001 or even on October 13, 2001 -- but not throughout 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and into 2007. That is nothing more than deliberate lawbreaking motivated by limitless power (in the case of Bush) and swelling profits (in the case of telecoms). . . .
"No matter how many times Rockefeller and Cheney scream '9/11' and 'Terrorists!,' the most basic principles of 'the rule of law' demand that telecoms and Bush officials -- like everyone else -- be held accountable when they break the law."
Benjamin Civiletti, Dick Thornburgh and William Webster write in a Wall Stret Journal op-ed: "For hundreds of years our legal system has operated under the premise that, in a public emergency, we want private citizens to respond to the government's call for help unless the citizen knows for sure that the government is acting illegally. If Congress does not act now, it would be basically saying that private citizens should only help when they are absolutely certain that all the government's actions are legal. Given the threats we face in today's world, this would be a perilous policy."Gerson's Tale
Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post: "For Michael Gerson, the pattern became discouragingly familiar. A proposal to help the poor or sick would be presented at a White House meeting, but Vice President Cheney's office or the budget team or some other skeptical officials would shoot it down. Too expensive. Wrong priority.
"By the time he left the White House as President Bush's senior adviser last year, Gerson by his own account had grown weary of the battle, becoming an irritable colleague disillusioned by the conventions of a political party and a government that seemed indifferent to the plight of the downtrodden. Now he is back with a new book and a publicity tour intended to fight for the identity of the Republican Party. . . .
"He recounts meetings in which Cheney's office tried to kill proposals to increase training of death-row defense lawyers, transition assistance for prisoners and aid for Hurricane Katrina victims.
"'The storm had also revealed a political and moral chasm in the Republican Party,' he writes. 'The president and I saw Katrina as an opportunity to open a debate on race and poverty. Anti-government Republicans saw Katrina as an opportunity to cut off medicine to old people. It confirmed the worst image of Republicans as the party of shriveled hearts.'"Iran Watch
Paul Richter and Peter Spiegel write in the Los Angeles Times: "While the White House dwells on Iran's nuclear program, senior U.S. diplomats and military officers fear that an incident on the ground in Iraq is a more likely trigger for a possible confrontation with the Islamic Republic.
"In one sign of their concern, U.S. military policymakers are weighing whether to release some of the Iranian personnel they have taken into custody in Iraq. Doing so could reduce the risk that radical Iranian elements might seize U.S. military or diplomatic personnel to retaliate, thus raising the danger of an escalation, a senior Defense official said."
What's particularly interesting about this is that a provocative act by Iran is widely seen as something that would play right into the hands of Vice President Cheney and others who support military action against Tehran. Is an anti-Cheney axis gaining steam?
Olivier Knox writes for AFP: "After weeks of escalating US rhetoric on Iran, the White House vowed Tuesday to 'pursue every possible diplomatic means' to defuse the volatile dispute over Tehran's nuclear program.
"Spokeswoman Dana Perino sought to quiet fears that US President George W. Bush plans to attack the Islamic republic over its refusal to freeze sensitive nuclear work that can lead to the development of atomic weapons.
"'There's no reason for people to think that the president is about to attack Iran. I think that we need to make that clear,' she said. 'He doesn't want people to fear that, because what he is doing is pursuing a diplomatic track.' . . .
"Asked whether she was sure that Bush was not about to strike Iran, Perino replied: 'I'm positive of that, and we're pursuing the diplomatic track.'"Poodle Watch
Andrew Grice writes in the Independent: "Tony Blair turned down a last-minute offer from President George Bush for Britain to stay out of the Iraq war because he thought it would look 'pathetic', according to a new book on Mr Blair's tenure.
"Mr Bush was warned by the US embassy in London before the crucial Commons vote on the war that the Blair government could be brought down. He was so worried that he picked up the telephone and personally offered the then Prime Minister a surprise opt-out. . . .
"'What I want to say to you is that my last choice is to have your government go down,' he told Mr Blair. 'We don't want that to happen under any circumstances. I really mean that.'
"If it would help, he would let Mr Blair 'drop out of the coalition' and the US would find some other way for Britain to participate. [Then-national security adviser Condoleezza] Rice described the conversation as 'very emotional' for the President.
"Mr Blair replied: 'I said I'm with you. I mean it.' One confidant explained: 'Having taken it so far, backing out seemed to him a rather pathetic thing to do.'"Bush VA Pick
Michael A. Fletcher and William Branigin write in The Washington Post: "President Bush yesterday nominated retired Army Lt. Gen. James B. Peake to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is struggling to make the drastic changes needed to care for the large number of wounded troops returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. . . .
"Peake appears likely to face tough questioning in his Senate confirmation hearing on what he knew about poor outpatient care for wounded soldiers when he was Army surgeon general.
"'Given Dr. Peake's past posts running the Army health-care system, he will have serious and significant questions to answer about failed preparations for our returning wounded warriors. For months we've been hearing horror stories from Walter Reed and other military care centers, and I will want to know what role, if any, Dr. Peake played in the failures of the system,' said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a member of the Veterans' Affairs Committee."Karen Hughes Watch
Anne Gearan writes for the Associated Press: "Karen Hughes, who led efforts to improve the U.S. image abroad and was one of President Bush's last remaining advisers from the close circle of Texas aides, will leave the government at the end of the year, she told The Associated Press.
"Hughes said she plans to quit her job as undersecretary of state and return to Texas, although improving the world's view of the United States is a 'long-term challenge' that will outlast her.
"'This will take a number of years,' Hughes said in an interview to announce her departure. . . .
"Hughes' focus has been to change the way the United States engages and responds to criticism or misinformation in the Muslim world.
"'Negative events never help,' Hughes said when asked how events like last month's shooting of Iraqi civilians by private U.S. security guards in Iraq affects the way the world sees the United States."Karl Rove Watch
Mary Ann Akers blogs for washingtonpost.com that Karl Rove is writing a book: "Rove told the Sleuth he has just begun unpacking boxes of notes to begin work on his tome about the Bush White House and presumably other facets of his life as the Republican Party's controversial top operative."Satire Watch
Al Kamen writes in The Washington Post that the folks at Press TV, an Iranian English-language news network, actually took New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd's recent spoof interview with Vice President Cheney seriously, reporting: "'We are not going to get hung up on democracy this time,' Dick Cheney said in an interview with the New York Times on Sunday. 'It's time for squash. Not to mention mushrooms, clouds of them,' said the Vice President, when asked how close Washington was to launching military strikes on Iran."Kucinich's View
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports: "Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D. Ohio) suggested today that President Bush's comment about a nuclear Iran precipitating 'World War III' is a sign of mental instability.
"'I seriously believe we have to start asking questions about his mental health,' Kucinich, a back-of-the-pack candidate for president, said in an interview with The Inquirer's editorial board. 'There's something wrong. He does not seem to understand his words have real impact.' . . .
"Kucinich, who thinks Bush and Vice President Cheney should be impeached and charged with war crimes, is running sixth in most national polls. He said he doesn't believe his comments about the president's mental health are irresponsible.
"'You cannot be a president of the United States who's wanton in his expression of violence,' Kucinich said. 'There's a lot of people who need care. He might be one of them. If there isn't something wrong with him, then there's something wrong with us. This, to me, is a very serious question.'"Post Presidency
Richard Roeper writes in his Chicago Sun-Times opinion column: "In a recent column I speculated on President Bush's post-White House plans. What should he do with himself?
"Alice Collins of Oak Lawn has an idea.
"'Three hundred and sixty-five days a year, in the wind and snow of winter and the heat and humidity of summer, let him tend to the graves of the almost 4,000 men and women who have given their lives in the debacle of Iraq. They honored their oaths, obeyed their commander-in-chief and sacrificed their lives of promise to a lying, unprincipled warmonger.
"'He can begin at the grave of my grandson, Lcpl Jonathan W. Collins, killed in action on 8/8/2004.'"Live Online
I'm Live Online today at 1 p.m. ET.Cartoon Watch