The Bush Convention

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, August 25, 2008; 12:12 PM

You can expect to hear a lot more about President Bush at the Democratic convention this week than at the Republican one next week.

Democrats are intent on bolstering the already widespread perception that a victory by John McCain would be tantamount to a third term for Bush. The reasons are obvious: Bush's approval ratings are abysmal and polls show that four out of five voters are yearning for a new direction. If the 2008 election turns into Bush's long-awaited accountability moment, the Democrats will win in a rout.

Republicans, by contrast, are trying to keep Bush in the distant background -- not exactly disowning him, but trumpeting McCain as his own man.

In his first speech as Barack Obama's newly-selected running mate, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Saturday made it clear that linking McCain and Bush will be one of his top priorities.

"I'll say straight up that John McCain is genuinely a friend of mine," Biden said. "I've known John for 35 years. He served our country with extraordinary courage and I know he wants to do right by America, but the harsh, harsh truth is you can't change America when you quote, and these are John's words, 'The most important issues of our day I've been totally in agreement and support with President Bush.'

"That's what he said."

Biden continued: "You can't change America when you supported George Bush's policy 95 percent of the time. You can't change America when you believe, and these are his own words 'that in the Bush Administration we made great progress economically.' You can't change America and make things better for our senior citizens when you signed on to Bush's scheme to privatizing Social Security. . . .

"You can't change America and end the war in Iraq and say, these are his words, 'No one has supported President Bush more than I have.'

"You can't change America, you can't change America when you know your first four years as president will look exactly like the last eight years of Bush's presidency."

Patrick Healy writes in the New York Times: "A task for Mr. Biden, the advisers said, will be to doggedly portray the presumptive Republican nominee, Senator John McCain of Arizona, as a handmaiden for President Bush who would continue his policies. In the words of one adviser, Mr. Biden can be an artful critic because he knows 'chapter and verse' about Mr. McCain's Senate votes and controversial positions after serving with him for two decades."

E. J. Dionne Jr. writes in his Washington Post opinion column: "Democrats worry that Obama has been insufficiently aggressive in going after John McCain and insufficiently attentive to the imperative of linking McCain to George W. Bush.

"In private as well as in public, Biden is genuinely angry about the effect of Bush's policies, and he demonstrated in his debut performance how eager he is to go on the attack against both the president and McCain."

Dan Balz and Jon Cohen write in The Washington Post with the results of the latest Washington Post-ABC News Poll, in which Obama leads McCain 49 to 43: "President Bush's approval rating remains near record lows -- 30 percent in this poll -- and nearly half of all voters view the GOP unfavorably. Nearly six in 10 said that if elected president, McCain would mainly continue Bush's policies."

Biden on Bush

Last July, Biden was furious after Bush commuted the prison sentence of former vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who was convicted of obstruction of justice and perjury in the Valerie Plame CIA leak case.

CNN reported: "'That is what you might call tone-deaf or brain-dead. One of the two,' Biden told [an] Iowa City audience. 'When the war is going to hell in a handbasket, when our leadership around the world is literally on the balls of its heels instead of engaging in any uniting effort to bring the country together what does he do? He takes one of the most controversial political stands he could do to enrage the country. This is an administration beyond redemption in my view.'

"To the delight of the assembled crowd, Biden also said he thought the 'House of Representatives could, if it chose, find reasonable grounds to bring articles of impeachment' against Vice President Dick Cheney."

Adam Nagourney blogged for the New York Times that the next day, in Des Moines, Biden made it even more personal: "'This guy is brain dead,' Mr. Biden said to surprised applause and laughter from the crowd. 'I know I'll be quoted, I'll be killed for that.'

"'This is a guy who is on the balls of his heels, here's a guy who is lower off in the polls than any president in modern history and he goes ahead and he does something that just flies in the face of the sensibilities of the American people.'"

In December of last year, a publicly released national intelligence estimate concluded that Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons program four years earlier, undermining a central plank of Bush's campaign against Iran. Bush then claimed he hadn't been made aware of the intelligence reversal until just the week before.

As CNN reported, Biden responded with outrage and mockery: "'Are you telling me a president that's briefed every single morning, who's fixated on Iran, is not told back in August that the tentative conclusion of 16 intelligence agencies in the U.S. government said they had abandoned their effort for a nuclear weapon in '03?' Biden asked in a conference call with reporters.

"'I refuse to believe that,' he added. 'If that's true, he has the most incompetent staff in modern American history, and he's one of the most incompetent presidents in modern American history.'

"The Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman linked the administration's conduct to its actions before the Iraq war, saying that 'for this president to knowingly disregard or once again misrepresent intelligence about the issue of war and peace, I find outrageous. [T]his is exactly what he did, exactly what he did in the run-up to the war in Iraq, in consistently exaggerating the intelligence.'"

A few days later, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly goaded White House spokeswoman Dana Perino into firing back.

O'Reilly: "All right, but look, I don't mind Biden's partisanship. That's what - that's how the game is played. But he comes out, and he says to the world, not just to America, Ms. Perino, we have a president who continues to lie to the American people and the world about very serious subjects like life and death, war and peace. And I don't hear President Bush coming out saying listen Biden, knock it off, I didn't lie about anything. I'd like to hear that."

Perino: "Well, I'm happy to say it here."

In a speech in April, Biden described Bush's foreign policy as a disaster: "After eight years of the Bush Administration, our country is less secure and more isolated than it has been at any time in recent history. This administration has dug America into a very deep hole -- with very few friends to help us climb out. . . .

"It has squandered our ability to shape this new world. . . . It has destroyed faith in America's judgment. And it has devalued America's moral leadership in the world.

"Instead, this administration has focused to the point of obsession on the so-called 'war on terrorism' and produced a one-size-fits-all doctrine of military preemption and regime change ill suited to the challenges we face.

"It has made fear the main driver of our foreign policy. It has turned a deadly serious but manageable threat -- a small number of radical groups that hate America -- into a ten-foot tall existential monster that dictates nearly every move we make.

"Even if you look at the world through this administration's distorted lens, you see a failed policy.

"This failure flows from a dangerous combination of ideology and incompetence and a profound confusion about whom we're fighting.

"It starts with the very language the President has tried to impose: 'the global war on terror.' That is simply wrong. Terrorism is a means, not an end, and very different groups and countries are using it toward very different goals. If we can't even identify the enemy or describe the war we're fighting, it's difficult to see how we will win."

And in May, Biden used a famous barnyard epithet in response to a Bush speech in Israel where the president equated negotiating with our enemies to Nazi appeasement.

Anne Schroeder Mullins quoted Biden as saying: "This is bullshit, this is malarkey. This is outrageous, for the president of the United States to go to a foreign country, to sit in the Knesset . . . and make this kind of ridiculous statement."

Domenico Montanaro blogged for NBC News: "An exasperated Biden skewered Bush . . . calling the comments 'pure politics,' 'blatant,' 'beneath the presidency,' 'truly disgraceful,' 'outrageous,' 'disturbing,' 'ridiculous hypocrisy' and 'long-distance Swiftboating.' He even said Bush 'oughta get a life.'"

GOP Convention Drama

Michael Abramowitz writes in The Washington Post: "When it gathers next week in Minneapolis-St. Paul for its quadrennial convention, the Republican Party will try to turn the page from George W. Bush to John McCain. It won't be an easy trick. . . .

"The last thing the McCain campaign wants is for Bush to reinforce the Obama message that the senator from Arizona is running for a third Bush term; what the McCain team seems to prefer is for Bush to help close the deal with voters in the GOP's base and with delegates who remain skeptical of McCain -- and otherwise get out of the way. . . .

"The White House has been willing to oblige the McCain campaign's apparent desire that the president keep a healthy distance, with Bush quietly raising money for the GOP efforts this fall and aides biting their tongues over obvious gibes -- such as the McCain television ad stating bluntly that things are worse in this country than four years ago. . . .

"Save for a brief handshake on the tarmac in Arizona, the two men have not appeared in public together since a White House lunch in March. GOP operatives don't expect the two men to cross paths in the Twin Cities, where Bush is planning a quick trip to deliver his speech next Monday night before clearing out for McCain's arrival later in the week. . . .

"The big question is how Bush will use his final moment in the limelight, and to what extent he will try to defend the record of his administration."

Cheney Watch

Vice President Cheney, incidentally, is speaking on the first night of the Republican convention. Then Bush is sending him far away.

The White House announced this morning that Cheney leaves right after the speech "to travel to Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine and Italy for discussions with these key partners on issues of mutual interest. . . . In addition to meetings with foreign leaders, the Vice President will attend and address the Ambrosetti forum entitled, ' Intelligence on the World, Europe and Italy' in Lake Como, Italy."

Michael Isikoff and Tony Hopfinger write for Newsweek: "A two-year-old letter by Vice President Dick Cheney that pushed a controversial Alaska natural-gas pipeline bill is getting renewed scrutiny because of recently disclosed evidence in the Justice Department's corruption case against Sen. Ted Stevens. In a conversation secretly tape-recorded by the FBI on June 25, 2006, Stevens discussed ways to get a pipeline bill through the Alaska Legislature with Bill Allen, an oil-services executive accused of providing the senator with about $250,000 in undisclosed financial benefits. According to a Justice motion, Stevens told Allen, 'I'm gonna try to see if I can get some bigwigs from back here and say, 'Look . . . you gotta get this done'.' Two days later, Cheney wrote a letter to the Alaska Legislature urging members to 'promptly enact' a bill to build the pipeline. The letter was considered unusual because the White House rarely contacts state lawmakers about pending legislative matters. It also angered state Democrats, who accused Cheney of pushing oil-company interests. The former executive director of Cheney's energy task force had gone to work as a lobbyist for British Petroleum, one of three firms slated to build the pipeline.

"Stevens confirmed to Newsweek last week that he asked Cheney to write the letter. 'We wanted the federal government to tell the state to act quickly on it,' he said. (A spokesman for Alaska's other senator, Lisa Murkowski, said her office also had contacts with Cheney's office.) A Cheney spokeswoman said his office does not comment on pending legal matters.

Bush Gets His Boat

David Rising writes for the Associated Press: "The U.S. Navy destroyer U.S.S. McFaul reached Georgia's Black Sea port of Batumi on Sunday, bringing baby food, bottled water and a message of support for an embattled ally.

"The deputy chief of Russia's general staff suggested the arrival of the McFaul and other U.S. and NATO ships would increase tensions. . . .

"Local children offered the Americans wine and flowers. . . .

"The McFaul, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, is outfitted with an array of weaponry, including Tomahawk cruise missiles, which can carry either conventional or nuclear warheads, and a sophisticated radar system. For security reasons the Navy does not say whether ships are carrying nuclear weapons, but they usually do not."

That'll Show 'Em

Daniel Dombey writes in the Financial Times: "The Bush administration is set to put a high-profile nuclear deal with Russia on hold, according to US diplomats.

"Officials expect Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, to recommend that George W. Bush, president, recall the civil nuclear co-operation agreement from Congress in the wake of Russia's conflict with Georgia. . . .

"The move to put the nuclear agreement on ice would darken prospects for bilateral co-operation between the two countries in the area of nuclear safety."

Karl Rove Watch

Wayne Slater blogged for the Dallas Morning News on Saturday: "Karl Rove weighed in this morning on Democratic vice presidential pick Joe Biden, saying his long experience in the Senate only reminds voters that Barack Obama doesn't have much. It was classic Rove: Attack an opponent's strength, make it a weakness.

"But Karl found himself in deep water when a FoxNews interviewer asked: Wasn't Dick Cheney picked to be George W. Bush's veep to balance the Texas governor's lack of experience? Did Cheney boost the ticket or just remind people of Bush's inexperience? Totally different, said Rove. Totally different."

Supboena Talks?

Joe Palazzolo blogged for Legal Times on Friday: "Last month, Judge John Bates of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that President George W. Bush's top aides are not immune from congressional subpoenas. Bates said that Bush's former legal counsel, Harriet Miers, must appear before Congress to give testimony related to the U.S. attorney firings. If she wants to assert executive privilege, she must do so in person, Bates ruled.

"The Bush administration has asked Bates to stay his decision pending an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The House has demanded that the White House comply with the ruling immediately.

"Today, Justice Department lawyers told Bates that 'the parties have recommenced discussions to determine whether a negotiated resolution may obviate the need for continued litigation.' The parties have met twice since Bates' July 31 ruling, the report says."

The CIA and Suskind

Joby Warrick writes in The Washington Post: "The controversy over a best-selling author's account of forgery and deception in the White House deepened yesterday with a new CIA denial that it helped the Bush administration produce phony documents suggesting past links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

"Author Ron Suskind's book 'The Way of the World,' released earlier this month, contends that the White House learned in early 2003 that the Iraqi president no longer possessed weapons of mass destruction but went to war regardless. Suskind wrote that the information was passed to British and U.S. intelligence officials in secret meetings with Tahir Habbush, Iraq's spy chief at the time.

"Moreover, in an allegation that implies potentially criminal acts by administration officials, the author wrote that White House officials ordered a forgery to influence public opinion about the war. The book contends that the CIA paid Habbush $5 million and resettled him in Jordan after the war. Then, it says, in late 2003, the White House ordered the CIA to enlist Habbush's help in concocting a fake letter that purported to show that Iraq helped train Mohamed Atta, the Egyptian-born al-Qaeda terrorist who led the 19 hijackers in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Such a letter surfaced in Iraq in December 2003, but its authenticity quickly came into question.

"The CIA and White House denied Suskind's account when the book was first released. But yesterday, the CIA issued a more extensive rebuttal based on what the agency called an internal investigation involving a records search and interviews with junior and senior officers who were directly involved in the agency's Iraq operations at the time. As for the claim that the White House ordered the CIA to forge a letter, the agency said: 'It did not happen.' . . .

"Suskind, whose claims are now the subject of two congressional investigations, yesterday continued to stand by his book and accused the CIA and White House of orchestrating a smear campaign. 'It's the same old stuff,' said Suskind, who said his findings are supported by hours of interviews, some of them taped. 'There's not a shred of doubt about any of it.'"

Bush Legacy Watch

Richard B. Schmitt writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Banks and brokerages have written down more than $300 billion of mortgage-backed securities and other risky investments in the last year or so as homeowner defaults leaped and weakness in the real estate market spread.

"In California alone, lenders have foreclosed on $100 billion worth of homes over the last two years and are foreclosing at a rate of 1,300 houses every business day, according to a recent report from ForeclosureRadar.com.

"Most observers have declared the mess a gross failure of regulation. To be sure, in the run-up to the crisis, market-oriented federal regulators bragged about their hands-off treatment of banks and other savings institutions and their executives. But it wasn't just regulators who were looking the other way. The FBI and its parent agency, the Justice Department, are supposed to act as the cops on the beat for potentially illegal activities by bankers and others. But they were focused on national security and other priorities, and paid scant attention to white-collar crimes that may have contributed to the lending and securities debacle."

Despite the ramp-up in national security and terrorism investigations, Schmitt notes that the administration was nevertheless able to "put more support behind efforts against illegal immigration and child pornography."

Hiring Watch

Charlie Savage writes in the New York Times: "Immigrants seeking asylum in the United States have been disproportionately rejected by judges whom the Bush administration chose using a conservative political litmus test, according to an analysis of Justice Department data.

"The analysis suggests that the effects of a patronage-style selection process for immigration judges -- used for three years before it was abandoned as illegal -- are still being felt by scores of immigrants whose fates are determined by the judges installed in that period. . . .

"Critics of the politicization of the immigration bench say it is not enough that in 2007 the department stopped using illegal hiring procedures. The fact that many of the politically selected judges remain in power, they say, continues to undermine the perceived fairness of hearings for immigrants fighting deportation."

Bush's Marbles

Wendi C. Thomas writes for the Rocky Mountain News about Rick Clay, a vendor at the Democratic convention: "For $5, you could... buy a mailing envelope addressed to President Bush that contains a few of the marbles Clay says Bush is missing.

"'Be a part of history; for never before has one man lost so many marbles and been so in need of collective help to recover them,' reads Clay's press release."

Cartoon Watch

Stuart Carlson on Bush's gold medal for lack of self-awareness, Jim Morin with a Karl Rove sighting, and Steve Greenberg on Bush Light.

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