'Not President Bush'

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, October 16, 2008; 11:48 AM

Debating in the shadow of a financial collapse and a presidency that has been found wanting, Republican presidential candidate John McCain made his most dramatic attempt yet to distance himself from his party's leader last night.

"I am not President Bush," McCain told Democratic candidate Barack Obama during the final presidential debate. "If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago. I'm going to give a new direction to this economy in this country."

But at last night's debate on domestic policy, Obama repeatedly tied McCain to Bush's dismal legacy -- particularly his economic policies.

"When President Bush came into office, we had a budget surplus and the national debt was a little over $5 trillion. It has doubled over the last eight years. And we are now looking at a deficit of well over half a trillion dollars," Obama said. "So one of the things that I think we have to recognize is pursuing the same kinds of policies that we pursued over the last eight years is not going to bring down the deficit. And, frankly, Senator McCain voted for four out of five of President Bush's budgets. We've got to take this in a new direction, that's what I propose as president."

After McCain's not-Bush retort, Obama continued to press his point: "The fact of the matter is that if I occasionally have mistaken your policies for George Bush's policies, it's because on the core economic issues that matter to the American people, on tax policy, on energy policy, on spending priorities, you have been a vigorous supporter of President Bush.

"Now, you've shown independence -- commendable independence, on some key issues like torture, for example, and I give you enormous credit for that. But when it comes to economic policies, essentially what you're proposing is eight more years of the same thing. And it hasn't worked. And I think the American people understand it hasn't worked. We need to move in a new direction."

McCain, for his part, ticked off his differences from Bush: "It's very clear that I have disagreed with the Bush administration. I have disagreed with leaders of my own party. I've got the scars to prove it. Whether it be bringing climate change to the floor of the Senate for the first time. Whether it be opposition to spending and earmarks, whether it be the issue of torture, whether it be the conduct of the war in Iraq, which I vigorously opposed. Whether it be on fighting the pharmaceutical companies on Medicare prescription drugs, importation. Whether it be fighting for an HMO patient's bill of rights. Whether it be the establishment of the 9/11 Commission. I have a long record of reform and fighting through on the floor of the United States Senate."

And he concluded with another dig at the current president: "My friends, as I said in my opening remarks, these are very difficult times and challenges for America. And they were graphically demonstrated again today. America needs a new direction. We cannot be satisfied with what we've been doing for the last eight years."

Steve Benen blogs for Washington Monthly about this morning's new campaign ads. McCain's starts off: "The last eight years haven't worked very well, have they? I'll make the next four better." Obama's ad shows footage of McCain saying: "I voted with the president over 90% of the time -- higher than a lot of my even Republican colleagues."

Playing Politics

R. Jeffrey Smith writes in The Washington Post about the "at least 303 out-of-town trips by senior Bush appointees meant to lend prestige or bring federal grants to 99 politically endangered Republicans [in 2006], in a White House campaign that House Democratic investigators yesterday called unprecedented in scope and scale.

"Federal law prohibits the use of public funds or resources for partisan activities . . . but the agencies involved said most of the trips were paid for by taxpayer funds, according to the draft report released by the Democratic majority of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. . . .

"A July 2006 White House e-mail said that as the elections got closer, officials would have to participate in at least five 'recommended events' per month. The message went to the appointed liaisons at 18 departments and agencies, who sometimes functioned like political commissars, enforcing discipline and rallying top appointees to the cause."

But the report says that since many of those "involved in organizing the trips are no longer in office, 'there is no effective remedy' for any related violations of the 1939 Hatch Act, which restricts the use of public funds for partisan gain. . . .

"The existence of the White House effort to turn federal officials into instruments of the 2006 Republican campaign effort is already well known. [See, most notably, this August 2007 Washington Post story, How Rove Directed Federal Assets for GOP Gains.] But the House report, based on a review of more than 63,000 pages of internal documents, includes fresh details about which Cabinet members participated and who benefited."

Smith writes that the Democratic contention that this behavior was unprecedented was disputed by the committee's senior Republican, Rep. Tom Davis (Va.). "'The same kind of things [were] done by every administration since Eisenhower,' he said, and he compared the Democrats' 'angry swooning' to the scene in 'Casablanca' when the police captain feigns shock at finding gambling in Humphrey Bogart's nightclub. Not since then, he said, has 'righteous indignation seemed quite so contrived.'"

Is this sort of activity going on right now? It's certainly possible -- and worth looking into. While few Republican candidates are clamoring to be associated with the current administration, that wasn't what the 2006 trips were really about. They were primarily about boosting the prestige of incumbent Republican congressmen and senators in tight races by showing how effective they were at bringing federal money to their home districts and states.

Bailout Watch

Robert Pear reports for the New York Times about Bush's trip to Grand Rapids yesterday: "A longtime champion of free-market principles, Mr. Bush looked uncomfortable as he defended the huge sudden expansion in the role of the federal government, which is buying up to $250 billion of bank stock in an effort to encourage new lending. The exercise of federal power, he suggested, was virtually forced on him by the crisis on Wall Street and the threat it posed to creditworthy consumers and businesses across the country.

"'I frankly don't want the government being involved with businesses, owning businesses -- it's not -- I don't think it's good for the country,' Mr. Bush told reporters gathered in a small parking lot behind the restaurant. 'It was necessary that the stock be purchased to help us through this financial crisis, but in the long run it's not good for the country.'

"The whole purpose, he said, is 'to restore confidence in our financial system' and thus to get the 'economy back on its feet again.'

"Before leaving Washington on Wednesday, Mr. Bush met with his cabinet at the White House to discuss the financial rescue plan.

"'It's very important for the American people to know that the program is designed to preserve free enterprise, not replace free enterprise,' Mr. Bush said. 'Decisions we took to enhance liquidity and make sure our financial instruments are strong is a temporary decision.'"

Stephen Gandel writes for Time: "It was on a sunny day in the White House Rose Garden that President George Bush announced his plan to enable as many as 700,000 American families to avoid foreclosure amid a growing mortgage crisis. 'I've made this a top priority to help our homeowners navigate these financial challenges,' he said, 'so that as many families as possible can stay in their homes.' That was in the summer of 2007.

"More than a year -- and a half a dozen rescue plans -- later, little progress has been made in turning the tide. The nation's foreclosure rate has risen in every month since the middle of 2007, according to FirstAmerican LoanPerformance, which tracks the mortgage market. As of August, nearly 3% of all homeloans were in foreclosure, and a further 6% were more than 60 days late on their mortgage payments. But the picture is far grimmer among sub-prime borrowers, those with less than perfect credit: As of July, nearly one third of those borrowers were more than 60 days late on their mortgages. All told, some 6.5 million families will lose their homes to foreclosure in the next few years, according to the projections of financial firm Credit Suisse.

"Even so, the troubled U.S. homeowner is not among the priorities of those in Washington dishing out rescue funds."

Iraq Watch

Qassim Abdul-Zahra writes for the Associated Press: "American troops could face trial before Iraqi courts for major crimes committed off base and when not on missions, under a draft security pact hammered out in months of tortuous negotiations, Iraqi officials familiar with the accord said Wednesday.

"The draft also calls for U.S. troops to leave Iraqi cities by the end of June and withdraw from the country entirely by Dec. 31, 2011, unless the Baghdad government asks some of them to stay for training or security support, the officials said.

"It would also give the Iraqis a greater role in U.S. military operations and full control of the Green Zone, the 3 1/2-square mile area of central Baghdad that includes the U.S. Embassy and major Iraqi government offices.

"One senior Iraqi official said Baghdad may demand even more concessions before the draft is submitted to parliament for a final decision. The two sides are working against a deadline of year's end when the U.N. mandate authorizing the U.S.-led mission expires."

Cheney Watch

Dan Eggen writes in The Washington Post: "Vice President Cheney, who has a long history of serious cardiovascular problems, was successfully treated with an electric shock yesterday after developing an abnormal rhythm in the upper chambers of his heart, according to the White House. . . .

"Cheney was previously treated with an electric shock for atrial fibrillation last November. Cheney has also suffered four heart attacks since age 37 and has undergone quadruple bypass surgery, two angioplasties, and an operation to implant a defibrillator device to monitor and regulate his heartbeat.

"The health problems prompted Cheney to cancel plans yesterday to host a $500-a-plate luncheon in Illinois for GOP candidate Marty Ozinga, who is vying against Democrat Debbie Halvorsen for the congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Jerry Weller (R-Ill.)"

The big surprise to many readers may be that Cheney was actually on the campaign trail at all. But in a few races around the country, Republican candidates have found it worth risking the bad press to sneak Cheney in for a stealth fundraiser.

Josh Kraushaar writes in Politico that the decision to have Cheney headline an Ozinga fundraiser "was made out of financial necessity: his Democratic opponent, Debbie Halvorson, has been outspending him on television. And Ozinga, who has the means to self-finance the campaign, has apparently opted not to spend much of his own personal fortune."

Some candidates apparently have had second thoughts, however. As Kraushaar notes, Rep. Tom Feeney canceled a Naples, Florida event with Cheney on September 19, "ostensibly for possible votes on energy legislation in Washington."

A planned September 24 trip to New Mexico to raise money for Republican congressional candidate Ed Tinsley was also called off at the last minute, ostensibly on account of the turmoil in the financial markets.

There's at least one more fundraiser being planned, at least for now.

Rudi Keller writes for the Southeast Missourian: "Vice President Dick Cheney will visit Cape Girardeau later this month for a private fundraiser to benefit Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder.

"According to the invitation, individuals will pay $250 each to attend a reception Oct. 20 at the home of lawyer and conservative author David Limbaugh. Big spenders will be able to get their picture taken with Cheney for $1,250 for individuals and $2,500 for couples." (And yes, that's Rush Limbaugh's brother.)

You may recall that in August, when the State Department scrambled to put together Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's trip to Georgia's capital of Tbilisi, officials quickly realized that the plane they wanted was being used by Cheney for a fundraising trip to Colorado and California.

Indeed, on August 11, Cheney delivered remarks at a reception for Rep. Marilyn Musgrave in Littleton, Colo. Two days later, he headlined a reception for Rep. Ken Calvert at Richard Nixon's former home in San Clemente.

On October 6, Cheney flew to New Orleans to raise money for Rep. Steve Scalise in New Orleans.


Richard S. Tedlow and David Ruben write in a Boston Globe op-ed: "The next president will be elected on Nov. 4, but will not take office until Jan. 20. Normally, this lag time is not an issue. But with the financial system in meltdown, the 'real' economy threatening to follow, and a feckless, lame-duck administration unable to lead, this yawning interval is a problem. If history is any guide, a very big problem. . . .

"But there is a way out - if our political leaders are smart, courageous, and public-spirited enough to take it.

"Assume that Barack Obama wins the election, as polls show is increasingly likely. The following day, Vice President Cheney should be prevailed upon to resign. Using his powers to designate a successor under the 25th Amendment, President Bush should then appoint, and Congress should confirm, Obama as vice president (just as Richard Nixon appointed Gerald Ford vice president in 1973 when Spiro Agnew resigned). Bush himself should then resign, elevating Obama to the presidency - as Ford became president when Nixon resigned. Obama should then appoint Joe Biden as vice president."

Sandy Levinson blogs that Cheney's heart problem presents a unique opportunity to begin the process.

Signing Statements Watch

Joseph Morton writes for the Omaha World-Herald: "When President Bush signed a defense policy bill this week, he attached a statement saying he could ignore some of the legislation's new restrictions on U.S. spending in Iraq.

"Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., who co-authored those restrictions, criticized the move Wednesday.

"'It is unimaginable that the White House would not want to show leadership on this issue and instead chooses to resist shifting this burden from U.S. taxpayers to the government of Iraq,' Nelson said.

"A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Nelson has said the new restrictions will end the Bush administration's 'blank check' approach to spending on Iraq. . . .

"Bush singled out several sections of the bill, including one that requires the administration to negotiate a cost-sharing agreement with the Iraqi government for U.S. military operations. The bill requires that the administration report to Congress on the status of those negotiations within 90 days. . . .

"Nelson noted that the senators who worked on the new restrictions did so in consultation with administration officials.

"'Either those officials didn't speak for the White House, or the White House didn't know what they were doing or they planned to ignore Congress' intent all along,' Nelson said. 'In the end, it will be taxpayers who suffer.'"

Beverley Lumpkin blogs for the Project on Government Oversight about the signing statement Bush attached to a measure giving inspectors general greater independence from White House control: "In a statement provided to POGO, Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), the prime mover behind the bill, said: 'the President's signing statement shows his extreme reluctance to accept basic government reforms involving IGs. Despite repeated and overwhelming congressional approval, Bush had threatened to veto the entire IG bill and, after its passage, still seems bent on stymieing its objective of developing tougher taxpayer watchdogs, with teeth, inside each federal agency.'"

The New York Times editorial board blogs: "George W. Bush has only a few months left in the White House, and he seems destined to leave office with some of the lowest approval ratings in the history of the presidency. But he is not pulling back on most of the controversial policies that have marked his presidency -- like presidential signing statements. . . .

"Mr. Bush's signing statements undercut the roles the Constitution has set out for the three branches of government -- hardly the only time he has done that. Congress, the people's branch, gets to pass the laws -- with the president's signature or without it, if they override his veto.

"President Bush, however, has acted like he gets to play a role in drafting Congress's legislation, picking and choosing which parts he likes. It's a practice we hope will come to an end when a new president takes office next year."

Torture Watch

Lara Jakes Jordan writes for the Associated Press: "The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee accused the White House on Wednesday of withholding documents showing it authorized the CIA to use waterboarding and other tough interrogation tactics on suspected terrorists.

"Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., was reacting to a report that two White House memos, in 2003 and 2004, gave the CIA written approval for using specific interrogation techniques on al-Qaida suspects. Those memos followed an earlier Justice Department opinion clearing the way for harsh interrogations so long as the methods did not cause intense pain similar to causing death or organ failure. . . .

"'If White House documents exist that set the policy for the use of coercive techniques such as waterboarding, those documents have been kept from the committee,' Rockefeller said in a statement. 'That is unacceptable, and represents the latest example of the Bush administration withholding critical information from Congress and the American people in an attempt to limit our oversight of sensitive intelligence collection activities.

"'As chairman, I will not allow the Bush administration's stonewalling to prevent a full accounting of the facts,' said Rockefeller, whose committee is already investigating whether the CIA's interrogation program was legal."

Elizabeth Jensen writes in the New York Times: "'Torturing Democracy,' a documentary examining the Bush administration's detention and interrogation policies, will be shown on WNET in New York on Thursday and on a grab bag of other public television stations nationwide in coming weeks. But some of the country's viewers will have to watch online if they want to see the program anytime soon because PBS decided that no national airdate was available until Jan. 21, a day after a new presidential administration takes office.

"The film's producer and writer, Sherry Jones, rejected that offer and, with the help of Bill Moyers, a PBS mainstay, has been appealing to stations individually to find time on their schedules before 2009. Stations serving about 85 percent of the nation's viewers have agreed to carry the program on some date. But a major gap is Washington. Mary Stewart, a spokeswoman for that city's largest public station, WETA, said, 'It's a show we are looking at, but we haven't scheduled it yet.'..

"'Torturing Democracy' can be seen at torturingdemocracy.org. It explores the evolution of United States policy and internal administration battles over the use of coercive interrogation techniques on military detainees, including suspected terrorists. Interview subjects include former government and military officials and former detainees; several current administration officials declined to participate."

Scott Horton blogs for Harpers: "The last hundred days of any presidency are frequently known as 'legacy time.' The die may be cast, but the occupant of the White House begins making plans to leave and wonders inevitably about how he will be seen by posterity. So what image will dominate the Bush presidency? The Iraq War? The management of Hurricane Katrina? The meltdown of the financial markets? I believe one issue is likely to shape the historical perception of the Bush 43 presidency: torture."

Movie Watch

Joe Neumaier writes in the New York Daily News: "Finding substance in George W. Bush where there seemed to be only thin air, and confident that what's past is prologue, Oliver Stone's 'W.' is not the hatchet job some may have expected (or hoped for). It is instead a measured and thoughtful meditation on a leader who, this terrific movie believes, inadvertently made the world as roiling as his soul."

Stone tells Bloomberg's Rick Warner: "This is a story that Preston Sturges could only invent -- a guy who was a complete failure at 40 becomes president at 54. . . . And look what happens . . . the world changes forever."

Jill Serjeant interviews Stone for Reuters:

Serjeant: "Why is it important to release 'W.' so near to the 2008 U.S. presidential elections when President George W. Bush is not running for office again?"

Stone: "We are dealing with the phenomenon of Bush and whoever wins the election, his impact is going to be in the shadow of this huge presence that existed for eight years and which changed the world. I think a lot of people should come because it's good for them, before the election, to think about who they elected in the last eight years, and about where we are as a country right now."

Serjeant: "Why didn't you make this movie four years ago, when President Bush was running for reelection?"

Stone: "We did not have the information. The 2000-2003 period was a veiled Orwellian masterpiece, where they closed off all documents and fired anyone in the inner circle who talked to the press. This guy was infallible for three years. It was only in about 2004-2005 that this was starting to come out. Without all the investigative reporters, where would we be?"

Late Night Humor

Via U.S. News, Jay Leno: "Vice President Dick Cheney was treated, today, for an irregular heartbeat. His doctors aren't sure what caused it. They figured it was either stress or the sudden drop in oil prices. . . . Well, doctors now say drinking alcohol may shrink your brain. . . . Their proof -- the last eight years of the White House."

Cartoon Watch

Tom Toles on Bush's bankrupt reputation, Jeff Danziger on Bush's fan, Tony Auth on Bush's endorsement, Bruce Plante on cause and effect, and Paul Szep on a real horror movie.

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