Rejected GOP Rejects Bush

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, December 11, 2008; 1:08 PM

Lame as he is, President Bush is still being treated with extraordinary deference by Congressional Democrats, who caved to White House demands over a proposed $14 billion auto industry bailout.

Senate Republicans, by contrast, are barely on speaking terms with the man. Rudderless and rejected, they seem to be able to agree on only one thing: they have no use for Bush or his minions.

GOP senators repeatedly turned down White House invitations to join in negotiations on the plan, exchanged angry words yesterday with a White House delegation led by Vice President Cheney, and are now threatening to block action the White House says is essential to avoid a massive economic disaster.

Lori Montgomery and Paul Kane write in The Washington Post: "The House last night approved an emergency plan to prevent the collapse of the nation's domestic automobile industry, but the measure faces serious opposition in the Senate, where Republicans are revolting against a White House-brokered deal to speed $14 billion to cash-starved General Motors and Chrysler.

"After battling through the weekend to reach a compromise with congressional Democrats, the White House yesterday dispatched Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten to sell the plan to restive Republican senators. But many GOP lawmakers emerged from a combative luncheon with Bolten unconvinced the plan would compel Detroit automakers to make the painful changes necessary to restore them to profitability. . . .

"[M]any Republicans think the automakers' problems could be more efficiently resolved by a bankruptcy court with legal power to dissolve existing contracts than by a government 'car czar' whose actions could be swayed by Washington politics.

"'Instead of the car czar, this ought to be titled the president's puppet,' complained Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), echoing the concerns of many of his GOP colleagues. Corker yesterday unveiled an alternate proposal that would force bondholders in the car companies to accept equity as partial payment; force the [United Auto Workers union] to immediately reduce worker pay packages to match Nissan, Toyota and Honda; and ban compensation to idled workers, among other provisions."

Emily Pierce and Steven T. Dennis write for Roll Call (subscription required) that Bolten and Cheney's pleas at the Republicans' weekly luncheon "fell on deaf ears.

"'I think they had less support when they left than when they came in,' Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said. He described the bill as 'the product from an administration that wants to kick the can down the road and let somebody else deal with it. And, I think it has minimal to very little support in our caucus.'

"Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), who has GM plants in his state and is one of the few Republicans to support the measure, was visibly angry with the reluctance of his colleagues to save the auto industry.

"He said Republicans had a chance over the past few weeks to air their concerns, but declined invitations from Democrats and the White House to participate in talks. 'The White House gave us a real shot to participate and the leadership claimed we didn't want to participate . . . because they felt that whatever came out of the negotiations they probably couldn't support,' Voinovich said.

"One senior Senate Republican aide said McConnell acknowledged during the lunch his decision to reject the invitations to participate. Voinovich said some GOP votes might be swayed with changes to the car czar language, but complained, 'Some of them, frankly, don't want to do anything.'"

By contrast, Congressional Democrats initially insisted that the auto rescue money not come out of the $25 billion in already-approved loans intended to help the industry meet higher fuel-economy standards. They insisted on government review of any auto-industry decisions involving more than $25 million. (The White House wanted the limit to be $100 million.) And they demanded that car companies that took government money be banned from pursuing lawsuits against California and other states trying to implement tougher tailpipe emissions standards. They ultimately folded on all three counts.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports this morning: "White House press secretary Dana Perino cited the latest bad economic news -- a jump in jobless claims to the highest level in 26 years -- in arguing for Senate passage of a bailout package for the Big 3 automakers.

"Perino said Thursday that the economy is in such a weakened state that adding another 1 million people to the unemployment rolls from an auto industry failure is not possible. She said: 'We don't think the economy can sustain it.'"

Perino said Bush will join other administration officials in personally lobbying senators today.

Obama's Debt to Bush

President-elect Barack Obama has one enormous advantage in the opinion polls: He's not Bush.

Laura Meckler writes in the Wall Street Journal: "Obama is entering the White House with an enormous reservoir of goodwill from an American public that is rooting for his success in the face of bad economic times, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds. . . .

"Much of the warmth toward Mr. Obama stems from frustration with the status quo, the poll suggests. Nearly half of those surveyed said 2008 will go down as one of the worst years in U.S. history -- 20 percentage points higher than the poll has found in past years. And 90% of Americans say the economy has gotten worse in the past 12 months. . . .

"The survey also offers a final report card on Mr. Bush, who leaves office with near-record-low popularity. Just 18% say they are going to miss him when he is gone, half the number Mr. Clinton recorded on his way out of office. . . .

"Asked what Mr. Bush's greatest achievement was, a plurality, 35%, cited keeping America safe from further terrorist attacks and 25% said removing Saddam Hussein from power. At the same time, the war in Iraq was judged his greatest failure by 35%, the most popular answer to that question. . . .

"Overall, a majority of Americans are confident in Mr. Obama's ability to govern and unify the country, with many who didn't vote for him now seeing him in a positive light. The poll found that 73% of adults approve of the way he is handling the transition and his preparations for becoming president. . . .

"Polling indicates that the nation is more unified around Mr. Obama than it was for either Bill Clinton in 1992 or George W. Bush in 2000. Americans say the challenges, too, are greater, with 77% of those surveyed predicting Mr. Obama will face bigger problems than most recent presidents have."

Here are the full results. Asked to compare Mr. Bush with the past several presidents, two percent of respondents said he was one of the best; 18 percent said he was better than most; 30 percent said he was not as good as most; and 48 percent said he was definitely worse than most.

Jeffrey M. Jones writes for Gallup: "Bush remains popular among conservative Republicans (72% approve of him) despite his low overall approval rating. Meanwhile, moderate and liberal Republicans are as likely to disapprove as to approve of the job he is doing, and Democrats of all political orientations hold Bush in low regard."

But as Jones notes, "over the years, Bush has lost a significant number of supporters even among this core group, which formerly supported him at better than 90%."

Midnight Regulations Watch

The White House yesterday abandoned two of the more controversial last-minute rule changes it had been pursuing.

Renee Schoof writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "The Bush administration on Wednesday abandoned efforts to relax pollution controls on coal-fired power plants and industries it started with Vice President Dick Cheney's energy plan in 2001, bringing to a sudden end a long White House fight with environmental groups. . . .

"Environmental and health groups and state and local air-quality officials opposed the two rules that the administration dropped. One of them would have permitted coal-fired power plants and industries to increase their emissions without adding pollution controls. The other would've made it easier to build power plants and factories near national parks and other pristine protected areas."

Felicity Barringer writes in the New York Times: "Jonathan Shradar, an agency spokesman, said Wednesday evening that the agency made the decision despite weeks of frantic work trying to complete the rules. The White House said months ago that no new rules should be imposed in the administration's last days.

"'We didn't want to be faced with putting a midnight regulation in place,' Mr. Shradar said. 'It was better to leave those incomplete rather than force something through.'"

But as Barringer notes: "The administration has pushed through other rules affecting the environment in recent weeks, including one that makes it easier for coal companies to dump debris in nearby streams and valleys."

The chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, who had scheduled a hearing on last-minute rule changes tomorrow, took credit yesterday for EPA's reversal.

"I am glad to see that a little sunshine at midnight persuaded the Bush Administration to back off its attempts to push through a loophole for dirty power plants that would have significantly degraded air quality for all Americans and exacerbated the climate crisis," Rep. Edward J. Markey said in a statement."

But be assured that there are plenty more last-minute rule changes still in the works.

For instance, Michael Doyle reports for McClatchy Newspapers on a new one: "Farmers would have an easier and cheaper time securing foreign guest workers under pending Bush administration rules. . . .

"A Labor Department spokesman said Wednesday night that the final rules would be made public Thursday and published in the Federal Register on Dec. 18, which means they'd take effect two days before Barack Obama is sworn in as president Jan. 20. . . .

"The controversial changes to the so-called H-2A guest-worker program could cut wages and speed worker recruitment. They also would relax requirements for providing foreign workers with housing and transportation.

"'The Department of Labor is going to weaken oversight and enforcement,' Bruce Goldstein, the executive director of the Farmworker Justice Fund, charged Wednesday."

And then there's the rule finalized last week that will allow visitors to national parks and wildlife refuges to carry loaded and concealed weapons.

The New York Times editorial board writes: "Anticipating what Barack Obama has called 'common-sense gun safety laws,' the Bush administration has rushed through a last-minute gun rule that is the antithesis of common sense. . . .

"The rule, which will take effect next month, will apply to national parks in every state that has a concealed carry law, even if guns are prohibited in state parks. The administration -- again -- also has ignored the point of a public comment period. It received 140,000 comments on this proposed rule change, the vast majority opposing it, and still went ahead."

The Times of Trenton (N.J.) editorial board writes: "Here we are, in the 21st century, but the federal government is turning back the clock to the days of the Wild West, when guns were a common sight in the nation's wilderness."

The Corpus Christie (Tex.) Caller-Times editorial board writes: "Allowing concealed loaded firearms is a travesty and a violation of the spirit of national parks best expressed by President Theodore Roosevelt who, after spending a night in what would become Yellowstone National Park, said, ''It was like lying in a great solemn cathedral, far vaster and more beautiful than any built by the hand of man.' But visitors to the nation's park treasures will now have to risk having a campground neighbor pull a loaded pistol over a disagreement or a park motorist take a shot only because the opportunity presents itself and a loaded weapon is handy."

Joaquin Sapien and Jesse Nankin of ProPublica and Matt Madia of OMBWatch are doing a wonderful job of keeping a running tally on last-minute rules.

A Change on Climate Change?

The AFP reports from Poland: "Global warming rivals the Iraq War as the policy for which George W. Bush has been most savaged, with critics accusing him of braking or even sabotaging efforts to tackle climate change.

"But the chief US delegate at the UN climate talks here, in an interview on Wednesday, said Bush's administration had shown 'an evolution' over two terms and had made practical contributions in shaping the global debate.

"Paula Dobriansky, under secretary for democracy and global affairs, told AFP she had no regrets for Bush's strategy on climate change but argued a better job could have been done in articulating it to the public.

"'I think this issue (climate change) is important, we care about it greatly. Looking back, if there was anything that maybe I would have hoped, it's that we could have done a more effective job in getting our message out, in other words, (in) public diplomacy,' she said.

"She added: 'President Bush said very early on in his administration, 'we will act, we will learn and we will act again.' And our approach has been an evolutionary one. I think you have seen an evolution from the beginning of the administration to the present time.'"

But Satyam Khanna responds on ThinkProgress.org: "Spin couldn't have saved Bush's record on climate change. . . .

"There has been virtually no evolution towards climate change multilateralism under Bush. In March 2001, Bush unilaterally repudiated Kyoto and has repeatedly rejected international climate agreements since. Today is no different. The U.S. is continuing to stall progress at Poznan, still opposing a global cap-and-trade system because it is allegedly 'too costly.'"

Steven Mufson and Philip Rucker write in The Washington Post that Obama's new picks for energy secretary, White House climate adviser and EPA administrator "suggest that Obama plans to make a strong push for measures to combat global warming and programs to support energy innovation. 'I think it's a great team,' said Daniel A. Lashof, director of the Climate Center at the Natural Resources Defense Council. 'On policy, it's a dramatic contrast based on what I know about the policy direction that all these folks will be bringing to these positions.'"

Transition Watch

Robert Block blogs for the Orlando Sentinel: "NASA administrator Mike Griffin is not cooperating with President-elect Barack Obama's transition team, is obstructing its efforts to get information and has told its leader that she is 'not qualified' to judge his rocket program, the Orlando Sentinel has learned.

"In a heated 40-minute conversation last week with Lori Garver, a former NASA associate administrator who heads the space transition team, a red-faced Griffin demanded to speak directly to Obama, according to witnesses.

"In addition, Griffin is scripting NASA employees and civilian contractors on what they can tell the transition team and has warned aerospace executives not to criticize the agency's moon program, sources said."

North Korea Watch

Chris Buckley writes for Reuters: "Talks pressing North Korea to abandon its nuclear arms ambitions limped through a fourth day on Thursday, with envoys pushing on despite slim hope of progress that would be a prize for the departing Bush administration.

"Having coaxed North Korea to partly disable its Yongbyon nuclear complex this year in a disarmament-for-aid deal, envoys from five states have been asking the wary and impoverished state to accept a protocol for checking its nuclear declaration.

"Agreement on verification would open the way to dismantling North Korea's nuclear arms capacity and count as a welcome diplomatic trophy for U.S. President George W. Bush before he gives way to President-elect Barack Obama in January.

"But the chief U.S. negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, said there was no sign of agreement after three days of the latest talks. He said the impasse was due to secretive North Korea's unwillingness to set verification commitments in writing."

Bush on Sports

Bush spoke to an ABC reporter about his faith earlier this week. Last week, he spoke to a NBC reporter about his family life. That led me to joke in Tuesday's column: "What's next? Perhaps CBS could take a look at his exercise regime?"

Ha ha. Joke's on me. Bush sat down yesterday for 40-minute Oval Office interview with The Washington Post -- about sports.

Liz Clarke writes in The Washington Post: "With six weeks to go before he leaves the White House, President Bush has been looking back at his time in office. Yesterday, he offered a summation of one of his favorite topics -- his love of sports, both as a participant and spectator.

"The president lamented the challenge that the hobbled U.S. economy will present major league sports in the coming months, both at the ticket window and in terms of corporate support -- particularly baseball, the game he knows and loves best.

"'It's a repeat business,' said Bush, who was managing general partner of the Texas Rangers from 1989 to 1994. 'If you're unable to get the American family to come to your park more than once a year, you're going to have a difficult time when it comes to your attendance. Of course this will exacerbate the problem.'

"Asked if he'd be interested in succeeding Bud Selig as commissioner of Major League Baseball, Bush firmly rejected the notion -- not because of any disaffection from the sport, but rather, he said, because of a fatigue of public life.

"'I'm looking forward to getting off the stage,' Bush said. 'I have done my duty to my country. I have given it my all. It's now President-elect Obama's time. I have had enough of the spotlight.'

"Fortified by half a cup of black coffee, Bush seemed willing to talk sports on end, joking at the conclusion of the 40-minute Oval Office interview that he only needed to end it because Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke was waiting to see him. . . .

"At 62, Bush is physically fit -- the result of a regime that he has dutifully followed the past eight years, directing that a 45-minute workout, followed by a 30-minute cool-down, during which he said he reads and works on speeches, be scheduled on his calendar six days a week.

"By a conservative estimate, that's 2,496 hours spent on a treadmill, elliptical machine or mountain bike during his presidency. Bush said exercise has been critical to maintaining both health and equilibrium.

"'I exercise real hard,' Bush said. 'It helps clear my mind. It relieves frustration. It helps me sleep at night. It helps me get over the really good food they have here at the White House.'"

Here -- exclusively! -- is the full transcript of the interview.

I asked Clarke today how the interview came about. She explained in an e-mail that a mutual acquaintance gave Bush a copy of her book on NASCAR earlier this year, that Bush read it and wrote her a nice letter. Clarke later asked the White House for an interview about sports -- and last week, the press office called to tell her she had a slot.

Meanwhile, I'm still accepting nominations for questions you would ask Bush if he were on Pentathol.

Medal Watch

Donna Cassata writes for the Associated Press: "President George W. Bush bestowed Presidential Citizen Medals on a figure from the Watergate scandal, the librarian of Congress and the actor known as Lieutenant Dan in the 1994 Academy Award-winning movie 'Forrest Gump.'

"In total, the president recognized 23 individuals and one posthumously on Wednesday with the second highest honor for a civilian, second only to the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The awards were conferred in the Oval Office in a private ceremony.

"Bush recognized Charles Colson, the first member of the Nixon administration to serve prison time for Watergate-related offenses. After being released from Maxwell prison in Alabama, Colson founded Prison Fellowship in 1976, which conducts outreach to prisoners, former convicts, crime victims and their families."

Bush and the Bloggers

Stephanie Condon writes for CNET News: "The president-elect has been showing off his Web savvy on Change.gov, but George Bush demonstrated Wednesday he also advocates using the Internet to facilitate democracy.

"President Bush, in recognition of Human Rights Day, met with bloggers from Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, and Venezuela at the White House and via video teleconference to discuss blogging in favor of democratic change.

"The administration has supported pro-democracy new media efforts through programs like the Broadcasting Board of Governors, an independent group responsible for all U.S. government and government-sponsored, non-military, international broadcasting. The BBG collects reports from citizen journalists with cell phones, and it sends out news reports via text messaging and targeted e-mails, encouraging citizens in countries with oppressive censorship to 'join the information revolution,' according to the White House. Bush increased funding for BBG from $441 million in 2001 to $670 million in 2008."

Afterwards, Xiao Qiang blogged on China Digital Times: "I appreciate that the U.S. government acknowledges and supports such voices in China and around the world."

On his Salon blog called The Devil's Excrement, Venezuelan Miguel Octavio described how the sound went out on the video link when it was his turn to speak.

Karl Rove Watch

Karl Rove writes in his Wall Street Journal opinion column that Republicans are on a roll: "The age of Obama may have begun, but so, perhaps, has the GOP comeback."

Helen Thomas Watch

Helen Thomas writes in her Hearst opinion column about Bush's highly revisionistic legacy tour: "Most recent presidents have tried to put a favorable spin on their administrations, but to quote the Persian poet Omar Khayyam: 'The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on. Nor all your Piety and Wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.'"

Cartoon Watch

Pat Bagley on the Bush Liberry.

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