White House Talk

Dan Froomkin
White House Briefing Columnist
Wednesday, October 12, 2005; 1:00 PM


Dan Froomkin: Hi everyone and welcome. Today's column should be out shortly. My question of the day: Is the Bush White House starting to buckle under all the pressure?

Let's go to your questions and comments!


Grand Rapids, Mich.: Welcome back. The public, for some time now, has essentially rejected Bush's foreign and domestic policies. Now, he has nominated a crony for the Supreme Court. The only reaction has been from extremists on both sides. This, when the country desperately seeks competent leadership to steer the country back toward a common course. Where are the moderate opportunists? Have they cancelled the 2006-8 elections? Why is it that the only sound we hear is the raving of extremists or the off-the-record whispers from people who fear the WH wrath? Is this a sentimental journey back to Nixonism? We want sound bites!

Dan Froomkin: Thanks. It's good to be back. Astonishing how much can happen with this White House in just a week.

As for the issue you raise,

David Ignatius

has a very thoughtful -- and quite possibly, very important -- column on the very topic today in The Post.


Somewhere in New Jersey: Hi Dan,

Yesterday you mentioned this about a speech Bush had given last week:

"And unless I dreamt it, I'm pretty sure I caught a clip of Bush on CNN International actually criticizing Osama Bin Laden for being a child of wealth and privilege who sends young people to their deaths but never offers to go along with the ride."

Do you think Bush ad-libbed this or did a speech writer actually write those words for him and not think that people wouldn't see the irony?

Dan Froomkin: Bush does not ad lib when it comes to these "major" addresses.


Roswell, Ga.: I have seen numerous comments re Ms. Miller's handling of WMD info...However, I thought I saw a brief mention of her threatening to cause trouble for military personnel blocking what she wanted to do in the Iraq war. Has anyone ever fully discussed this (if so I obviously missed it, no news there)and has it been compared to her credulity in dealing with the White House? She seems a bit like the esteemed Mr. Bolton, all kick down and kiss up.

Dan Froomkin: Howard Kurtz wrote in 2003 about Judith Miller's "unusual role" while reporting in Iraq.


Fort Myers, Fla.: Hello Mr. Froomkin.

Last July you wrote about a Zogby poll that said 42% of Americans (including 25% of republicans) would favor impeachment if it were shown that George W. Bush misled us into war. A clear majority now think that's precisely the case.

You also noted that only three media outlets had reported on the poll, and even then only in passing. Why is that? Seems significant enough to have received a lot more coverage.

And in light of Katrina, cronyism, pending indictments against Rove and Libby, actual indictments against Safavian and Abramoff and DeLay, ethics investigations against Frist and the like, has there been any follow up to the poll?

Dan Froomkin: I do write about the new poll you're referring to in today's column. And I note that while the poll question was commissioned by AfterDowningStreet.org, which has a clear agenda, it was executed by Ipsos, a reputable polling company.

In my

September 21 column

I reported what a blogger was told by Zogby about why it was not going to ask that question again, at least not on its own. A Zogby staffer explained: "We have decided to not to ask the impeachment question again unless it is raised in Congress. We aim to remain as impartial as possible with our questions."

That, I suspect, is the same reason why the mainstream media ignores the issue almost completely.

I wrote on July 6: "Nevertheless, could there be anything that 42 percent of Americans agree on that the media care about so little?"

I'll update that today and ask: "Could there be anything that 50 percent of Americans agree on that the media care about so little?"


Washington, D.C.: Welcome back, Dan. See, you take a week off and you miss one of the biggest political firestorms in years. Hopefully, you'll think twice before taking another vacation.

Anyway, the stories starting to emerge about a power struggle between Card and Rove are fascinating. Knowing what you do about Bush's relationship with both men, which one do you see coming out ahead?

Dan Froomkin: Well, if Rove gets indicted, then it's no contest, right?


Wilton, Conn.: Dan -- Can you shed any light on what is going on with the Katrina "Reconstruction/Revitalization" Plan? This is starting to look like the proverbial hot potato. A couple of weeks ago, Bush indicated that such a Plan was a central piece of the Federal Government's strategy; yesterday, he says he's waiting for the "local folks" to come up with such a Plan.

Is Bush backing away for political reasons, for ideological reasons, for some other reason?

Dan Froomkin: Having been away for a week, I must admit I was completely surprised to see how much had changed on this issue in the interim. And I can't explain it.

Here's what a

New York Times editorial

had to say this morning: "Americans were understandably dismayed when confronted with President Bush's slow response to the unfolding disaster of Hurricane Katrina. They were equally dismayed by the evident lack of disaster expertise among the men the president had tapped to handle such emergencies. Mr. Bush was supposed to have put an end to that dismal story when he spoke at Jackson Square. But that seems to have been nothing but a grand and meaningless gesture. Where are the actual programs he's supposed to be putting into place to rebuild the city?"


Washington, D.C.: I really do not care for politicians whether they be Rebublican or Democrat, but am am fairly disturbed by Rove meeting with special interest groups/persons(Dobson) to let him know he will essentially get what he wants. Out of the 90 or so million voters, what is the actual percentage of these special interests, and when will centrists actually become upset and take back the county from the special interests on both sides?

Dan Froomkin: I do think the Dobson story has legs, both on account of what it says about how the White House does business and because his explanation today doesn't entirely ring true.

As for your question about centrism, see Ignatius above.


Richmond, Va.: Ken Starr was always crying about leaks but in my view, Fitzgerald has more to lose by leaks...If testimony is leaked here, people can try to line up their stories. Now I realize it is among the possibilities that the special prosecutor's office is leaking--but doubtful since it isn't self-interested. A few of the leaks seem to be coming from the White House... Why no outrage? There were certainly outrage in the Starr matter and Bush and McClellan love to say "We can't talk, it is an ongoing investigation".

Dan Froomkin: There are leaks and then there are leaks.

If, for instance, Rove's attorney wants to talk about what Rove said in grand jury, he is legally entitled to do so. And, in fact, I think he should -- regardless of Fitzgerald's non-binding request that everyone keep quiet.

What's illegal -- and what was so shocking about the Starr investigation -- is the leaking by prosecutors, at least when it comes to grand jury testimony.

From what I can tell, pretty much all the "leaks" we are reading about are from the witnesses and their lawyers. In fact, to my eyes, it looks like the only guy getting anything at all out of the prosecutor's office is free-lance investigative reporter

Murray Waas

. But I could be wrong. And the stuff he is getting might not be based on grand jury testimony per se.

As for the White House, I'm not outraged if they're leaking, I'm outraged that they're using the "investigation" excuse not to answer questions that are very much within the public's right to know, such as 1) How is the investigation affecting the White House's ability to go about its business? 2) Will Bush fire someone if they are indicted, or wait until trial? 3) Is Karl Rove still working on stuff, and what stuff? Etc.


New York, N.Y.: With all that is happening in and around the White House (CIA Leak, DeLay, Katrina, polls, Frist, Miers, etc.) is the mood in the White House 1. Panic (we're in big trouble). 2. Somber (it's a tough time but we can weather this storm). 3. Giddy (this things are nothing but partisan attacks)

Dan Froomkin: It sure ain't #3. And it's also the topic of today's column.

But I do need to issue my regular disclaimer: I'm a voracious consumer of White House coverage, not a White House correspondent. I don't hang out there. I neither have nor need to maintain many sources there. So in this case, my information is second hand.


Fort Collins, Colo.: Some say that the President's missteps are because Karl Rove is preoccupied with his own problems. Do you think that this is true? Is there any way to really know the answer to this question?

Dan Froomkin: Miers maybe. But Katrina, I don't think so. People seem to forget that Rove was literally at Bush's side during the critical three days during which he did, well, nothing. And I don't think they were spending the whole time talking about Valerie Plame.

But your second question is right on. There's no way to really know for sure, because we don't know what's going on inside that White House with anything like the granularity that I think we deserve.


washingtonpost.com: Today's White House Briefing: Coming to a Boil.


Arlington, Va.: So today Bush says that he picked Miers largely BECAUSE of her religious beliefs. Isn't that a problem? It's one thing to be guided by a personal sense of morality and whatnot, but picking someone because she is a conservative/evangelic Christian (and apparently that specifically) seems too far. What do you think will be the reaction?

Dan Froomkin: Well, here's what Bush said, during a photo op with the Polish president:

"QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. Why do people in this White House feel it is necessary to tell your supporters that Harriet Miers attends a very conservative Christian church? Is that your strategy to repair the divide that has developed among conservatives over her nomination?

"BUSH: People are interested to know why I picked Harriet Miers. They want to know Harriet Miers' background. They want to know as much as they possibly can before they form opinions.

"Part of Harriet Miers' life is her religion. Part of it has to do with the fact that she was a pioneer woman and a trailblazer in the law in Texas."

I don't think your interpretation is strictly correct. But it is certainly a far cry from the Roberts nomination, when the White House insisted that religion shouldn't be a factor at all.


Re: Well, if Rove gets indicted, then it's no contest, right?: Are you sure about that? Has Bush given any indication whatsoever that just an inducement--as opposed to an actual conviction--would be enough to fire Rove? I can easily see Bush making a speech of the, "One of the founding principles of the American legal system is that someone is innocent until proven guilty" variety, can't you?

Dan Froomkin: He has been hedging, but no, I don't believe for a moment that he would keep Rove on staff.


Arlington, Va.: Welcome back. Your column was missed.

President Bush has seemed to do more press conferences in this first year of his second term than he did in any on year of his first four. Is this true or does it just feel that way? And do you believe he has been effective in his speeches? He was never a great orator, but he did have a down home folksiness that seemed to serve him well. Do you think he has lost this touch over the last few months?

Dan Froomkin: Bush gave one press conference a month from November of 2004 through May of this year. That was a vastly greater pace than before.

But last week's press conference was the first since May. And while I would like to see another soon, I'm not holding my breath .

I think the (may as well call it) defeat of his Social Security proposal, after so so much choreographed folksiness, may have made him a bit less likely to count on it to solve every problem.

And I do think he's gotten stiffer, not to mention fidgittier, of late. Read

Dana Milbank

's amazing piece in today's Post, if you haven't already.


Concord, N.H.: Your column today seems to contains contradictory threads on Andy Card, Karl Rove and Iraq. You posit that the genesis of the turf battle between them (if it exists) is differences over Iraq. Well, who was on what side of that issue? Also, you note that Card authorized/directed the formation of WHIG, which, led by Rove, was the in-house think tank to deal with Iraq.

Also on Card, his role in the Miers choice looks an awful lot like the role Sununu played in picking Souter. Is anyone else picking up on that parallel?

Dan Froomkin: I am grateful for your close reading.

As for Iraq, you make a good point. I certainly never saw Card out on the South Lawn with a "Make Love Not War" sign. I suppose it's possible that he was uncomfortable with some of the rush to war by the Iraq Group, but I've seen no evidence of that.

You ask lots of good questions. All I can say is that it is very early yet on this story, and we have a lot more to find out.


2006!!: Any chance Bush might be impeached should the makeup of Congress be upset in 2006? Any chance 2006 might see some real upsets?

Dan Froomkin: Impeachment, as we have learned, turns out not to be a legal matter, but a political matter.

Very hypothetically, should Democrats win either the House or the Senate in 2006, I would anticipate a whole lot of investigations and inquiries on such matters as the Iraq war and the CIA leak, among others. Depending on what they kick up, and if the Democrats are in the majority in the House, there could quite possibly an impeachment inquiry, and maybe even an impeachment vote.

But as you may also recall, it takes a two-thirds vote of the Senate to actually convict a president of high crimes and misdemeanors, and remove him from office.

Even in the very unlikely scenario that Democrats win a majority in the Senate, it would take a truly bipartisan effort to actually kick Bush out.


Bethesda, Md.: Dan, if a top Clinton official had resigned on a Friday and was arrested the following Monday for obstruction of justice and lying to Federal investigators, how many weeks would the story have occupied the front page? Why then do none of my co-workers seem to know who David Safavian is??

Dan Froomkin: That is sort of amazing, isn't it?


Richmond, Va.: I know it is Kurtz's job to answer media questions but what has gotten into the New York Times. Their reporter is an embroiled in this Plame mess but they keep getting scooped on their own stories. And speaking of embroiled in this--Tim Russert, Andrea Mitchell, and Chris Matthews discuss this story as though they are agnostics on it when they are embroiled in it as well. I am sympathetic to them if they say well, "I recuse myself, I am part of the story" but they don't even say that; they just omit their involvement.

Dan Froomkin: I have raised a lot of questions about the Times's coverage of this story over a period of months. The most recent were in my September 30 column.

In general, I don't think journalists should go out of their way to keep any more secrets than they have to.

Speaking of


, he addresses this very issue in his column this morning -- admittedly, a bit more sympathetically towards the Times than some other critics.


Rockville, Md.: Dana Milbank's devoting column inches to Bush's body language was odd, given that Mr. Bush has been shifting, blinking and nervously stuttering his way through his terms in office. All partisanship aside - and I admit that I'm no fan - he's simply in way over his head on this job. I don't know why people still feel the need to keep up the charade that he is somehow "presidential". I guess they are just "respecting the office"? I wish they would respect the country instead.

Dan Froomkin: It will be interesting to see if Milbank's column is generally greeted as an "Emperor has no clothes" moment, or whether it will be hooted down as trivial and/or partisan. Stay tuned.


Portland, Ore.: Hi Dan --

The David Ignatius article you mention is indeed sharp, but he does not mention the most important failure of the governing Republicans: their policies don't work. Such a point may not be the most fertile for discussion in this forum, but in the end, doesn't it come down to results? And is it not true that the Bush administration's policies are not producing results likely to please many other than those whose sole concern is tax rates for the rich?


Dan Froomkin: I think Ignatius does say something like that: He writes: "The hard right, which is the soul of the modern GOP, would rather be ideologically pure than successful. Governing requires making compromises and getting your hands dirty, but the conservative purists disdain those qualities. They swim for that beach with a fiercely misguided determination, and they demand that the other whales accompany them."

But you make a very good point. At the risk of sounding naive: Wouldn't it be interesting if the press spent more time reporting on the results of Bush administration policies, and less time covering the rhetoric?


Re: Miers: So can we officially say the Miers nomination has backfired? Seems to me the aim was to nominate a very conservative justice on the qt -- "trust me" -- but with no record of extremism to attack during the confirmation process. But instead, the rabid right is up in arms about their "in the closet" treatment, the reasoned right is outraged at the cronyism, and the left can sit back and enjoy the dismemberment.

The bottom line: doesn't it now appear that no one is willing to "trust" the President?

Dan Froomkin: Interesting analysis. Thanks.

I think the trust issue is key.


Des Moines, Iowa: Dan and fellow Briefies:

Help! Iowa is crawling with 2008 wannabes. I can't take time to see them all, so I need your help. Who should I focus on? Who should I ignore, because they have no chance? Help me budget my time!!!

(To those of you not in Iowa or NH, count your blessings!)


Dan Froomkin: You should direct any and all campaign-related questions to Chris Cillizza , washingtonpost.com's excellent new political columnist, whose blog will be obsessively focused on such issues. Me, I'm not going to worry about who's next quite yet. Got my hands full.


Pittsburgh, Pa.: Oh joy!!! You're back at the helm, master and commander of my political ship! There has been much speculation about the rest of Mr. Bush's term in office. Many observe that he has ample opportunity to turn things around and plenty of time. I find it difficult to see how he might resurrect himself and his agenda. Consider: Death squads operating in Iraqi police forces, a stubborn insurgency, possible civil war, a theocratic state emerging and curtailing women's rights, a $1 billion corruption scandal. At home record spending, deficits, gas prices, hurricane damage, probable stagflation in the economy not to mention the possibility of indictments for what my husband, an Army officer, has characterized as treasonous acts, dismal military recruitment numbers. And now his base is angry. To me it looks like death by a thousand cuts for the duration. Where is the good news going to come from?

Dan Froomkin: Thank you for your excessively kind words.

The good news? For Bush? The best news I can think of for Bush is that the press has an incredibly short attention span.


Reston, Va.: Welcome back! Used the link to see Matt Lauer's interview with POTUS (thanks for the link)... should we be panicking that he has NO IDEA AT ALL how to handle a bird flu pandemic? They can see this coming, just as they could see Katrina coming...

Dan Froomkin: I think Lauer's questioned augured a great deal more attention being paid to the avian flu by the media. I think all of us need to get to speed on this very important issue, then make sure we ask the right questions, and make sure we get answers.


Dan Froomkin: OK, folks, I have to run. Thanks so much for the questions and comments; sorry I couldn't get to more of them.

I'll be Live Online again next week -- and of course on the home page every afternoon. See you around.


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