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White House Briefing: Dan Froomkin

Frigid Embrace for Bush

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, November 30, 2004; 11:04 AM

President Bush travels to Canada today in another test of his post-election international charm offensive.

It may go off well, at least on the surface. Canada's governing class is cheerfully clamoring for dinner tickets and protesters will be kept at a distance.

But the fact remains that your average Canadian is not a fan of Bush's policies -- and, truth be told, may at the same time be suffering from a bit of an inferiority complex.

Ottawa Sun columnist Greg Weston notes with wistful outrage, that "on the eve of Bush's 'working visit' with Prime Minister Paul Martin here today, the trip rated barely a mention in the White House briefing room yesterday.

"Canadians who might be wondering what Americans think of us should ponder no more: Generally speaking, they don't.

"Even White House reporters expecting the usual 'trip briefing' on Canada-U.S. issues were surprised by what they got: Zip.

" 'It is quite unusual not to have a briefing,' said one senior White House correspondent who called yesterday, wondering if we had any idea why Bush was coming to Canada. (We had to say, sorry, can't help there.)"

Bruce Cheadle writes for the Canadian Press, with some bitterness: "Most major Canadian daily newspapers continued to give the Bush visit front page coverage for a fifth consecutive day. South of the border, major papers such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post carried not a word about the pending foreign excursion."

But Cheadle notes that the Canadian coverage is askew in its own way.

"Never mind that the president appears to be launching a dry run of a wider global charm offensive in a desperate bid to find his way out of the Iraq quagmire. . . .

"What really has people talking is whether Bush might balk at chowing down on the Alberta beef served at Tuesday's gala dinner."

The Financial Times (in England) explains: "For 18 months Canada has been trying to persuade the US to lift a ban on imports of Canadian cattle. The ban, imposed after a case of mad-cow disease was found on a ranch in northern Alberta, has ravaged the cattle industry. The Canadians maintain that their meat inspection system is now at least equal to, if not more rigorous, than the US standard."

Tonight's menu: Medallion of Alberta beef, thyme-roasted Taber corn kernels and giant shrimp on a bed of Santa Fe guacamole.

Jeff Sallot and Alan Freeman write in the Toronto Globe and Mail: "Yesterday, the divide that has characterized Canada-U.S. relations over the past few years was on display in a poll that found a number of areas where residents of the two countries are having trouble seeing eye to eye.

"Of those surveyed in an Ipsos-Reid poll done for The Globe and Mail-CTV News, 58 per cent of Canadians says Mr. Bush's re-election was a bad thing, compared with 41 per cent of Americans who say the same thing."

Beth Gorham writes for the Canadian Press: "President George W. Bush is taking some serious backup to Canada.

"On a delicate foray where he'll get a gruff greeting from protesters who view him as a divisive one-man wrecking crew, outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell will be there to smooth his path among Canada's power elite. For extra muscle, Bush is taking Condoleezza Rice, one of his closest advisers and the woman who's been named to replace the popular Powell early next year.

"And his wife Laura will try to help Bush put a more humane face on his presidency as he officially renews ties to a country he rebuffed over staying out of Iraq and the anti-American tirades that followed the decision."

Cheadle writes in another Canadian Press story: "U.S. President George W. Bush will ask for Canadian help in Afghanistan and Iraq when he arrives on Parliament Hill on Tuesday and sources say he'll get it -- eventually."

Jane Taber writes in the Globe and Mail about the furor over tonight's 700-person dinner for Bush hosted by Martin.

"It's the most coveted ticket in this political town, so hot that cabinet ministers have pushed for invites, lobbyists have been calling around for extra tickets, some MPs are bitter about not making the cut, and at least one senator is outraged, saying her invitation was revoked."

Gloria Galloway and Shawna Richer writes in the Globe and Mail: "The large security perimeters that will be established around the U.S. President will make it difficult for noisy protesters -- and even curious members of the public -- to catch a glimpse of the world's most powerful politician as he pays his first official visit to Ottawa.

"Some experts say the precautions constitute the most security ever devoted to protecting one man on Canadian soil. But that's something the Mounties won't confirm. In fact, they won't confirm much of anything. . . .

"The President will travel in his own limousine -- brought from the United States so he can tour in comfort and high-tech safety. The RCMP would not confirm that another vehicle in the entourage has the James-Bond-style capability of shooting down incoming airborne weapons."

Sue Bailey writes for the Canadian Press that "a diverse throng of peaceniks" will greet Bush. "The only aggression openly sanctioned by rally organizers seems to be the possible 'toppling' of a large papier mache likeness of the U.S. president."

Amy Smith and Dan Arsenault of the Halifax Herald report on a protest in Hallifax planned by "ordinary Haligonians who believe in peace." Bush visits Hallifax tomorrow.

Meanwhile, AFP reports: "Hopes for early mass protests in the streets of Ottawa on the eve of Tuesday's visit by US President George W. Bush fizzled out, as journalists outnumbered demonstrators."

Stateside Coverage

It's not like we're ignoring it completely.

Deb Riechmann writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush's trip North of the border will be akin to a polite dance where he'll try to avoid missteps that could create more anti-Americanism in Canada. . . .

"After years of bickering, Bush is hoping to patch up relations with Ottawa when he arrives Tuesday on the first official visit to Canada by a U.S. president in nearly 10 years."

William Douglas writes for Knight Ridder Newspapers: "President Bush begins his second-term initiative to mend frayed relations with America's alienated allies Tuesday by visiting neighboring Canada, which strongly opposed the Iraq war and has had friction with Washington over post-Sept. 11 U.S. immigration policies and trade.

"If all goes well during Bush's two-day trip, the administration's approach to Canada could serve as a model when the president tours Europe early next year in hope of repairing strained relations there.

"But things could go awry."

Richard Benedetto writes in USA Today: "The fact that Bush is going to Canada so soon after his re-election shows the high priority he places on restoring the friendship of the two nations."

Good Behavior, Eh?

Apparently our neighbors to the north have higher standards than we do for certain things. Here's an e-mail the White House sent out to the press corps yesterday:


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Gutierrez Watch

Mike Allen and Jonathan Weisman write in The Washington Post: "President Bush began reshaping his economic team for a second term yesterday by nominating Carlos M. Gutierrez, the Cuban-born chief executive of the Kellogg cereal company, to replace Bush's friend Donald L. Evans as secretary of commerce. . . .

"Administration officials said Bush and senior adviser Karl Rove believe their economic lineup was a shortcoming of the first term and are determined to seat a stronger team to sell Congress on Bush's campaign promises to add private accounts to Social Security and rewrite major portions of the tax code. . . .

"Bush aides said that in addition to Gutierrez's inspiring immigrant's story, they see his background in sales as a crucial credential, since Bush has used his economic team primarily to promote the White House agenda rather than to make policy. Officials familiar with the search process said that, Gutierrez notwithstanding, the White House has found it harder to attract a top-flight team because some candidates are unwilling to give up lucrative posts to come to Washington to be White House cheerleaders."

John D. McKinnon and Steven Gray write for the Wall Street Journal: "The 51-year-old executive is regarded as an excellent salesman by people who have had business dealings with him -- a skill that will come in handy as the administration seeks legislative approval of plans to overhaul Social Security and the U.S. Tax Code, as well as to further ease international-trade restrictions and regulatory bottlenecks."

Richard W. Stevenson writes in the New York Times: "Mr. Gutierrez, 51, has been chief executive of the Kellogg Company, the cereal maker, for more than five years, and has built a reputation as an innovative and forceful business leader with broad international experience. But he has little background in public policy, leaving him largely unknown in political circles and untested by the demands of a high-profile job in Washington. . . .

"Assuming he is confirmed, taking his new job will entail a significant pay cut for Mr. Gutierrez. Last year he was paid $7.4 million by Kellogg in total compensation, including salary, bonus and incentive payments. He owns or has option rights to two million shares of company stock. Cabinet secretaries earned an annual salary of $175,700 this year."

Ken Fireman writes for Newsday: "President George W. Bush's nomination of Cuban-born Carlos M. Gutierrez for Commerce secretary fits neatly into a long-term strategy of boosting Republican prospects for national dominance by building support among the country's fast-growing Hispanic population. . . .

"Bush political strategist Karl Rove has long talked of reducing the Democrats' traditional edge among Hispanics as a key element in a long-term plan to make the Republicans the majority party in the nation."

Here's the text of Bush and Gutierrez's statements at the White House yesterday.

"Carlos Gutierrez is one of America's most respected business leaders. He is a great American success story," Bush said.

"I believe passionately in your leadership and the direction you've set," Gutierrez said. "I believe in your call for a vibrant, growing entrepreneurial society, where everyone has the opportunity to experience the joy and the pride of ownership, where everyone can contribute, and where everyone can benefit."

Jonathan Weisman writes in The Washington Post: "In Washington, Gutierrez's nomination to be Bush's second secretary of commerce was a surprise. Neither a confidant of the president's nor a prominent political operative or fundraiser, the Kellogg chief executive breaks the mold of recent commerce heads."

And Weisman points out: "Inspiring as it may be, Gutierrez's life is hardly a rags-to-riches saga. His father was a successful pineapple merchant in Havana who, in 1960, was deemed an enemy of Fidel Castro's state. As Hispanic Magazine put it earlier this year, 'While many Cubans speak of coming to the United States with little more than pocket change and the clothes on their back, Pedro and Olga Gutierrez and their two sons were able to leave with $2,000 and 22 suitcases.'"

Bush made a point of noting that Gutierrez learned English from a bellhop in a Miami hotel and that story was picked up in many articles this morning. But the specific circumstances -- Gutierrez's family was actually staying at a swanky ocean-side hotel in Miami Beach at the time -- is in reality little less David Copperfield, a little more Eloise at the Plaza.

Second Term Surprises?

David S. Broder marvels in his column in The Washington Post over "the spectacle of Republican conservatives on Capitol Hill standing up to President Bush on the plan for overhauling the intelligence services.

"What began as a rare disagreement inside the normally disciplined House Republican conference has grown into the first full-scale test of the credibility of the second-term administration."

Broder concludes: "Here we are, just a month beyond Election Day with Bush's inauguration still weeks away, and already the political plot has taken a totally unexpected turn. Be prepared for more -- and bigger -- surprises."

Friedman Makes It Official

The White House last night released the letter of resignation of chief economic adviser Stephen Friedman and a statement from the president on his departure.

Gonzales Watch

Darryl Fears writes in The Washington Post: "The leaders of 30 civil rights organizations yesterday called on the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee to closely examine the civil rights record of the Bush administration's nominee for attorney general, Alberto R. Gonzales.

"In a letter to Sens. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), the organizations, all members of the Washington-based Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, expressed concern about the role Gonzales played as White House counsel in setting the administration's policy on the detention and interrogation of prisoners in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba."

Speaking of Torture

Neil A. Lewis writes in the New York Times: "The International Committee of the Red Cross has charged in confidential reports to the United States government that the American military has intentionally used psychological and sometimes physical coercion 'tantamount to torture' on prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba."

One report "said investigators had found a system devised to break the will of the prisoners at Guantánamo, who now number about 550, and make them wholly dependent on their interrogators through 'humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes, use of forced positions.' . . .

"The issue of whether torture at Guantánamo was condoned or encouraged has been a problem before for the Bush administration."

Back in March 2002, Lewis recalls, "a team of administration lawyers accepted a view first advocated by the Justice Department that the president had wide powers in authorizing coercive treatment of detainees. The legal team in a memorandum concluded that Mr. Bush was not bound by either the international Convention Against Torture or a federal antitorture statute because he had the authority to protect the nation from terrorism.

"That document provides tightly constructed definitions of torture. For example, if an interrogator 'knows that severe pain will result from his actions, if causing such harm is not his objective, he lacks the requisite specific intent even though the defendant did not act in good faith,' it said. 'Instead, a defendant is guilty of torture only if he acts with the express purpose of inflicting severe pain or suffering on a person within his control.'

"When some administration memorandums about coercive treatment or torture were disclosed, the White House said they were only advisory."

Colombian Backpedalling

The Associated Press reports: "Colombia's government backpedaled Monday on a claim that Marxist rebels wanted to assassinate President Bush during a recent state visit."

Intel Watch

Thomas Ferraro writes for Reuters: "President Bush will urge Republicans to try again before Congress adjourns for the year to pass a comprehensive bill to upgrade U.S. intelligence agencies, the White House said on Monday.

"Bush plans to write a letter to congressional Republicans this week and have senior aides attend a three-day retreat by congressional Republican leaders that begins on Tuesday in Irvington, Virginia, to see if something can be worked out, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said."

Ukrainian Quandary

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times about "what administration officials said was a delicate quandary for the White House: pushing for self-determination in Ukraine while trying to preserve America's crucial relationship with Russia."

What a Card

Gwendolyn Bounds writes in the Wall Street Journal about Zachary Levy, the creator of "Bush Cards," a deck of 52 playing cards satirizing the president and his administration.

Levy thought the election would kill his business. But no!

"Today, Mr. Levy is not only still in business, having sold about $900,000 worth of cards prior to the election, but he's plotting his own marketing agenda for the next four years. Sales of Bush Cards doubled the week after the election and some 6,000 decks have sold since Nov. 2. The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History is adding Bush Cards to its campaign collection that dates back to George Washington's time. And retailers continue to replenish their stock while Mr. Levy reshuffles the $7.95 deck to include new cabinet appointees."

Christmastime at the White House

The Associated Press reports: "An 18 1/2-foot Christmas tree, pulled by a horse-drawn wagon, arrived Monday at the North Portico, marking the official start of holiday decorating at the White House."

Here's an Associated Press picture.

" 'They've already removed the chandelier, so this 18-foot tree will fit into the Blue Room,' first lady Laura Bush said in receiving the Noble fir tree cut down in Washington state. 'Decorators are inside decorating right now as fast as they can. They'll continue to decorate, and they'll be finished by Wednesday, which is the first party.'

"This year, bright hues are in vogue in the Executive Mansion. 'They'll be everywhere, including the ornaments that will be on the Christmas tree,' Mrs. Bush said."

Press Briefing Smackdown

On occasion, when needing a distraction or comic relief, press secretary Scott McClellan -- like Ari Fleischer before him -- has been known to turn to some of the more unusual denizens of the press briefing room for help.

As Dana Milbank wrote a few years back in The Washington Post: "Want to change the subject to foreign affairs? Call on Raghubir Goyal of the India Globe (he'll ask about the perfidies of Pakistan), Jacobo Goldstein of CNN Radio Noticias (a Latin American question is likely) or Connie Lawn (a freelancer with particular interest in the Middle East). Had enough of foreign policy and wish to return to domestic matters? Choose Keith Koffler of Congress Daily (he follows the legislative process) or April Ryan of the American Urban Radio Network (she favors socioeconomic questions).

"Want to end the briefing by turning the whole thing into a circus? You might choose Russell Mokhiber of the Corporate Crime Reporter (he'll launch into a tirade about greed), or Baltimore radio personality Lester Kinsolving (he'll ask about how 'the Reverend Mr. Jackson impregnated his mistress and used tax-exempt contributions to get her out of Chicago'). Within seconds, the wire service reporters in the front row will beg for an end to the briefing."

Yesterday, however, McClellan actually slapped down Kinsolving after two long-winded and rhetorical questions about the Boy Scouts and the Palestinian leadership.

McLellan, from the transcript: "If you're going to make comments, that's fine -- you've heard the President's views on this, Les. We can sit here and shout over each other, or you can ask the questions, and I can give you our response. I'm going to keep moving for now."

So does that mean he'll stop calling on him?

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