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White House Briefing: Dan Froomkin

One Vision Thing, Coming Right Up

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, August 23, 2004; 12:17 PM

Where's the vision? Coming soon.

James Harding writes in the Financial Times: "The Republicans yesterday began the build-up to President George W. Bush's address to their national convention, promising a detailed outline of a second-term agenda expected to tackle social security reform" and taxes.

"Mr Bush has retreated to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, to work on a speech intended to pivot from his record in office to the so-far closely held specifics of what he would do with another four years in the White House."

Harding writes that the details "will be decided this week by Mr Bush in consultation with [senior adviser Karl] Rove and Michael Gerson, the president's speech-writer, who have all gathered at the ranch."

Warren Vieth writes in the Los Angeles Times: "With only a week to go before the Republican National Convention, the lack of details in President Bush's second-term domestic policy agenda has left some conservative activists worrying aloud about the Vision Thing.

"But analysts from both parties make the case that although the individual pieces of Bush's emerging agenda may not appear that weighty or new, they still add up to something big.

"Bundled within overlapping themes of tax reform and economic 'ownership,' they say, are initiatives that would, if enacted, move the country toward fundamentally different systems of taxation and social insurance.

"Wage income would be taxed at something close to a flat rate instead of today's graduated rates. Investment income would be largely tax-free. And individuals would shoulder more of the risk for their retirement, in return for potentially greater rewards."

Adam Nagourney writes in the New York Times: "President Bush will present what aides say will be a detailed second-term agenda when he is nominated in New York in 10 days, part of an ambitious convention program built on invocations of Sept. 11 and efforts to paint Senator John Kerry as untrustworthy and out of the mainstream. . . .

" 'This speech has to lay out a forward-looking, positive prospective agenda,' said Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's senior political adviser. 'It has to show -- and to defend in a way the American people want to hear -- his policies on the war on terror.' "

Health Care Claims Exaggerated

Ceci Connolly writes in The Washington Post: "If the Republican-controlled Congress enacted President Bush's entire health care agenda, as many as 10 million people who lack health insurance would be covered at a cost of $102 billion over the next decade, according to his campaign aides.

"But when the Bush-Cheney team was asked to provide documentation, the hard data fell far short of the claims, a gap supported by several independent analyses.

"Projections by the Congressional Budget Office, the Treasury Department, academics and the campaign's Web site suggest that under the best circumstances, Bush's plans for health care would extend coverage to no more than 6 million people over the next decade and possibly as few as 2 million."

Here's a damaging statistic: "Since Bush took office, the number of Americans without health insurance has climbed by 4 million, to nearly 44 million."

Oil Slick

James Harding writes in the Financial Times: "As the price of oil neared $50 a barrel last week, an anxious Republican joked darkly that President George W. Bush might want to return to the lucrative oilfields of Texas. Higher prices at the pump, the former administration official added, may give him no choice."

Adam Entous and Jeremy Pelofsky write for Reuters: "President Bush's economic advisers are warning that high energy prices have become a drag on the U.S. economy and not merely a threat to growth, chipping away at Bush's upbeat election-year projections and increasing pressure on him to act. . . .

"The warnings appeared to be part of a concerted shift in tone by Bush's top economic advisers, who for months have sought to minimize the risk of an economic slowdown in the run-up to the November presidential election."

Entous and Pelofsky note that Gregory Mankiw, chairman of Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, warns in a letter published in The New York Times on Sunday: "High energy prices are now a drag on the economy, as well as a strain on family budgets."

Jim Efstathiou Jr. writes for Bloomberg: "President George W. Bush's policy of adding crude oil to U.S. stockpiles and his criticism of past decisions to draw on reserves to cut prices leaves him with one less option as oil nears $50 a barrel."

What if He Loses?

Give Edwin Chen of the Los Angeles Times props for tenacity. He finally tracked down several of the 10 steelworkers who met privately with Bush on his bus tour of Ohio three weeks ago, and filed this story on Saturday:

"As President Bush's campaign bus barreled down Interstate 77 toward this Rust Belt city on a recent Saturday morning, an unusual focus group with 10 local steelworkers convened inside the vehicle. Conducting the session was Bush himself. . . .

"At the end of the meeting, Bush turned to his reelection prospects. Although he expressed his belief that he would win on Nov. 2, Bush said he would be at peace with himself 'if people elect to send me home.'

"John Grogg, a furnace operator who put on the dress blues of his Pennsylvania Air National Guard unit for the occasion, quoted the president as saying: 'You know, if I should lose this reelection for president of the United States, I know that I've done as good a job as I can do. And God would say, "Good servant, take a break." ' "

In public, Bush never acknowledges the possibility that he might lose.

Heckler Gets Ejected, Then Fired

Jessica Valdez writes in The Washington Post: "Glenn Hiller wasn't surprised by the scattered screams and cuss words he heard after he heckled President Bush at a rally in West Virginia on Tuesday.

"But the Berkeley Springs, W.Va., resident never expected what happened the next morning, when he was fired from his $35,000-a-year job as a graphic designer."

Today's Calendar

Bush holds a press conference this morning after meeting with his top defense advisers -- some in person, some by video hookup.

As ABCNEWS's The Note notes: "The big political moment of the day comes when the president speaks at a press availability this morning in Crawford, gets the expected Swift Boat question, and decides in both tone and substance how to answer."

Laura Bush speaks as part of the public dedication of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati tonight.

The president doesn't leave his Texas ranch until Thursday.

Swift Response

The swift boat controversy is obviously a hot topic in Crawford among the White House press corps.

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank was one of the guests on Howard Kurtz's show, "Reliable Sources," on CNN Sunday.

"KURTZ: Dana Milbank, the White House says over and over again that officially at least they honor Kerry's service in the military during the Vietnam era. But we saw the Marc Racicot comment at the top, he's Bush's campaign chairman, talking about Kerry seeming a little wild-eyed. So is the press buying the notion that Bush and his team are just innocent bystanders in this swift boat controversy?

"MILBANK: Well, certainly not based on the stories that have been run. Everybody is writing about the ties between Karl Rove and people in this organization.

"Now, it turns out somebody in this swift boat group was actually serving in an advisory capacity to the Bush campaign. So we've been all over that. Down here in Crawford, we've been asking Scott McClellan each day if he will denounce this specific ad, as opposed to all ads run by independent groups. And they're being very firm about not doing that, which is actually driving the issue. It's expected Bush will take questions from the press tomorrow, and so that's going to, once again, be tomorrow's story.

"John Kerry set this up in a way by specifically denouncing the MoveOn ad, which leads us to ask the parallel question, will Bush denounce the swift boat ad?"

Jim VandeHei pointed out in Saturday's Washington Post how press secretary Scott McClellan was at the vanguard of the Bush campaign's response to Kerry's demand that Bush renounce the ad.

"Bush's campaign chairman, Marc Racicot, went on CNN and said the Kerry campaign has come 'unhinged,' and that Kerry himself 'looks wild-eyed.' Earlier yesterday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Kerry is 'losing his cool.' In 2000, the Bush campaign used similar language to portray rival Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) as potentially too unstable to run the country."

National Guard Watch

Burbling in the background of the swift boat story, of course, is the fact that in contrast to Kerry's service in Vietnam, Bush was stateside during the war. Critics say he pulled strings to get his post in the Texas Air National Guard and didn't serve at all during a five-month period when he was in Alabama. The White House says Bush served honorably.

Lois Romano and David Nakamura write in The Washington Post: "On ABC's 'This Week,' former White House chief of staff John D. Podesta tackled Bush's National Guard service during Vietnam. 'Senator Kerry carries shrapnel in his thigh as distinct from President Bush who carries two fillings in his teeth from his service in the Alabama National Guard, which seems to be his only time that he showed up,' Podesta said."

Rick Pearson and Frank James write in the Chicago Tribune: "Tad Devine, a senior adviser to Kerry's campaign, contended the nation would not have rushed ill-equipped troops to a war in Iraq if the president ever had served in an armed conflict. . . .

"Bush served in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War, but Democrats have questioned whether he fulfilled his duties. The White House has insisted he did."

Intel Watch

Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas may have made things even more complicated for the White House yesterday.

Dan Eggen writes in The Washington Post: "The Republican chairman of the Senate intelligence committee unveiled a radical proposal yesterday to remove most of the nation's major intelligence-gathering operations from the CIA and Pentagon and place them directly under the control of a new national intelligence director. . . .

"The proposal came as a shock to Senate Democrats and the White House, which had not been told in advance about the plan's details by Roberts and the other GOP committee members."

Greg Miller writes in the Los Angeles Times: "By offering proposals that go far beyond the reforms Bush has so far endorsed, Roberts is likely to put new pressure on a White House that has had to fend off criticism it is not acting swiftly enough to fix systemic intelligence problems highlighted by the 2001 attacks and the failure to find evidence of banned weapons in Iraq."

Tending the Base

Ronald Brownstein writes in the Los Angeles Times that "the Bush campaign's strategy is focused much more on the possibility that the race will be decided primarily by mobilizing the party faithful in closely fought states, not persuading swing voters. . . .

"The Bush campaign strategy fits with a presidency that often has appeared more intent on deepening than broadening support.

"On most major issues -- from tax cuts and environmental protection to the decision to invade Iraq without explicit U.N. authorization -- Bush has embraced policies that draw much better marks from his base than swing voters."

Bush and Cheney Overviews

Need a refresher? Reuters unleashes election-year profiles of the president and vice president.

Steve Holland writes: "George W. Bush's presidency was meandering along until the Sept. 11 attacks gave it a purpose, and his vigorous response drew world praise that fell apart over his invasion of Iraq."

Randall Mikkelsen writes: "Dick Cheney is one of the most powerful vice presidents in U.S. history, regarded as a driving force behind the Iraq war and the Bush administration's industry-friendly energy policy."

Education Pitch

Pete Yost writes for the Associated Press: "In a back-to-school message, President Bush says that while many public schools aren't making the grade, he should get high marks from voters for the No Child Left Behind Act."

Here's the text of Bush's radio address.

Olympics Watch

Sally Jenkins writes in The Washington Post: "The U.S. Olympic Committee, concerned that President Bush's reelection campaign is using the Athens Games for political purposes, will review a copy of a televised campaign ad that credits Bush with liberating athletes from Afghanistan and Iraq so they can compete here. . . .

"The ad, which can be viewed over the Internet, also shows the flags of Iraq and Afghanistan as swimmers plow through the water. Iraq sent one swimmer here; Afghanistan sent none. The majority of Iraq's Olympic team consists of 24 soccer players, who did most of their training outside of the country, because it was too torn by violence.

"Some members of the Iraqi soccer team have said they are angered by Bush's reference to use them."

From CEA to CBO

Edmund L. Andrews of the New York Times profiles Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas J. Holtz-Eakin, who is giving the White House heartburn even though he himself was chief economist for the White House Council of Economic Advisers until 2003.

"Mr. Holtz-Eakin is the first director to come directly from the White House and then raise challenges to his former boss," Andrews writes.

Case in point: "Last week, responding to questions posed by Democratic lawmakers, the Congressional Budget Office released a report showing that Mr. Bush's tax cuts were skewed very heavily to the very top income earners."

McCain and the Bearhug

Todd S. Purdum writes in the New York Times: "It was one of the odder embraces in American politics since Sammy Davis Jr. hugged Richard M. Nixon at the Republican Convention 32 years ago this summer: George W. Bush and John McCain's back-wrapping bearhug and side-head-smooch on the campaign trail last week."

North Korea Watch

AFP reports: "North Korea described US President George W. Bush as an 'imbecile' and a 'tyrant' who was worse than Adolf Hitler, and ruled out attending new talks on nuclear weapons with the United States.

"In an unusually strong attack, a foreign ministry spokesman slammed Bush for calling North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il a tyrant during campaigning last Wednesday" in Wisconsin.

Not in a New York State of Mind

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "More than a year ago, when Karl Rove and President Bush began planning the Republican National Convention, they picked New York City in early September so that the event would flow into the third anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks. . . .

"But now it turns out that Mr. Bush may not spend a single night in the city that helped transform his presidency. . . .

"Republicans acknowledge that one reason for the president's quick drop-by is their concern that he not be seen as taking advantage of the deaths of 3,000 people. What seemed like a good idea a year and a half ago, before Mr. Bush put on a flight suit and declared major combat operations in Iraq at an end, does not seem like such a good idea in the highly charged political environment now."

And of course New York is no swing state.

About Those 'Ask President Bush' Events

Also from Kurtz's "Reliable Sources" show:

"KURTZ: Are these rallies full of pre-screened loyalists that somehow are appearing on television as kind of typical town hall meetings? Dana Milbank.

"MILBANK: Well, of course, I mean, they're pre-screened in the sense that whoever comes to these events is already a Bush supporter. In some of the cases of the Republican National Committee events, there's actually been something of a loyalty oath that needs to be signed. We've written about a case in which an Ohio professor came to a Bush event wearing a Kerry t-shirt and was sent out of the event. So of course it's pre-screened.

"But on the other hand, these are campaign events, and maybe it's a bit unrealistic to expect President Bush to invite in a bunch of hecklers who would ask hostile questions of him. I mean, the campaign's paying for this event. I'm not sure we in the press can really complain.

"KURTZ: Oh, sure we can complain.

"MILBANK: Maybe if we ask more questions . . .

"KURTZ: We complain for a living. What are you talking about?

"MILBANK: We complain about anything.

"KURTZ: We're always complaining. . . .

"Is this legitimate...

"MILBANK: But maybe if we ask more gentle questions like these guys, then Bush would take our questions more often."

Bush Jokes

Jason Zengerle writes in the New York Times: "On late-night shows, in political advertisements and in the fertile new realm of Internet comedy, jokes about the president are much harsher than were the jokes about his father or Bill Clinton, or even the jokes that were circulating when George W. Bush first took office. Back then, the president was teased about poor syntax and low I.Q. Now many Bush jokes portray the president as an irresponsible, duplicitous menace. In part, this change is due to an increasingly unpopular war and an unsteady economy. It also may be that all comedy has become harsher in recent years. But partly it is because, since Mr. Bush took office, the left has belatedly rediscovered humor as a political tool."

Zengerle identifies some Web sites, including toostupidtobepresident.com and allhatnocattle.net.

And Zengerle points to the increasingly harsh lampooning of Bush by Will Ferrel, who recently starred in an Internet advertisement for the liberal political group America Coming Together.

At a fund-raiser for the Natural Resources Defense Council, "Mr. Ferrell's Bush, who was wearing a flight suit, boasted of his plan to replace logged ancient redwoods with 'substitute trees' made out of red-painted plywood. He then told the crowd: 'Will I be able to do everything you people want? No. Frankly a lot of endangered species are going to be extincted. But this is part of evolution and natural selection. Which, by the way, I don't believe in.' "


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