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White House Briefing: Dan Froomkin

Bush Agenda: Bold but Blurry

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, November 5, 2004; 11:34 AM

While outlining an ambitious and aggressive agenda for his second term yesterday, President Bush didn't provide new detail that would help bring more definition to the generally hazy plans that he framed during his campaign.

In fact, during his hastily scheduled press conference yesterday morning, Bush joked with reporters about how in some answers to their questions he was repeatedly using hoary phrases from his stump speech. "You might have heard that several times," he quipped during one answer. "I don't know if you know this or not," he said with a chuckle, before unleashing a shopworn line about subchapter-s corporations. Groans ensued.

Probably the seminal exchange came when CNN's John King asked Bush "whether you feel more free to do any one thing in a second term that perhaps you were politically constrained from doing in a first."

Bush replied: "Oh, in terms of feeling free, well, I don't think you'll let me be too free. There's accountability and there are constraints on the presidency, as there should be in any system. I feel -- I feel it is necessary to move an agenda that I told the American people I would move. Something refreshing about coming off an election, even more refreshing since we all got some sleep last night, but there's -- you go out and you make your case, and you tell the people this is what I intend to do.

"And after hundreds of speeches and three debates and interviews and the whole process, where you keep basically saying the same thing over and over again, that when you win, there is a feeling that the people have spoken and embraced your point of view, and that's what I intend to tell the Congress, that I made it clear what I intend to do as the President, now let's work to -- and the people made it clear what they wanted, now let's work together.

"And it's one of the wonderful -- it's like earning capital. You asked, do I feel free. Let me put it to you this way: I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style. That's what happened in the -- after the 2000 election, I earned some capital. I've earned capital in this election -- and I'm going to spend it for what I told the people I'd spend it on, which is -- you've heard the agenda: Social Security and tax reform, moving this economy forward, education, fighting and winning the war on terror."

That was news enough.

Mike Allen writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush vowed yesterday to use the 'political capital' gained from his victory on Tuesday to push an aggressive domestic agenda in a second term, beginning with limiting medical malpractice lawsuits and continuing with revamping the tax code and adding private accounts to Social Security.

"At a news conference a day after Sen. John F. Kerry conceded, Bush spoke repeatedly about his desire to unify the country, including Democrats who did their best to evict him from power. But he also made it clear that he views the election returns -- especially a 3 percent margin of victory in the popular vote that he said reflected 'the will of the people' -- as a mandate to pursue conservative priorities and to continue a governing style that has rarely accommodated the opposition. . . .

"In both words and tone, Bush conveyed exceptional self-assurance as he jauntily parried with reporters and served notice that he expects Congress to move with dispatch on his agenda. The message was unmistakable: that Bush intends to be the capital's dominant political and policy force, and that the election returns mean that other players should move to accommodate his priorities, not simply meet in the middle."

Edwin Chen writes in the Los Angeles Times that "administration officials made it clear that there would be limits to the president's efforts toward bipartisanship.

" 'His arm is only so long. It's important for others to reach back as well,' said White House press secretary Scott McClellan."

Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post that Bush "appeared more determined than ever to bend Congress to his will as he pursues his new agenda, knowing that presidential second terms often provide a limited window to get things done."

Richard W. Stevenson writes in the New York Times: "Mr. Bush said repeatedly that he wanted to reach out across party lines after a campaign that emphasized ideological divisions and produced raw feelings on both sides. But he left unclear how much, if at all, he would compromise especially after an election that gave him a majority of the popular vote, strengthened conservative Republicans in Congress and left Democrats weaker."

Doyle McManus writes in the Los Angeles Times, comparing Bush to four years ago: "On Thursday, as he outlined his plans for a second term, Bush presented himself as a sadder but tougher president -- determined to get what he wants, even if that means bruising fights ahead. . . .

"If he accomplishes everything he committed himself to on Thursday, he could claim a place alongside Ronald Reagan -- the president he cites as a model, more than his own father -- in reshaping government policy to conservative design."

Rick Klein writes in the Boston Globe: "Declaring 'I've got the will of the people at my back,' President Bush yesterday outlined a broad agenda for his second term that will include attempts to revamp the nation's tax code and Social Security system while pursuing an aggressive foreign policy aimed at protecting the United States from terrorism."

What Klein didn't mention, however, was that Bush's "will of the people" line came not while laying out his agenda, but while scolding the White House press corps.

"Now that I've got the will of the people at my back, I'm going to start enforcing the one-question rule. That was three questions," Bush said. Later, after another violation: "Again, he violated the one-question rule right off the bat. Obviously, you didn't listen to the will of the people."

Ken Fireman writes in Newsday that Bush was "Still enjoying the afterglow of a successful re-election campaign."

Enough With the Honeymoon

Here's what John King had to say to Paula Zahn last night on CNN: "He would not take a question on the Supreme Court, would not take the question of how much the war in Iraq will cost, would not take a question about Fallujah and the coming offensive in Fallujah.

"He wants to build his approval rating back up, build up the good will of the American people and then deal with the tough stuff. He's very smart today. . . .

"[T]his is signature George Bush. Be optimistic. Be confident. Say you want to be bipartisan. And then advance an agenda that will have so many collisions in it we will be back to partisanship pretty quick. On health care, taxes and Social Security, the Democrats are lined up to fight."

Jonathan Weisman writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush signaled yesterday that he would add personal investment accounts to the Social Security system, simplify the tax code without raising taxes and cut the budget deficit in half, all before he leaves office in 2009.

"Ambitious as those promises are, they may be mathematically impossible, budget and policy analysts say."

Allan Fram writes for the Associated Press: "With federal deficits already running amok, it is unclear how President Bush will pay for his second-term agenda, a potentially multitrillion-dollar smorgasbord that includes overhauling Social Security and revamping the tax system. . . .

" 'I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it,' the president said.

"But all the political capital in the world won't pay for his pricey priorities."

Floyd Norris writes in the New York Times: "Tax reform is a loaded term, of course. One man's reform may be another's outrage, and fairness is very much in the eye of the beholder."

So he asks: "Will the Bush administration be willing and able to put together a tax proposal with the thought and attention to detail that characterized the 1986 Reagan plan? Will the new system be designed with an understanding of the strain on the budget coming when baby boomers retire? Will the president be willing to fight for consistent principles, or will there be lots of special-interest provisions?"

Musical Chairs

Jim VandeHei and Glenn Kessler write in The Washington Post: "President Bush said yesterday that he will spend the weekend considering changes in his Cabinet for his second term, feeding speculation inside and outside the White House over shake-ups in key agencies in coming weeks.

"As part of what Bush called a 'great Washington sport,' Republicans, including several in the administration, predicted numerous impending Cabinet changes that could strongly influence U.S. policy over the next four years.

"The most intense speculation centers on Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, whose rumored retirement would reconfigure the war team and perhaps lead to a broader reshuffling of Bush's national security team."

And possibly first up for departure is Attorney General John D. Ashcroft

Kevin Johnson writes in USA Today: "A top Justice Department aide to Ashcroft said that a letter of resignation could be delivered to President Bush within the next several days, but that Ashcroft would probably remain on the job through the end of the year."

Richard B. Schmitt writes in the Los Angeles Times that Larry D. Thompson, Ashcroft's former deputy, is a top candidate to replace him -- but he professed no interest in the job yesterday.

"Besides Thompson, the field of potential candidates includes White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush-Cheney campaign chairman and former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who gained fame as a federal prosecutor of organized crime."

Richard W. Stevenson writes in the New York Times: "With rumors already swirling about who will stay and who will go, his aides said that he intended to move quickly on personnel issues to minimize the speculation and assure that he had his new team in place for a fast start to his second term. The aides said he had not asked for any resignations, but had told cabinet members on Thursday morning that if they planned to leave, they should tell Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff."

Gary Fields writes in the Wall Street Journal: "To date, the cast of characters in the Bush White House has been relatively stable, outside a midterm housecleaning of the first economic team. Yesterday, Mr. Bush said 'there will be some changes,' but added: 'I don't know who they will be.' Nevertheless, the turnover rumors have included almost every prominent member of his administration, including both members of the Powell family (father Colin, secretary of State, and son Michael, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission)."

Fields also notes: "With Mr. Bush pushing major changes during the next four years, some of the most influential players of his administration won't be cabinet secretaries but top advisers charged with simplifying the tax code and partially privatizing Social Security."

For example, he writes, "one of the little-known economic officials who could make a big difference in the coming year is Charles P. Blahous III, a former congressional staffer who is the top administration official on Social Security overhaul."

You can watch Tim Russert and Tom Brokaw chatting about who's in and who's out on NBC.

It's worth noting that the White House press corps itself is actually more interested in changes within the White House staff than in the cabinet. After all, Bush and senior adviser Karl Rove have consolidated an enormous amount of power in the West Wing.

"I am mindful that working in the White House is really -- is exhausting work," Bush noted yesterday. "The people who you try to get to leak to you spend hours away from their families, and it is -- the word 'burnout' is oftentimes used in the -- in Washington, and it's used for a reason, because people do burn out."

So the White House press corps is essentially playing spot-the-burnout on this West Wing map.

In the meantime, Al Kamen reports in his Washington Post column on some movement within the National Security Council.

"There was a goodbye party Wednesday for Robert Joseph, head of the National Security Council's Office of Proliferation Strategy, Counterproliferation and Homeland Defense. Joseph was a key player on policy toward Axis of Evil countries and was involved in the controversy over claims that Iraq was trying to buy uranium in Africa.

"Word is Michael J. Green, NSC senior director for Asian affairs, who often differed with Joseph's harder line on North Korea, is eyeing a post at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service."

Karl Rove Watch

Todd S. Purdum and David D. Kirkpatrick write in the New York Times that "if President Bush's triumph this week had a Big Daddy it was indisputably Karl Rove -- the seer, strategist and serious student of politics and the presidency that a grateful Mr. Bush himself referred to as the architect of his winning campaign.

"And with Mr. Bush's re-election, Mr. Rove has not only cemented his reputation as one of the canniest campaign gurus in a generation but has also put himself in position to shape second-term policies that could help realize his longtime goal of consolidating a broad Republican electoral majority for a generation to come."

They add this scene from yesterday: "To most of the press and the broader public, Mr. Rove's fine hand has been more felt than seen. That was not true on Thursday when he good-naturedly mugged for the camera just before Mr. Bush began a news conference, popping up behind the CNN White House correspondent John King. . . . "

Here's what happened, from the CNN transcript. King was talking with CNN anchor Rick Sanchez.

"SANCHEZ: Well, you mentioned Republican . . . ascendancy. And we just happen to be looking right now -- we've got a split screen, and we're looking at a picture of Karl Rove. Got to be feeling like a proud peacock, that man, on this day. Would you say?

"KING: The president complimented him as the architect yesterday of the reelection strategy. And even some Republicans in the final weeks of the campaign were questioning Karl Rove's strategy, saying it was too focused on social and religious conservatives.

"There's some laughter behind me. God knows what it is.

"(LAUGHTER)

"KING: Hey, Karl Rove, come on in. Here he is right here.

"See, Karl Rove, is he proud as a peacock? That was a peacock look right there."

Not Dead Yet

Howard Kurtz writes in The Washington Post about how Washington Times reporter Bill Sammon came to ask Bush to react to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's death -- before Arafat was dead.

"The age of insta-news is also the age of insta-clarifications and insta-corrections. A half-dozen years ago, no reporter in the cavernous room in the Old Executive Office Building would have had access to news flashes once the president had started taking questions. But now that people can BlackBerry other people in meetings and headlines are only a few thumb-clicks away, no place is safe from breaking news, even if that news soon breaks apart."

Sebastian Rotella and Laura King write in the Los Angeles Times: "As the president began his answer, Condoleezza Rice, his national security advisor, who sat in a front-row seat just a few feet from Bush, subtly shook her head, as if urging him not to answer the question."

Middle East Watch

Steven R. Weisman writes in the New York Times: "While awaiting word on the condition of Yasir Arafat, aides to President Bush have begun grappling with the likelihood of a reshaped Middle East and a possible new American attempt to help broker peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, administration officials said Thursday. . . .

"Administration officials say several factors seem to be coming together to change the disinclination of Mr. Bush and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to get involved in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations."

In addition to Arafat's departure from the scene, "pressure on the president from allies, especially in Europe and the Arab world, is considered certain to increase now that the American election is over. On Wednesday, for example, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain said the pursuit of peace in the Middle East should be the highest priority in Mr. Bush's second term."

World Watch

Carla Anne Robbins writes in the Wall Street Journal: "In the wake of President Bush's re-election, foreign leaders as well as administration insiders are asking each other a question: Which George Bush now will lead the U.S. in the world? Will it be the 'with us or against us' unilateralist of the Iraq war, or the champion of multilateralism who emerged in the final weeks of the campaign?. . . .

"Hard-liners, both inside the administration and out, already are talking privately about a second-term agenda that could include pulling out of the nuclear test-ban treaty or pushing for 'regime change' in Iran, North Korea and Syria."

Need a Campaign Fix?

I refuse to read this story. But a cursory glance suggests that Jill Lawrence is looking at the possible 2008 presidential contenders in USA Today.

Dog Days at the White House

Anne Schroeder writes in The Washington Post: "The pitter-patter of little feet -- fine, paws -- will soon be heard throughout the halls of the White House.

"Yesterday marked Laura Bush's 58th birthday and the prez had a great idea for what he'll give the love of his life: Another Scottie puppy! . . .

"What's more, Miss Beazley, as the pup will be called, is actually a relative of their little Barney and was born Oct. 28 in the same New Jersey kennel as Barney."

The name was chosen by the 22-year-old Bush twins, after the character Uncle Beazley, a dinosaur in Oliver Butterworth's children's book, "The Enormous Egg."

McClellan said that Barney's half brother is Miss Beazley's father.

But Jonathan Casiano reports in the Newark Star-Ledger that "Miss Beazley is actually Barney's niece, since both Barney and her father were sired by the same dog."

Here's a big picture of her litter. Miss Beazley, just one week old, is third down from top center, and that's her mother, Blackwatch Elizabeth, on the right. She'll be home for Christmas.


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