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White House Briefing: Dan Froomkin

El Presidente Speaks

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, October 22, 2004; 11:36 AM

President Bush granted two interviews to Spanish-language television networks yesterday.

In one interview, Telemundo's Pedro Sevcec gave Bush yet another chance to admit a mistake. But no dice.

Here's an English-language excerpt of the interview, from NBC's Today show.

Sevcec: "Some people in the community told me, when I talk about you, 'He's a very good man, he's a man of values, but he's very stubborn. He doesn't accept sometimes that maybe he made a mistake.' "

Bush: "It's very important for people to know that I listen to very smart, capable people. As I make a decision, you know I listen. But on big matters, when I make a decision, I stand on principle.

"And it's very important for people to recognize that in this dangerous world, America must not show weakness, or uncertainty that will lead to tragedy. So I'm thoughtful, I listen, I respect the opinion of others, but this is a job, where there's, you know, where the buck stops here."

The Associated Press reports that Bush talked on Univision about his support for offering temporary legal status to immigrants who want jobs that go unfilled by United States citizens.

" 'I recognize that people are coming here to work,' Bush said. . . . 'And while they're doing jobs that aren't filled by Americans, I think there should be a temporary worker program and a card that helps the workers and employers who want them.' "

The AP also reports that in the Telemundo interview, "Bush said he deserves the support of Hispanics in the Nov. 2 election because of his plans for security, education, and health care. Bush also expressed gratitude to Hispanic families that have lost loved ones in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, adding that they died for a noble cause."

The interviews were in English but translated into Spanish by the networks.

Aquí está el texto de la entrevista de Univision. Y aquí está el video.

El presidente also says he thinks Osama bin Laden will be captured, although: "No sabemos exactamente dónde está."

Bush's Record on Terror

In an extensive analysis of Bush's record on terrorism, Barton Gellman and Dafna Linzer conclude in The Washington Post that the war in Iraq drained resources from the battle against Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The story also raises questions about the effectiveness of Bush's overall strategy against al Qaeda -- and suggests that Bush may be inflating the manhunt's success in his reelection bid.

"The contention that the Iraq invasion was an unwise diversion in confronting terrorism has been central to Kerry's critique of Bush's performance," Gellman and Linzer write.

And apparently that view has been shared by some of those who have helped manage Bush's offensive as well.

"Interviews with those advisers also highlight an internal debate over Bush's strategy against al Qaeda and allied jihadists, which has stressed the 'decapitation' of the network by capturing or killing leaders, but which has had less success in thwarting recruitment of new militants."

And many military and intelligence officials told Gellman and Linzer that the military alone cannot defeat the enemy. For instance: "Retired Army Gen. Wayne A. Downing, who was summoned to lead the White House Office for Combating Terrorism a few weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, said the war has been least successful where it has the highest stakes: slowing the growth of jihadist sympathies in populations that can provide the terrorists with money, concealment and recruits."

Here's what we in the news business call the "nut graf": "Twenty months after the invasion of Iraq, the question of whether Americans are safer from terrorism because Saddam Hussein is no longer in power hinges on subjective judgment about might-have-beens. What is not in dispute, among scores of career national security officials and political appointees interviewed periodically since 2002, is that Bush's choice had opportunity costs -- first in postwar Afghanistan, then elsewhere. Iraq, they said, became a voracious consumer of time, money, personnel and diplomatic capital -- as well as the scarce tools of covert force on which Bush prefers to rely -- that until then were engaged against al Qaeda and its sources of direct support."

The articles also says that "classified government tallies . . . suggest that Bush and Vice President Cheney have inflated the manhunt's success in their reelection bid."

Frances Fragos Townsend, the current White House counterterrorism and homeland security adviser, was asked to back up the administration's assertion that three-quarters of known al Qaeda leaders as of 9/11 are dead or in custody. Townsend "said she would have to consult a list. White House spokeswoman Erin Healy referred follow-up questions to the FBI. Spokesmen for the FBI, the National Security Council and the CIA did not respond to multiple telephone calls and e-mails."

New Stump Speech?

ABC News's Note notes that ABC's Terry Moran is reporting "that the president will unveil a new stump speech focusing on five 'issues of consequence before the voters': 1) national security; 2) family budgets (taxes); 3) 'quality of life' (health care and education); 4) retirement security (Social Security and Medicare); and 5) family values. Bush will say he has a plan for each, and Kerry does not."

Not So Funny

Remember the jokes Bush made at a black-tie dinner in March about not finding weapons of mass destruction?

I wrote at some length in my March 26 column about the swift backlash.

To jog your memory: Bush, at the annual Radio and Television Correspondents' Association's dinner, narrated a slide show, called the "White House Election-Year Album," which included shots of him looking under a table, out a window, and so on -- accompanied by remarks such as "Those weapons of mass destruction must be somewhere!" and "Nope, no weapons over there!" and "Maybe under here?"

Now video clips from the dinner are part of a new ad from an anti-Bush group called Win Back Respect, interspersed with remarks from a woman who says: "My brother died looking for weapons of mass destruction."

For old time's sake, here's a grainy video from MSNBC of the Bush speech in its entirety. The White House never released the photos.

Meanwhile, Liz Sidoti of the Associated Press reports on the latest Bush/Cheney ad: "President Bush's campaign, using powerful imagery of prowling wolves, suggests the country under John Kerry would be vulnerable to terrorists in a new television ad that says 'weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm.' "

Here's the video of "Wolves."

The Daily Slugfest

Dana Milbank and Lois Romano write in The Washington Post: "President Bush and Democrat John F. Kerry vied for advantage Thursday on the closely watched issue of health care, with the challenger demanding an end to Bush's restrictions on federal embryonic stem cell research and the president calling for new restrictions on medical malpractice awards.

"As they delivered their dueling themes in adjacent battleground states -- Kerry in Ohio and Bush here in Pennsylvania -- the two gave decidedly different views of the American health care system and proposals for fixing it. Kerry emphasized the growing number of uninsured Americans during Bush's presidency, and Bush said Kerry would push the nation toward government-run health care. . . .

"Polls give Kerry an advantage on health issues, and Bush has not kept his 2000 campaign promise to reduce the number of uninsured Americans. The ranks of uninsured increased by 5 million people during his tenure."

Richard W. Stevenson writes in the New York Times: "President Bush spent Thursday battling to take Pennsylvania out of the Democratic column by seeking support from Roman Catholic voters and mocking Senator John Kerry's health care plan as an 'overpriced albatross.' "

Nick Anderson and Edwin Chen write in the Los Angeles Times: "President Bush decried 'junk lawsuits' and 'the litigation culture' Thursday in an impassioned plea for limits on medical malpractice liability -- a cause he has promoted heavily in the closing days of his reelection campaign, even though voters rarely cite it as a major concern."

And they note: "Findings from a variety of analysts suggest that some of the president's concerns are overstated."

Here are the transcripts of Bush's speeches in Downington and Hershey, Pa.

Protest Watch

Milbank and Romano also note: "As the Cheneys greeted supporters following the Wisconsin speech, Andrew DeBaker, a gay activist and accountant who said he is a registered Republican, yelled out to ask why Lynne Cheney did not support allowing her daughter Mary, who is a lesbian, to wed. Angry supporters sought to drown out DeBaker by yelling 'Four more years!' before he was removed from the event.

" 'Either he doesn't love his daughter . . . or he's spineless,' DeBaker later said of the vice president. He said he feels 'betrayed by my party.' Cheney and Bush support a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage."

Bush and the Judiciary

Neil A. Lewis writes in the New York Times that "after more than three years of battles over judicial appointments, Mr. Bush's ambitions for the courts are clear, but his record is mixed. He has succeeded in placing staunch conservatives on the bench in many cases but has been foiled in others by Senate Democrats like Charles E. Schumer of New York who charge him with trying to 'create the most ideological bench in history.'

"The conflict between the White House and the Democrats has been particularly sharp, in part because Democrats reasoned that Mr. Bush could not claim any mandate to remake the courts, given his contested victory over Al Gore. With the nation now preparing to elect a president who will almost certainly have an opportunity to name at least one Supreme Court justice, Democrats and Republicans remain deeply entrenched in their positions over who belongs on the bench."

Cabinet Crystal Ball

Mike Allen writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush plans major changes in his Cabinet if he wins a second term -- perhaps nominating the first female defense secretary and first black attorney general -- but very little change among the small group of his closest advisers.

"Public talk about the second-term lineup is verboten around the White House, since officials realize it would look presumptuous and even foolish with the race so close. But Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. and senior adviser Karl Rove have a mental list of likely switches, according to colleagues, and people close to the White House are chattering about the possibilities."

Over at the Justice Department, for instance: "Friends say that Attorney General John D. Ashcroft realizes he would be unlikely to be asked to stay on. The president has hinted he would be interested in hiring Larry D. Thompson, Ashcroft's former deputy. Thompson would be the first African American to hold the job."

Jim VandeHei has a companion piece on a possible Kerry cabinet.

Who Gets the Benefit of the Doubt?

Reading the wires today, it's a bit jarring to see a two-point lead for Bush called a "slim two-point lead" -- while a three-point lead for Kerry is called "a tie."

Will Lester writes for the Associated Press: "Many voters are dissatisfied with President Bush's job performance but uneasy about Democrat John Kerry's ability to protect the nation, according to an Associated Press poll that found the two presidential candidates locked in a tie."

The AP poll shows Kerry leading bush 49-46 in a poll with a margin of error of 3.

John Whitesides writes for Reuters: "President Bush holds a slim two-point lead on Democratic rival John Kerry in the stretch run of a tight race for the White House, according to a Reuters/Zogby poll released on Friday."

Bush lead Kerry 47 to 45 in that poll, which has a margin of error of 2.9.

A Lack of Urgency?

Anne E. Kornblut and Rick Klein write in the Boston Globe: "Given the intensity of the campaign so far and the neck-and-neck nature of opinion polls, the lack of urgency in the Bush campaign is remarkable."

They note that Bush is engaging in "a relatively moderate travel schedule and an unusually narrow list of targeted travel states. . . .

"Always fond of returning to his own bed at the end of the day, Bush has spent six out of the last seven nights at the White House, stepping off the campaign trail some days in time to catch the baseball playoffs. This weekend -- less than two weeks before the election, typically a time for frenzied barnstorming -- Bush is planning to spend two consecutive nights far from any battleground, at his ranch in Crawford, Texas."

Special note: The tinfoil hat brigade is convinced that the Crawford time on the schedule is a ploy to cover for a secret trip to Baghdad, for a last-minute publicity stunt.

The Effect of the War

Edward Epstein writes in the San Franciso Chronicle: "George W. Bush is the latest president to learn that wars tend to turn elections into referendums on the presidents who wage them and that Americans like a winner, not a president or his party's chosen successor who seem bogged down in an unwinnable conflict.

"Polls show the Republican president in a close race with Democrat John Kerry heading into the Nov. 2 election in which the Iraq war remains a centerpiece issue. But those same polls indicate that voters haven't decided yet if they want to stick with Bush's strategy for the war or switch to Kerry, who in the tradition of rivals running against wartime presidents is vague about what he would do differently."

Competing Realities, Cont'd

A new study out from the University of Maryland finds: "Even after the final report of Charles Duelfer to Congress saying that Iraq did not have a significant WMD program, 72% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq had actual WMD (47%) or a major program for developing them (25%). Fifty-six percent assume that most experts believe Iraq had actual WMD and 57% also assume, incorrectly, that Duelfer concluded Iraq had at least a major WMD program. Kerry supporters hold opposite beliefs on all these points.

"Similarly, 75% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda, and 63% believe that clear evidence of this support has been found. Sixty percent of Bush supporters assume that this is also the conclusion of most experts, and 55% assume, incorrectly, that this was the conclusion of the 9/11 Commission. Here again, large majorities of Kerry supporters have exactly opposite perceptions."

Laura Bush Watch

Mike Allen of The Washington Post catches up with the first lady in New Hampshire, on her last solo swing of the campaign.

"Laura Bush's schedule is one of the few overt ways that the Bush campaign has worked to reach swing voters, and she has cagily left the impression that she is more moderate than her husband on abortion, gay marriage and other social issues. During an interview in the back of her campaign bus as it rolled through the oranges and browns of New England fall, she left no doubt there are differences, without spelling them out.

" 'I understand why he has the opinions he has. He understands why I have the opinions I have,' she said. 'But we don't argue issues -- we've been married too long to spend a lot of time arguing issues. Besides that, we have an opponent to argue the issues.' . . .

"The first lady said she and her husband would be 'devastated, of course' if they lost, but she is looking ahead to her plans to expand the native-grass restoration program at the ranch in Crawford."

Caren Bohan writes for Reuters: "First Lady Laura Bush said on Thursday that her husband has long consultations with advisers before making decisions, disputing a recent report that he sometimes relies primarily on gut instincts.

"The president 'talks at great length' with advisers before arriving at a conclusion, Mrs. Bush said, disagreeing with a recent New York Times article's portrayal of her husband, although she allowed that instincts were part of the process."

Today's Calendar

Bush will speak today in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., then move on to Canton, Ohio, and St. Petersburg, Fla.

Campaign Postcards

Washington Post campaign reporters are filing insider stuff in washingtonpost.com Campaign Postcards.

Michael Laris writes about Cheney's mocking response to Kerry's hunting trip yesterday.

Dana Milbank reports on the dire lack of bathrooms at a Bush rally in Pennsylvania.

He writes: "As it happens, there were other bathrooms in the facility, but the Bush campaign and the Secret Service shut those off for their exclusive use. Reporters were briefly allowed to use the White-House-only facilities, and this correspondent found three vacant urinals inside. Soon after this men's room encounter, the reporters' bathroom privileges were revoked."

Department of Pure and Premature Speculation

Ken Herman writes for the Cox News Service: "This just in from the Department of Pure and Premature Speculation: It's not out of the question that George W. Bush, if ousted in November, could run again in 2008. . . .

"Win or lose is this Bush's last campaign?

" 'Yeah,' longtime Bush adviser Karl Rove said, apparently before really grasping the ramifications of the question.

"It is Bush's last campaign, Rove said, because 'he is going to win.'

"But another top Bush aide, speaking privately last week on the day of the final debate, acknowledged that the notion of a November loss and a 2008 comeback has crossed his mind. The aide, aware that such out-of-school talk would not be welcomed in the Bush campaign, declined to speak on the record."

Bringing Down the House

Deborah Orin writes in the New York Post: "President Bush's dad had them rolling in the aisles last night at the Al Smith charity dinner, telling how his wife, Barbara, is ready to clobber John Kerry for all his attacks on their son.

" 'Barbara gets her hands on Senator Kerry, he's going to need another Purple Heart,' former President George H.W. Bush told the crowd at the dinner, sponsored by the Catholic Archdiocese of New York at the Waldorf. . . .

"The elder Bush also seemed to nod at the dinner sponsors' anti-abortion stance, wryly telling of what it's like to visit San Francisco 'in a presidential car as a Republican.'

"He said he was greeted by 'the ugliest group of people I had ever seen,' including one, a woman, who brandished a sign saying, 'Stay out of my Womb.'

"The ex-president brought the house down by quipping, 'No problem, lady.' "

Bush the elder also acknowledged Bush the younger's long history of mangling English, describing how the "current president once wrote a paper in which he insisted that in 1519, Magellan 'set out to circumcise the world.' "


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