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White House Briefing: Dan Froomkin

Bush's Two Minds

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, March 28, 2005; 5:46 PM

For a guy who's so resolute, President Bush is apparently of two minds when it comes to the Terri Schiavo case. First he dramatically rushes back to the White House in an effort to intervene, then he retreats into silence.

So what's going on? Is he caught in the rift between the social conservative and libertarian wings of his party? Is it a political reaction to bad polling numbers? Was he dragged against his will into intervening in the first place? And what's Karl Rove's role in all this?

Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post: "The juxtaposition of racing through the night in Air Force One to sign legislation intended to force doctors to reinsert Schiavo's feeding tube and choosing not to use his bully pulpit to advocate for her life afterward demonstrates how uncomfortable the matter has become for the White House. For years, Bush has succeeded politically in stitching together the disparate elements of the conservative movement, marrying the libertarian and family-values wings of his party. Now he faces a major Republican rupture."

Time magazine has a new poll out, showing that only 24 percent of those polled said Bush was right to intervene; 70 percent said he was not; and 65 percent said Congress and the president's intervention had more to do with politics than with values and principles.

Blogger Rory Parnell, who monitors the Sunday Morning talk shows, called the blogosphere's attention to this intriguing question posed by George Stephanopoulous to one of his panelists on ABC News's This Week:

"George F. Will -- according to some of the reporting I've seen, the president actually resisted calls from the members of Congress to get involved and to fly back at the last minute. Should have followed his instincts?" (Will said he should have.)

But where's this reporting of which Stephanopoulous speaks?

The closest I've found is this assertion made just moments later by another of Stephanopoulous's panelists, John Dickerson, White House correspondent for Time magazine:

"One thing that was interesting that I found in my reporting is Republicans on the Hill were saying they called the White House and said, 'Look, if we're going to do this tough thing, we've all got to jump together,' and that's what brought the plane back. And the White House thought, 'If we need Republicans on the Hill for Social Security reform, for these tough budget cuts, we're going to have to show them that on this tough one we're with them.' "

Well if so, who is it at the "White House" Dickerson is talking about?

All Roads Lead to Karl

Richard W. Stevenson writes in the New York Times that senior adviser Karl Rove, who recently added deputy chief of staff to his title, is assuming an even more expansive role in the White House, "bringing the same intensity to the big issues in Mr. Bush's second-term agenda that he brought to the president's re-election campaign."

Stevenson writes that "the intensity of Mr. Rove's involvement in politics and policy makes his current status unusual and gives him remarkably broad authority inside the White House and out. And in giving Mr. Rove his new title, Mr. Bush, freed from the need to think about re-election, seemed to acknowledge what everyone in Washington knows: that in this administration, as in all others, politics and policy are inextricably intertwined. . . .

" 'All roads lead to Karl,' said Kenneth J. Duberstein, a Republican lobbyist who was the White House chief of staff under President Ronald Reagan and is now part of Mr. Rove's vast network of informal advisers and intelligence gatherers."

And here's a special treat for my fellow attribution-parsing wonks: Stevenson writes that "as administration officials tell it, nothing fundamental has changed in his power or his role, and his additional title does not portend a more aggressive melding of political and policy concerns." Then, in the very next sentence, he writes: "Mr. Rove declined to be quoted for this article."

I wonder: Who might one of those unquoted-by-name "administration officials" be?

The Times also has a nifty graphic showing the "levers of influence" Rove wields with people on the policy and politics side of things, including "his nominal boss, Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff."

No wonder Card is said to be mulling a run for Massachusetts governor.

Turning On Their Own

Meanwhile, Larry Copeland writes for USA Today that the zealous protesters outside Schiavo's hospice are now turning against their former champions.

"Among the messages on protest signs Sunday: 'Barbara Bush: Are you proud of your sons now?' 'Stop the American Holocaust!' 'Send in the National Guard!' "

That Other Story

Adam Entous reports for Reuters: "President Bush broke his public silence on Saturday about the deadliest U.S. school shooting in six years, touting the government's response 'at this tragic time' after some American Indian leaders complained he paid little attention to the rampage."

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

Bush on Friday called Floyd Jourdain, chairman of the Red Lake Chippewa tribe, to offer his condolences.

But, Entous reports: "Clyde Bellecourt, a Chippewa Indian who is the founder and national director of the American Indian Movement in Red Lake, said Bush's response came too late. . . .

" 'He does not have any problems flying in to restore the feeding tube to Terri Schiavo. I'm sure if this happened in some school in Texas and a bunch of white kids were shot down, he would have been there too,' Bellecourt said."

The shooting was last Monday. Deputy White House press secretary Dana Perino, in a conference call with pool reporters on Friday, told them Bush had tried calling Jourdain a couple of times on Thursday, but didn't connect, getting voice mail instead.

And yet, I'm betting the White House can track someone down pretty fast if they really want to.

WMD Watch

That White House WMD commission we have been trying to keep an eye on over the past year or so will finally issue its findings this week.

Michael Isikoff and Daniel Klaidman write in Newsweek that one of the big problems the 9/11 Commission blamed for the failure to detect the hijacking plot was the "stovepiping" of information.

"This week the White House intelligence panel -- headed by federal Judge Laurence Silberman and former Virginia governor Charles Robb -- is expected to unveil its sobering report detailing how many of the same problems remain more than three years later. . . .

"The report, one U.S. intelligence official told Newsweek, is 'tough' on all the agencies, and will highlight gaps in the U.S. government's knowledge of the nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea. 'Everybody takes a hit,' says an intelligence source. . . .

"Intelligence failures leading up to the Iraq war figure prominently in the report. The president famously relied on the CIA's 'slam dunk' case that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. But the panel was struck by the discovery that intelligence analysts at the State Department and the Department of Energy were far more skeptical, and in the end more accurate, about Iraq's stockpiles."

Will they address why those analyses were ignored? Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, Walter Pincus writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush's executive order last August that established the new National Counterterrorism Center and the intelligence reform legislation that he signed in December have created conflicts in counterterrorism policy that need to be resolved, according to a report released last week by the Congressional Research Service (CRS)."

The Federation of American Scientists has that report.

Happy President

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "George W. Bush has been acting like a man liberated from the American presidency. . . .

"Is this a new George Bush?

"White House officials insist not and say that the frisky president people are seeing in public is simply the one he has kept private for the last four years."

G. Robert Hillman, writing in the Dallas Morning News, tracks Bush's recent movements and correlates them to his passion for mountain biking.

Soggy Bunny

The White House Easter Egg Roll closed at 10 a.m. due to inclement weather.

Unclear whether comedian Mike Bent had his go. Dean Johnson of the Boston Herald talked to Bent about his planned performance: "Along with some flatulence humor, Bent said, there will be plenty of 'poopy jokes . . . and what I call a healthy dose of the booger factor in the show.' "

Office News

Alexis Simendinger of the National Journal writes: "As a second-term innovation to more effectively integrate President Bush's Cabinet secretaries into White House operations, Chief of Staff Andrew Card recently overhauled space in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and invited Cabinet members to each spend at least two hours a week working just a stone's throw from the Oval Office."

Today's Calendar

Bush doesn't get back to the White House until this afternoon, just in time to participate in Greek Independence Day festivities at the White House.

Easter Service

Julie Mason writes in the Houston Chronicle: "It was the third Easter in a row the president has left his Crawford ranch to visit Fort Hood, home to the 1st Cavalry Division, now returning from duty in Iraq. At least 90 1st Cavalry soldiers have died in combat and noncombat incidents in Iraq.

"The 4th Infantry Division, also based at Fort Hood, is preparing to return to Iraq in the fall. Members of the division were part of the March 2003 invasion of Iraq and served there for the war's first year. . . .

"The president was accompanied by his wife, Laura; his parents, former President Bush and Barbara Bush; twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara; and a young man identified as a friend of the family."

Press Room Watch

Jim VandeHei of The Washington Post has more on the possible renovation of the White House briefing room and adjacent workspace.

" 'My only concern is they use this as a Trojan horse to kick us out or shrink our space,' said White House reporter Ron Hutcheson, president of the White House Correspondents Association. 'I am in the trust-but-verify mode. There is nothing in there that sets off the alarms that there is a nefarious plan here.' "

And wouldn't this be neat: "One idea under consideration would be to wire the room for high-speed Internet access, which it lacks, and put microphones at each chair, which could help television viewers hear reporters' questions."

Here is a photo that shows the current state of the cubicles behind the press room.

Social Security Watch

Mike Glover writes for the Associated Press that the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), is holding real town meetings during the Easter recess. And look what happens.

"At each of Grassley's stops, Social Security is high on a list of topics that also include trade, farm policy and education. The mixed message he is getting is not the one the White House wanted when a week earlier Bush urged lawmakers to meet with people in their states and districts, then return to Washington ready to start exchanging ideas for a Social Security bill. . . .

"His verdict at week's end? 'I think it's very difficult for me to say today that we'll present a bill to the president.' "

Alison Fitzgerald and Michael Forsythe write for Bloomberg about a conflict within the economic assumptions underlying Bush's private-accounts pitch. Bush is using forecasts that call for slow economic growth but high stock returns. A majority of economists surveyed by Bloomberg said that if the economy slows as much as the White House is forecasting, then Bush's stock outlook is too optimistic. And if the economy grows faster than forecast, then Social Security's future is not as grim as he makes it sound.

Approval Ratings

I wrote in Friday's column about the tumble in Bush's approval ratings.

The latest Time magazine poll (see pollingreport.com) has it down five points, to 48 percent.

Ron Hutcheson, writing for Knight Ridder News Service about the Gallup Poll, which found Bush at an all-time low, finds a bright side: "Still, even at his current low point, Bush outscores every other recent president's low point since John F. Kennedy, who bottomed out with a 56 percent approval rating. Richard Nixon holds the modern record for the lowest approval rating -- 24 percent -- during the Watergate scandal, which forced his resignation.

"Bush's father, whose approval high was 89 percent after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, saw his rating plummet to 29 percent amid an economic downturn. Jimmy Carter's approval rating sank to 28 percent at his low point."

Cheney Watch

Paul Bedard writes in U.S. News and World Report: "Bush and senior White House strategists keep dragging Cheney away from his undisclosed locations to go on the road -- big time -- to promote Social Security restructuring. GOP focus groups show that Cheney's nonflamboyant, straightforward style tests well among elderly voters who need reassurance that Bush's plan for private retirement accounts won't jeopardize their existing benefits. Washington insiders say this is a sign that White House advisers finally realize how much trouble Bush's Social Security plan is in, because they need the veep to pull out all the stops."

OK, but why isn't the White House releasing transcripts of the Cheney events? I believe we're still waiting for the full text of his appearances on Thursday in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

In Britain's Independent, Rupert Cornwell sums up the draft-Cheney movement: "In short, why not put the power behind the throne on the throne?"

How to Penetrate the Oval

David Sanders, a columnist for a chain of small newspapers in Arkansas, describes one way to get invited to an exclusive Oval Office interview with the president: Call the White House and ask to see Karl Rove.

Sanders was invited to join five regional newspaper reporters in an interview that I described in my March 16 column.

Sanders writes: "A few weeks before, I'd requested an interview with Karl Rove, Bush's general strategist and newly titled deputy chief of staff. I had interviewed him a few years ago and found him extremely knowledgeable and quotable. I expected to get Rove on the phone for 10 or 15 minutes.

"My phone rang the next day. The person identified himself as a White House staff member. 'Would you like to come to the White House next Tuesday to interview the president?' he asked."


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