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'Protocols' Left Bush Out of the Loop

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By Jim VandeHei
Saturday, May 14, 2005

The nation was put on red alert. The first lady was rushed to a super-secure location. Thousands of people ran for their lives. Yet government protocols apparently didn't call for the commander in chief to be interrupted from a noontime bike ride on Wednesday when an errant plane entered Washington's restricted airspace.

That is the message put out by the White House the past two days. "The protocols that we put in place after September 11 were being followed," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Thursday. "They did not require presidential authority for this situation."

So Bush kept on biking through the trails of rural Maryland, oblivious to the chaos miles away until 36 minutes after the all-clear was sounded.

McClellan said there have been similar (false) scares that did not require Bush's immediate attention.

"This was a situation where the president was in an off-site location," McClellan said. "He was not in danger, a situation where protocols have been put in place to address the situation. The protocols were followed." Just to make sure the point was clear, McClellan used the word "protocols" 34 times in Thursday's briefing alone.

While he did not say "protocols" that many times at yesterday's briefing, the message was the same. In an interview later, McClellan added that Bush was fine with how the situation was handled.

The protocols, which detail how to handle possible terrorist situations, such as when to shoot down an incoming plane, are secret. But this much is clear: The president does not necessarily have to be notified and does not have to give the green light to take out a plane.

The president also tried to deflect concern about being out of the loop, telling an audience yesterday, with a grin, "I strongly urge you to exercise on a regular basis." Eric Dezenhall, a Washington-based crisis-management consultant, said the president's role reinforces the scariest aspect of the episode. "The question becomes 'Do we know what we're doing when this stuff happens? The answer is that it's a crisis. Nobody does know what they're doing."

Democrats to Get New Think Tank

Do the Democrats need another think tank to help them figure out their future? A coalition of liberals and centrists believes so, but with a twist: It will be a think tank for politics, not for policy.

The New Politics Institute (NPI) will leave it to others to develop a future policy agenda for the party. Simon Rosenberg, founder of the New Democrat Network and the inspiration behind the new institute, said the new group will study what the rise of the conservative movement, anticipated demographic changes in the country and the "post-broadcasting" world of new media mean for Democrats' hopes of winning elections.

"Until we can really get our act together and win elections, all the policy white papers aren't going to do us a lot of good," said Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, whose Daily Kos is one of the most popular political blogs on the Internet and who is an adviser to the institute.

The NPI will have a budget of $1.5 million to $2 million, and funding will come primarily from Andy and Deborah Rappaport, California philanthropists. Other advisers include a cross section of centrists and liberals, among them Joe Trippi, who was for a time Howard Dean's presidential campaign manager; Gina Glantz of the Service Employees International Union; pollster Mark Penn; organizer Cecile Richards, president of America Votes; and pollster Sergio Bendixen, an expert on Hispanic trends.

Quotable

"Occupation: queen."

-- From a White House briefing-book biography of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands prepared for President Bush's European trip.

Staff writer Dan Balz contributed to this report.


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