On the Capitol Grounds, Grass Roots Rising
The people out on the West Lawn of the Capitol were the kind of God-fearing, flag-waving conservatives who usually adore President Bush. But not yesterday.
"The president doesn't want secure borders!" Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) shouted to the anti-immigration rally, organized by the Minuteman Project. "He has the resources to do so, but the unfortunate, dirty truth of the matter is he has no desire to do so."
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) denounced Bush's immigration policy, saying, "I personally will not vote for any legislation that has a guest worker program in it."
As demonstrators cheered and waved signs saying such things as "Bush Buries the Middle Class," talk-show host Terry Anderson summed up the mood. "The president sucks," he cried.
The fervor subsided only when two men dressed in brown and wearing swastikas goose-stepped toward the Minutemen and gave a Nazi salute. The men, straight out of "The Producers," handed out fliers encouraging the Minutemen to "end your alliance with the Republicans!!!" -- and join the American Nazi Party. Minuteman Project founder Jim Gilchrist called for an intermission "to resolve this situation."
There were no such theatrics inside the Capitol complex, but frustration with Bush was palpable, even among allies. Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-Tex.), a Bush guy through and through, said the White House budget for border enforcement is short "to the tune of millions of dollars." Asked after a meeting with border-county sheriffs if Bush was doing enough, Bonilla paused. "Uh, not yet," he said. "We're continuing to push."
Who's afraid of the Big Bad Bush?
Not Sen. Olympia J. Snowe. The Maine Republican lectured Treasury Secretary John W. Snow about an administration tax policy that was "putting the cart before the horse" and preserving a "devastating" tax on the middle class.
Not Sen. Arlen Specter. The Pennsylvania Republican called proposed cuts to Medicare and education in Bush's budget "scandalous."
Not Sen. John W. Warner. The Virginia Republican used the appearance of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at the Armed Services Committee to complain that poor oil, water and health facilities in Iraq are "going to obscure the gains that have been made."
And not Rep. Heather A. Wilson. The New Mexico Republican, in a tough reelection fight, defied the White House by demanding briefings on the administration's warrantless surveillance program and calling for legislation on it. "The checks and balances in our system of government are very important," she told reporters.
Painful cuts in Bush's budget proposal this week -- coming on top of low approval ratings, a lobbying scandal and worries about November's elections -- have made Republicans particularly brazen in their denunciations of their once-powerful POTUS.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) lectured OMB Director Joshua B. Bolten: "I believe if we impose a mandate on the states, we ought to pay the bill." Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) advised Bolten he was "not so impressed" with cuts in fossil-fuel research. And Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee (R-R.I.) came close to a DOA pronouncement when he said that "the president's budget proposal is only that: a proposal."
With regular Republicans acting as gadflies, the usual gadflies had to improve their game.
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) pronounced himself "a bit amused" by Vice President Cheney's concession that he'd be "willing to listen" to Congress about the surveillance program. "He's got a very skewed misunderstanding of the Constitution," Hagel told The Washington Post's Charles Babington. "It doesn't work that way. The Congress is a co-equal branch of government. . . . So to arrogantly say, 'We're willing to listen to them,' that's not good enough."
The attitude has, evidently, reached the grass roots. Out on the Capitol grounds yesterday, the conservative activists who filed past the Minuteman microphones were uniform in denouncing Bush and those in Congress who would have "guest worker" immigration programs. "To those who have betrayed their oath of office [and] want to welcome millions more illegal alien criminals, smugglers and even terrorists into our country via a so-called, fraud, guest worker program, we identify you as frauds," hollered Barbara Coe, a sponsor of California's anti-immigrant Proposition 187.
Gilchrist explained why the Minutemen were turning against old friends. "There comes a point when someone has to make a stand," he said.
Seconds later, the Minutemen spied the pair of Nazis marching toward them. "Nazis, go home!" Gilchrist called out, suddenly regaining his sense of partisan loyalty. "I don't want them in my party."