An insider's guide to the upcoming week

Monday, March 24, 2008

Less in Tune, and Better for It?

Kevin Rudd has a tough act to follow. The new Australian prime minister arrives Friday for his first visit to Washington since taking office in December. The trip comes weeks after John Howard, Rudd's predecessor, made a valedictory visit.

Howard, a stalwart ally of President Bush, was honored with the Irving Kristol Award from the American Enterprise Institute, and he used the occasion of his address to describe himself "as an unapologetic and continuing advocate of the broad conservative cause." Those conservative bona fides -- the kind that earn people commemorative crystal bowls from AEI -- were part of what made Howard's relationship with Bush such a close one.

"I like to say that they had a Vulcan mind meld. They were both very similar people, socially conservative as well as politically conservative," said Michael Fullilove, a fellow at Sydney's Lowy Institute for International Policy and at Washington's Brookings Institution. "The challenge is to keep the relationship strong and maintain and increase our level of influence."

Fullilove, who advised Paul Keating, Howard's predecessor, said that while many in the White House probably would have preferred to see Howard stay in office, Rudd's victory is actually, in a sense, better for the U.S.-Australia alliance.

"The previous government was in danger of loving the alliance to death," he said. "My belief is that because the Howard government was so close to the Bush administration and widely perceived as not being independent enough on Iraq, on climate change, that was actually damaging the alliance in the eyes of the Australians."

It turns out that Bush and Rudd are set to discuss Iraq, Afghanistan and climate change, among other issues.

Egging On: Tomorrow, there will be ample time for the president to discuss with his Cabinet the annual Social Security and Medicare trustees reports, to receive a Pentagon briefing, meet with the king of Bahrain, and celebrate Greek Independence Day.

But this morning, it's all about the eggs.

The annual Easter Egg Roll, a tradition since 1878, will draw about 22,000 people and involve more than 15,000 eggs. Special guests who will be reading to children at the event include first lady Laura Bush, daughter Jenna, mother-in-law Barbara, and a number of Cabinet secretaries, including Henry M. Paulson Jr., Elaine L. Chao, Carlos M. Gutierrez and Margaret Spellings.

Other boldface names are expected, too, including NFL Hall of Famer Troy Aikman and, perhaps more recognizable to the 7-and-unders, who can actually participate in the egg roll, Christopher and Kyle Massey, stars of Nickelodeon and Disney hits, respectively.

Swinging Through: President Bush heads to the swing state of Ohio on Thursday to deliver a speech on the Iraq war at Dayton's National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, and to attend a Republican National Committee fundraiser in Bellbrook.

On his way back to Washington that night, he will stop off in the Pittsburgh suburb of Sewickley, Pa., for another fundraiser.

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