Bush's New Best Friend: Merkel Losing, Sarkozy Gaining?

A German official's harsh statements about President Bush's approach to global warming may cost Chancellor Angela Merkel brownie points with the Bush administration. That could work to the benefit of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, right, whose government was more measured in its assessment.
A German official's harsh statements about President Bush's approach to global warming may cost Chancellor Angela Merkel brownie points with the Bush administration. That could work to the benefit of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, right, whose government was more measured in its assessment. (By Gerald Herbert -- Associated Press)
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By Michael Abramowitz
Monday, April 21, 2008

With Tony Blair off the stage, Germany's Angela Merkel has been vying with Nicolas Sarkozy of France as President Bush's favorite European leader. But her candidacy may have suffered a fatal blow last week when the country's environment minister labeled Bush's latest announcement on global warming a "Neanderthal speech."

The president called for the growth in greenhouse gasses to halt by 2025, but did not offer the mandatory reductions and more ambitious targets favored by Germany and other European countries.

"Europe and the United States will have to show leadership here," proclaimed the statement from Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat in the coalition led by Christian Democrat Merkel. "But with his announcements, the President keeps hopelessly falling back behind the problems. His speech reveals losership, not leadership."

The ferocity of the comments took White House officials aback, and one administration official said the chancellor's office assured the U.S. Embassy in Berlin that Gabriel was not speaking for Merkel. Yet a German official noted that there has been no official retraction of Gabriel's statement, and that the government, in fact, thinks the U.S. proposals don't go far enough in addressing global warming.

Sarkozy's government was a bit more tactful. Bloomberg News quoted the French climate change ambassador as saying the Bush administration "woke up, but it's a bit late."

The comments were probably mild enough that one could call it a successful week for Sarkozy in the sweepstakes to be Bush's favorite: Is an invitation to Camp David or Crawford, Tex., in the offing before the president leaves office in January?

Turning on the Heat on Global Warming

Meanwhile, those in the other camp on global warming were breathing easier after what they considered a close call from Bush last week. In an e-mail to his friends and allies, Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute said he learned last Monday that Bush had been planning to give a more aggressive speech, in which he would call for mandatory targets on greenhouse gas emissions and cap-and-trade legislation for electric utilities.

Free-market and conservative groups e-mailed a hastily drafted letter of complaint to the White House, and Republicans on the Hill reacted negatively to the reports, according to Ebell's account, which claimed some credit for getting the White House to back off the cap-and-trade idea. White House spokesman Tony Fratto called Ebell's account "completely and categorically untrue."

In Ebell's view, the administration's position on global warming is incoherent because it is an amalgam of competing factions in the administration. "It's therefore no surprise that the main result of this speech, as of earlier speeches on global warming, was to put a Kick Me sign on the president's back," wrote Ebell, who did say the speech "could have been worse."

Alone, Again

ABC's Martha Raddatz is one of the more enterprising reporters on the White House beat, and quick thinking recently got her some unusual face time with the president. She was finishing up a 20-minute, on-camera interview with Bush at his ranch in Crawford this month when she asked the president if she could have a few minutes alone with him.

Sure, Bush replied, you can have more. So the two of them went into his office, Bush put up his feet on the desk, and they had a discussion about Iraq and foreign policy.

The private conversation lasted about 25 minutes, an extraordinary length of time for a president who always has aides present, even for off-the-record conversations with journalists.


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