By Dan Eggen
Monday, July 28, 2008
P resident Bush plans to make a politically risky stop in South Korea early next month, after months of street protests over an accord on U.S. beef imports and continuing controversy over six-party nuclear talks with the neighboring communist dictatorship, North Korea.
But Bush will probably travel to Seoul without a new U.S. ambassador to greet him. Appointment of D. Kathleen Stephens, the administration's nominee, has been blocked since spring by Senate conservatives, who believe human rights issues should be more prominent in the North Korea talks.
Stephens is a 30-year Foreign Service officer. She speaks Korean, served in the Peace Corps in the country, and even worked and lived there using a Korean name, Shim Eun-kyung, according to news reports.
Her troubles appear to stem largely from her latest posting as deputy to Christopher Hill, the chief U.S. envoy to the talks on North Korea. That puts Stephens on the wrong side of many conservatives, who distrust Hill and think the United States has given up too much in removing North Korea from its list of terrorist states and in easing trade restrictions against Pyongyang.
Stephens also had a one-on-one meeting that did not go well with Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who placed a hold on her nomination in April. Brownback said in a floor statement that Stephens was "highly qualified" but that he "did not get satisfactory answers" from her about human rights issues. He also criticized the State Department as unwilling to "confront the North Koreans on human rights abuses."
White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said that "we share Senator Brownback's concerns about human rights abuses in North Korea, and are working with the Senate to ensure that Kathleen Stephens will be confirmed as soon as possible."
But several other conservative GOP senators support Brownback, and neither administration officials nor legislative aides see much chance of a breakthrough before Bush's trip to Asia, which also will take him to Thailand and the opening of the Summer Games in Beijing.
The impasse leaves the outgoing ambassador, Alexander Vershbow, still in place. He is viewed as taking more of a hard line on North Korea than Hill and his allies.Family Night at the GOP Convention
The White House announced last week that Bush will speak on the first night of the GOP convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul. What was not announced is that first lady Laura Bush will also take a turn at the podium before the president speaks on Sept. 1.
Laura Bush won't be introducing the president, but she will give a five- to eight-minute speech on an as-yet-undetermined topic, according to her press secretary, Sally McDonough. It's not a new role for her: She spoke at the past two conventions, seeking to humanize her husband (in 2004) by recounting how she watched him weigh "grim scenarios and ominous intelligence" around the dinner table.
Laura Bush, who also will be the guest at a luncheon in her honor that day, may be one Bush that John McCain's operation will be delighted to hear from in Minneapolis. One question is whether the president and the GOP candidate will appear together at the convention. Since March, they have appeared together in public only once, during a fleeting encounter on an airport tarmac in Arizona.Snow Family Gets Tour of Air Force One
President Bush had some special guests on Air Force One on Friday. The widow of former press secretary Tony Snow, Jill Snow, and her three children -- Kendall, Robbie and Kristi-- accompanied the president and got a tour of the presidential plane on a trip by Bush to a GOP fundraiser in Peoria, Ill.
Tony Snow, 53, died on July 12 after a long battle with cancer. Bush attended his funeral.
White House press secretary Dana Perino told reporters aboard Air Force One that Jill Snow and her children took the president up on an offer to come on a trip with him.
"The family decided that they would like to, so they're on board," Perino said. "They got a tour of the plane and they're up with the president now, and they'll be coming with -- just coming along for the ride, for the event. And hopefully we'll be able to show them a little bit about what Tony Snow did on a trip like this, and hopefully give them a little bit of comfort along the way if we can."Don't Tell Anybody -- Right!
Is anything truly private in the age of YouTube?
During a closed fundraiser in Tucson month, President Bush urged attendees to turn off any recording devices. "I don't know a lot about technology, but I do know about YouTube," Bush said, according to an insider quoted by the Arizona Daily Star.
Bush's fears came true last week, when video of his remarks at a similar fundraiser in Houston burst onto the airwaves and the Internet. The video featured Bush, standing at a presidential lectern, making somewhat un-presidential remarks about the economic troubles facing the nation.
"Wall Street got drunk -- that's one of the reasons I asked you to turn off the TV cameras -- it got drunk and now it's got a hangover," Bush said. "The question is, how long will it sober up and not try to do all these fancy financial instruments?"
Asked about the widely viewed video, Perino told reporters that the remarks were, well, unremarkable: "I don't think the criticism is any different -- it's just said with a little bit more candor and more bluntly.
"The president was at a private residence at a private fundraiser, and obviously everybody got a chance to see that because someone decided to release some video of it," she said. "It is what it is."Targeting Rove, and Other Matters
Some Bush-hater updates:
First, Brave New Films, a liberal video-production and activist group, says it has gathered more than 100,000 online signatures on a petition to be delivered next week that urges the House Judiciary Committee to endorse a contempt of Congress citation for former presidential adviser Karl Rove, who refused to show up for testimony.
The Culver City, Calif.-based group tentatively plans a Washington news conference Tuesday and has launched a subtly titled Web site, http://www.sendkarlrovetojail.com, to emphasize its point.
"We're trying to leverage as much pressure on the Judiciary Committee as possible before they vote," group spokesman Eddie Kurtz said.
The committee has already approved contempt citations for former White House counsel Harriet Miers and White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten, so the odds would seem to be in the group's favor.
Meanwhile, in San Francisco, the tongue-in-cheek drive to rename a local sewage plant in honor of President Bush is moving ahead. Organizers submitted more than 12,000 signatures to the city elections office this month, putting the measure on the ballot in November.Quote of the Week
"And then we got a housing issue . . . not in Houston, and evidently not in Dallas, because Laura's over there trying to buy a house. [Laughter] I like Crawford, but, unfortunately, after eight years of sacrifice, I am apparently no longer the decision-maker."
-- President Bush, on his wife's post-presidency housing plans, at the private Houston fundraiser that ended up on YouTube.