The Domesticated President

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, August 30, 2005 11:27 AM

Remember domestic policy?

After a month dominated by news about the Iraq war, President Bush yesterday weighed in on a handful of domestic issues. But changing the topic doesn't necessarily mean a break from controversy.

Bush was speaking to invitation-only audiences in Arizona and Southern California, ostensibly pitching the advantage of the new Medicare prescription-drug benefit that has been greeted skeptically by many seniors.

But Bush's speechwriters also threw in some brief comments on some of the hot-button domestic issues on the White House's agenda as Congress returns to Washington after Labor Day.

Immigration

Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush flew into the heart of the nation's volatile debate over illegal immigration Monday and defended his administration's efforts to control the nearby border with Mexico after a surge of criticism from across the political spectrum.

"Two weeks after the Democratic governors of Arizona and New Mexico declared states of emergency along the border, Bush used a Medicare speech here to promise residents an increasingly robust federal campaign that will deploy more agents and provide more detention space to stop those trying to sneak into the country."

Baker also notes that Bush was not able to escape the war protests entirely.

"Hundreds of protesters lined his motorcade routes in Arizona and California, holding up signs such as 'Bush the Lying Turd' and 'Chicken George,' a reference to his refusal to meet again with Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq who set up camp near his Texas ranch demanding an audience. A competing crowd gathered in California waving flags and signs such as 'Support Our President.'"

Peter Wallsten and Mark Z. Barabak write in the Los Angeles Times: "With increasingly fierce debates over border security exposing divisions in the Republican Party, President Bush on Monday endorsed a policy of strict border enforcement.

"His comments during appearances in California and Arizona were an apparent response to some state officials and conservatives in his own party who say the administration has failed to adequately address human trafficking from Mexico into the United States. . . .

"The president did not mention the emergency declarations, signed two weeks ago by Democratic Govs. Janet Napolitano of Arizona and Bill Richardson of New Mexico, that require the federal government to spend millions more combating human trafficking and, at the same time, paint the Bush administration as weak on immigration. Nor did he mention his own proposal for addressing the immigration crisis, one that is strongly opposed by many conservatives within his party: a guest worker program that would allow millions of undocumented immigrants to work and live in the United States legally.

"Instead, Bush offered language apparently designed to appease [his] growing chorus of critics. . . . He did not, as he had in the past, discuss the benefits of immigration or the value that immigrants bring to the U.S. economy."

Here's the text of his Arizona speech.

Here's the text from Southern California.

Social Security

Anne E. Kornblut writes in the New York Times from Rancho Cucamonga: "Five years after delivering a major campaign address here about the need to revamp Social Security, President Bush returned on Monday with a similar message, urging an overhaul of the retirement system as he celebrated changes to Medicare that will take effect at the beginning of next year. . . .

"In a nod to the political hurdles that have stalled his proposed changes to Social Security and to predictions that he may have to jettison his plans for individual retirement accounts altogether, Mr. Bush added, 'I'm going to keep working this issue.' "

Bush and the Hurricane

Michael Hedges writes in the Houston Chronicle: "President Bush's swift expression of concern for hurricane victims Monday reflected a recognition of the Bush family's mixed record with the politics of disaster, experts said. . . .

"In August 1992, after Hurricane Andrew flattened parts of South Florida, President George H.W. Bush swiftly visited the scene. But his gesture seemed hollow to many when it took several days for emergency supplies to arrive."

Flash forward to last summer, when four hurricanes ripped through Florida.

"The president responded with a massive outpouring of federal aid. The response by the Federal Emergency Management Agency initially was seen as robust and aggressive. Only later would FEMA be criticized for writing taxpayer-backed checks to those with dubious claims of damage."

Jennifer Loven writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush, urging prayer for Gulf Coast communities 'hit hard' Monday by Hurricane Katrina, weighed whether to release oil from petroleum reserves to help refiners, administration officials said. . . .

"Administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said Bush seemed likely to authorize a loan of some oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. But details remained in flux and no decision was imminent, they said.

"The expected move would be designed to give refineries in the area a temporary supply of crude oil to take the place of interrupted shipments from tankers or offshore oil platforms affected by the storm. It would not be intended to keep a lid on soaring gasoline prices."

Speaking of Gas Prices

What does Bush have to say about gas prices?

Here's a preview, from his Arizona speech: "I wish I could just snap my fingers and lower the price of gasoline for you. The markets don't work that way. I'd be snapping if I could do it. (Laughter.) But we've got a strategy and a plan to help you."

About That Medicare Plan

Ron Hutcheson writes for Knight Ridder Newspapers: "Shifting his focus from the war in Iraq to the home front, President Bush on Monday prodded sons and daughters to help their parents sign up for the new Medicare prescription-drug benefit."

Richard Benedetto writes in USA Today: "Bush tried to allay fears among seniors about signing up for the benefit."

Education, Unmentioned

John Harwood writes in the Wall Street Journal that education was a winning issue for Bush, for a while. But no more.

"Today the president's signal education achievement, the No Child Left Behind Act, is mired in controversy across the political spectrum. Democratic-leaning 'blue states' and Republican-leaning 'red states' are both complaining -- the former claiming inadequate funding and the latter resentful of what they consider federal mandates. A senior White House official says Democrats have regained a significant edge in public regard on education."

Johanna Neuman writes in the Los Angeles Times: "In his State of the Union address in January, President Bush hailed the progress of his No Child Left Behind Act in the nation's elementary schools and called on lawmakers to extend the program to high schools."

But that's not going to happen.

" 'The president's idea was dead on arrival,' said Robert Schaeffer, longtime public education director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. 'Now it is well beyond rigor mortis.' "

Poll Watch

Richard Morin writes on washingtonpost.com: "Slightly more than half of the country says President Bush should meet with Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed last year in Iraq, who is leading a protest against the war outside Bush's ranch in Crawford, Tex., according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

"The survey found that 52 percent of the public says Bush should talk to Sheehan, who has repeatedly asked for a meeting with the president, while 46 percent said he should not. Fifty-three percent support what she is doing while 42 percent oppose her actions, according to the poll."

Additional results from the Post-ABC News poll will be available at 5 p.m. today on washingtonpost.com.

The WWII Analogy

Liz Sidoti writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush, facing a public increasingly uncomfortable with his Iraq policies, is commemorating the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II while likening that 20th-century conflict to current wars.

"With a San Diego naval base as a backdrop Tuesday, the president was to praise World War II veterans in a speech two weeks after the anniversary of the Aug. 14, 1945, surrender by Japan that ended World War II."

Here is the text of White House spokesman Scott McClellan's gaggle on Air Force One yesterday.

"I think that there will be some comparisons there between the murderous ideology that we were -- that we joined together to defeat back in World War II and the murderous ideology that we're working to defeat today," McClellan said.

Valerie Plame Watch

A Financial Times commentary proposes "a new angle" on the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame "circulating inside the Justice Department."

"The mainstream media has focused on Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political guru, as the source of the original story identifying Plame," the FT writes.

Instead, the FT slyly raises questions about Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter currently in an Alexandria jail for refusing to reveal her sources.

Miller "published controversial articles on Iraq's effort to acquire weapons of mass destruction. . . .

"Plame herself is a CIA operative who also specialised in weapons of mass destruction and bio-terrorism. So did Miller get to know Plame while she was writing her book or even use her as a source for other WMD stories?"

Where's Arnold?

It's not clear precisely who's avoiding who.

But as Beth Fouhy writes for the Associated Press about Bush's trip to California: "Conspicuously absent is a meeting with the state's most prominent Republican political figure, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. . . .

"A statewide poll released last week by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California held bad news for both leaders. Only 38 percent of respondents said they approve of the job President Bush is doing in office. Schwarzenegger's job approval was just 34 percent."

A View on the Press Corps

Actress/novelist/playwright/essayist Cintra Wilson infiltrated the White House press corps last month.

In one passage, the newcomer recounts McCllellan asserting: "The president [also talked about] our strategy for prevailing in the war on terrorism and defeating the ideology that the terrorists espouse."

Writes Wilson: "Since this was my first exposure, in real time, to the administration's spin jingo, straight from the larynx of a living person, I was so stunned I emitted an involuntarily, hysterical gasp and one of McClellan's frozen über-blondes tried to turn me into a pillar of salt with a penetrating fish-eye.

"The corps is inured to this ideological Esperanto, but it is vertiginous and risible when you first hear it live -- compared to human conversation, it sounds absurd. . . .

"My first revelation: Nobody in the room asks questions like 'How does one militarily defeat an ideology, short of killing everyone who feels that way and their families, then destroying all writings ever produced about that ideology, and disappearing any scholars who've ever had a passing interest in it?' And/or 'Has the president noticed that historically, ideologies usually persist, despite genocide and other disincentives?'

"That's not how questions are asked in the briefing room. How it's done is far more complicated, Byzantine and ineffectual."

She concludes: "McClellan infantalizes the press corps. . . . his tone suggests your persistence in asking these awful questions means that you are crabby and need a nap."

Fleeing Crawford

Gersh Kuntzman writes in the New York Post: "The Rev. Al Sharpton was in such a hurry to get out of President Bush's neighborhood that his driver blew past a deputy sheriff at 110 mph and then led troopers on a nine-mile Texas chase before pulling over, authorities said."

But Dave Goldiner of the New York Daily News takes a different approach to the story.

"Rev. Al Sharpton smelled a rat the size of the Lone Star State after his volunteer driver was charged with leading cops on a 110-mph chase following Sunday's meeting with peace mom Cindy Sheehan," Goldiner writes.

" 'I think this is a little Texas politics,' Sharpton told the Daily News yesterday. 'None of it happened like that at all.' "

Bush Cards

The Washington Post reports that the second-term edition of Bush Cards are out.

Bush's Beer

Several readers e-mailed me to express their surprise about an item in yesterday's column .

I noted that Julie Mason had written in the Houston Chronicle that "Bush, who gave up drinking years ago, drank a non-alcoholic Buckler," at his off-the-record dinner with the press corps.

Apparently, many if not most recovering alcoholics avoid non-alcoholic beers because they do contain some alcohol, and may in some cases trigger a relapse of drinking.

Any experts out there? E-mail me at froomkin@washingtonpost.com .

Karl Rove, Fashion Critic

In his pool report to colleagues yesterday, The Washington Post's Peter Baker noted the following: "Karl Rove was with POTUS and evidently unimpressed with your pooler's wardrobe, obtained at the all-night Wal-Mart in Waco last night thanks to American Airlines' impeccable talent for losing luggage. 'Wear a tie or at least a coat!' the deputy chief of staff admonished from his van as the pool ran by. No time to ask if he had an extra to spare."

Baker e-mailed me a rundown on what he was wearing: "White button-down shirt, blue jeans, incredibly uncomfortable black shoes that some people seem to think look too much like boots."

© 2005 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive