Bush: Blair's No Poodle

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, June 27, 2007 1:12 PM

President Bush's most faithful international ally left office today, and a British tabloid best known for its topless "Page Three Girls" uncorked an exclusive interview with Bush in which he asserted that outgoing Prime Minister Tony Blair was bigger than a poodle.

Rebekah Wade writes that she spoke to Bush last month. She quotes the president saying of Blair: "I've heard he's been called Bush's poodle. He's bigger than that. This is just background noise, a distraction from big things.

"We're working together to achieve global peace in the face of enormous danger.

"This kind of thing is just silly ridicule and that's how I treat it.

"Somehow our relationship has been seen as Bush saying to Blair 'Jump' and Blair saying, 'How high?' But that's just not the way it works. It's a relationship where we say we're both going to jump together."

Bush also said: "Tony's great skill, and I wish I had it, is that he's very articulate.

"I wish I was a better speaker. This guy can really . . . he can talk."

Bush's comments were highly reminiscent of a Nov. 12, 2004, exchange at a White House press conference, one of several in which Bush and Blair stood side by side.

"Q: David Charter from The Times in London. Mr. President, first, the Prime Minister is sometimes, perhaps unfairly, characterized in Britain as your poodle. I was wondering if that's the way you may see your relationship? And perhaps, more seriously, do you feel for the--

"Prime Minister Blair: Don't answer 'yes' to that question. If you do, I would be -- [laughter] -- that would be difficult. . . .

"President Bush: The Prime Minister made the decision he did because he wanted to do his duty to secure the people of Great Britain. That's why he made the decision -- plenty capable of making his own mind. He's a strong, capable man. I admire him a lot."

Blair's subservient relationship to Bush was galling even to some of his own advisers. Rachel Sylvester wrote in London's Telegraph in 2005: "There are some in Downing Street who would like the Prime Minister to have what they describe as a Love Actually moment -- a reference to the point in the film in which a fictional British leader, played by Hugh Grant, tells a slimy American president, publicly, that he is wrong. Audiences in British cinemas cheered when the sequence was shown."

But Blair was "not about to behave in a way that could be characterised as the poodle biting back," Sylvester wrote.

For the record, here's the sequence from the movie:

"Reporter: Mr. President, has it been a good visit?

"President: Very satisfactory indeed. We got what we came for and our special relationship is still special.

"Reporter: Mr. Prime Minister?

"Prime Minister: I love that word 'relationship.' Covers all manner of sins, doesn't it? I fear that this has become a bad relationship. A relationship based on the President taking exactly what he wants and casually ignoring all those things that really matter to Britain. We may be a small country but we're a great one, too. The country of Shakespeare, Churchill, the Beatles, Sean Connery, Harry Potter. David Beckham's right foot. David Beckham's left foot, come to that. And a friend who bullies us is no longer a friend. And since bullies only respond to strength, from now onward I will be prepared to be much stronger. And the President should be prepared for that."

Immigration Watch

Ben Feller writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush, short on political capital and time, is devoting much of what's left of his term in office to getting an immigration deal.

"Starting with an April 9 speech in Arizona, in which he talked tough about border security and prodded Congress to get moving, Bush has staged a dozen immigration events. That's not counting his four radio addresses on the topic in that time, or his phone calls to lawmakers, or his bold prediction that he'd see reporters at the bill-signing for a bill that seemed dead."

Feller notes that "each day, a White House strategy team weighs how to maintain momentum on a bill offering legal status to millions of unlawful immigrants.

"A small, core group of officials -- representing policy, communications, strategy and legislative offices -- organizes the approach.

"There is no war room, per se, but rather meetings held in locations at the White House and on Capitol Hill. The participants vary and overlap. The president gets involved when his participation is deemed to have the most impact. His voice is the loudest, but not one to be overused, the strategy goes."

But Bush's push for immigration has its limits. In particular, the White House has gone to great lengths not to have Bush talk about immigration in front of audiences that might not be receptive to his message.

Consider for instance that two of Bush's immigration talks were before a fairly obscure association of general contractors ( May 2 and June 14). Others have been before groups of border patrol agents and other law enforcement officials ( April 9 and May 29); specially invited roundtables ( May 3 and May 16); or, like yesterday and June 1, to supporters of the bill invited to the White House.

Bush never appears before the general public, so it's no surprise he hasn't mentioned immigration in that sort of environment. But he won't even mention immigration in front of groups of fellow Republicans.

At his May 10 speech at the Republican National Committee Gala? Not one word.

At his May 30 speech before the New Jersey Republican Committee? Not one word.

David Rogers writes in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required): "Having won a foothold for immigration overhaul, President Bush must now hold together Senate Republican votes in the face of increased hostility from their colleagues in the House."

Nicole Gaouette and Noam N. Levey write in the Los Angeles Times: "Even as the Senate voted Tuesday to restart the stalled debate on immigration legislation, Democratic support for the bill appeared to be slipping, and could jeopardize it as much as fierce Republican opposition does."

And Jonathan Weisman writes in The Washington Post that while some administration officials are expressing confidence that the bill will pass, "[p]rivately, White House officials were less boastful. Even if it clears the Senate, the bill faces a wall of GOP opposition in the House."

Torture Watch

Maureen Dowd writes in her New York Times opinion column (subscription required): "A group of high school Presidential Scholars visiting the White House on Monday surprised President Bush by slipping him a handwritten letter pleading with him to not let America become known for torture and urging him to stick to the Geneva Conventions with terror detainees.

"The president reassured the teenagers that the United States does not torture. Then the vice president unleashed a pack of large dogs on the kids, running them off the White House lawn, before he shut down the Presidential Scholars program and abolished high schools.

"Since it's rare that Mr. Bush ever sees groups that have not been prescreened to be nice to him, he made the mistake of opening the letter in front of the students and was surprised to learn that he has made many Americans ashamed by subverting values that the country has always held dear, like abiding by the Constitution and respecting human dignity."

Here's John Roberts on CNN yesterday morning:

"Some of the students behind the letter are with us this morning from Washington. They are Mari Oye from Massachusetts; Leah Anthony Libresco from New York; and Colin McSwiggen from Ohio.

"So whose idea was this? Speak up.

"LEAH ANTHONY LIBRESCO, PRESIDENTIAL SCHOLAR: Well, I think what happened was we were all talking about the opportunity to meet the president, someone who answers to us, the American people. And we didn't know what we should do or what we should say, but everyone wanted to seize the opportunity. And when we talked, we really wanted to talk about the issue of torture, because human rights and human dignity is a nonpartisan issue, and it was something we all really felt strongly, and we wanted to take the opportunity to be heard."

Apparently Oye's mother was a presidential scholar in 1968 and regretted not having something to Lyndon Johnson about the Vietnam War.

"OYE: Absolutely. And that's something that weighed heavy on my mind. And I wanted to think about how we would feel 40 years from now if we had the opportunity to speak -- and also the privilege to speak to the president of the United States and to not use that privilege in order to make a difference.

"ROBERTS: So, Colin, what happened when you gave the president the letter?

"COLIN MCSWIGGEN, PRESIDENTIAL SCHOLAR: Well, the one who originally handed the letter to the president was, of course, Mari. She -- we were lined up for a photo-op, and he came right before the photo and started speaking to us.

"He -- we had a very casual discussion. He said it's important to treat others as you wish to be treated. And he said that we really need to think about the choices that we make in our lives.

"And as he lined up to take the photo with us, Mari handed him the note and said, 'Mr. President, some of us have made a choice, and we want you to have this.' . . . After the photo he asked if he should read the note. And Mari said, 'Well, that's up to you.'

"But he read it right there, and had a very casual discussion with him about it. Right there in front of the White House lawn. . . . And his response was, 'We agree. Americans do not use torture.'"

Oye was apparently not satisfied with the response: "[W]e brought up some very specific points in the letter about the treatment of detainees, even those designated as enemy combatants. And we strongly believe that all of these detainees should be treated according to the principles of the Geneva Convention. So this was a very specific point.

"We asked him to remove -- I asked him to remove the signing statement attached to the anti-torture bill which would have allowed presidential power to make exemptions to the ban on torture."

Poll Watch

CNN reports: "A new low of 30 percent of Americans say they support the U.S. war in Iraq and, for the first time, most Americans say they don't believe it is morally justified, a poll released Tuesday said. . . .

"Support for President Bush matched his lowest rank ever in a CNN poll, with 32 percent saying they approve the way he is handling his job, and 66 percent saying they disapprove, according to the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll.

"That's a drop of 6 points from the 38 percent of respondents who said on May 4-6 that they approved of Bush's handling of his job, and equal to the 32 percent he got in a poll conducted in April 2006."

Adam Nagourney and Megan Thee write in the New York Times that a new poll of Americans ages 17 to 29 finds that they "share with the public at large a negative view of President Bush, who has a 28 percent approval rating with this group."

The Lugar Defection

Karen DeYoung and Shailagh Murray write in The Washington Post: "Key Republican senators, signaling increasing GOP skepticism about President Bush's strategy in Iraq, have called for a reduction in U.S. forces and launched preemptive efforts to counter a much-awaited administration progress report due in September. . . .

"Sen. Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said the U.S. military escalation begun in the spring has 'very limited' prospects for success. He called on Bush to begin reducing U.S. forces."

DeYoung and Murray note that Lugar and Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), a member of the Armed Services Committee, were among many GOP lawmakers who supported the inclusion of political and military benchmarks and a Sept. 15 deadline for a progress report from the administration. . . .

"One provision, sponsored by Warner, created a commission of retired four-star officers and other military experts to independently assess whether Iraqi security forces are willing or able to end their own sectarian divisions and take a lead role in defending their country.

"Warner said he knows that his push for the measure makes it appear that he does not trust Bush, Petraeus and Crocker to provide an honest report. 'I accept that critique,' he said in an interview. 'But what are we to do? Be totally reliant on the executive branch for their analysis?'"

Edward Epstein writes in the San Francisco Chronicle: "Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is a respected fixture of the Washington foreign policy establishment and generally a GOP loyalist. When he speaks, colleagues sit up straight and notice. And his words Monday evening in a floor speech to a largely empty Senate chamber spurred some to predict the tide had turned in Congress' standoff with Bush over pursuing the Iraq war."

Renee Schoof and Margaret Talev write for McClatchy Newspapers: "A day after Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, bluntly declared that President Bush's Iraq plan isn't working and called for withdrawing most American forces, Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, said he was writing Bush on Tuesday to urge him to embrace a Plan E (for exit)."

At yesterday's briefing, White House press secretary Tony Snow said: "Look, Dick Lugar is a serious guy, so obviously you take it seriously. But on the other hand, again, he voted against the original -- he voted against the surge. He's somebody who has had reservations."

But there was no vote on the surge specifically. And Lugar has voted with the president down the line on Iraq. As Noam N. Levey writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Although Lugar and Voinovich voiced skepticism about the deployment of additional troops when the president announced his plans in January, neither lawmaker has supported any of the efforts by Democrats or Republicans to formally challenge Bush.

Jeff Zeleny writes in the New York Times: "For months, Mr. Lugar has kept his skepticism about the president's Iraq policy largely to himself, seldom offering anything beyond a hopeful wait-and-see statement."

Cheney, Part IV

Jo Becker and Barton Gellman conclude their huge Washington Post series on Vice President Cheney with a look at his environmental impact.

Cheney got the Interior Department to reverse itself on a decision that would have cut off irrigation water to some Oregon farmers and ranchers. "What followed was the largest fish kill the West had ever seen, with tens of thousands of salmon rotting on the banks of the Klamath River. . . .

"The Klamath case is one of many in which the vice president took on a decisive role to undercut long-standing environmental regulations for the benefit of business.

"By combining unwavering ideological positions -- such as the priority of economic interests over protected fish -- with a deep practical knowledge of the federal bureaucracy, Cheney has made an indelible mark on the administration's approach to everything from air and water quality to the preservation of national parks and forests.

"It was Cheney's insistence on easing air pollution controls, not the personal reasons she cited at the time, that led Christine Todd Whitman to resign as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, she said in an interview that provides the most detailed account so far of her departure.

"The vice president also pushed to make Nevada's Yucca Mountain the nation's repository for nuclear and radioactive waste, aides said, a victory for the nuclear power industry over those with long-standing safety concerns. And his office was a powerful force behind the White House's decision to rewrite a Clinton-era land-protection measure that put nearly a third of the national forests off limits to logging, mining and most development, former Cheney staff members said."

Becker and Gellman talk to one Cheney-installed Interior Department lackey named Paul Hoffman, who said Cheney never told him what to do. He didn't have to. "'His genius,' Hoffman said, is that 'he builds networks and puts the right people in the right places, and then trusts them to make well-informed decisions that comport with his overall vision.'"

In one of Gellman's video anecdotes, he reports: "Karl Rove, according to witnesses, has called Cheney 'the management' in the Bush White House. In an interview with us, Rove denied it."

A Cheney Reversal (Sort of)

Michael Abramowitz writes in The Washington Post: "Vice President Cheney's office offered its first public written explanation yesterday for its refusal to comply with an executive order regulating the handling of classified material, arguing that the order makes clear that the vice president is not subject to the oversight system it creates for federal agencies.

"In a letter to Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), Cheney Chief of Staff David S. Addington wrote that the order treats the vice president the same as the president and distinguishes them both from 'agencies' subject to the oversight provisions of the executive order.

"Addington did not cite specific language in the executive order supporting this view, and a Cheney spokeswoman could not point to such language last night. . . .

"Addington did not repeat a separate argument that has been previously advanced by Cheney's office: that it is not strictly an executive branch agency but also shares legislative functions because the vice president presides over the Senate. That argument has drawn ridicule in recent days from Democrats and on late-night television."

But as Abramowitz writes: "Addington's legal argument yesterday has previously been rejected by the director of the Archives' Information Security Oversight Office, J. William Leonard."

Mike Allen writes for Politico: "The White House has no plans to reassert the argument there is any vice presidential distinction from the executive branch, the officials said."

Ruth Marcus writes in her Washington Post opinion column: "Let's admit it: We in the media haven't had this much fun with Vice President Cheney since he shot a man in the face and neglected, for a while, to tell the boss. And let's admit: Like that episode, this one doesn't matter much on its own. . . .

"Of all the vice president's excesses, this one barely registers on the Cheney Scale. Its seismic impact, rather, stems from the combination of so many Cheneyesque attributes: mania for secrecy, resistance to oversight, willingness to twist the law and assertion of unreviewable power. . . .

"As maddening as the vice president's above-the-law attitude is the way he and his staff respond when challenged: first, the silent treatment, then the legal bait and switch."

A Rovian Plot?

Adam Nossiter writes in the New York Times: "The convicted former governor of Alabama, Don E. Siegelman, faced prosecutors who urged a long prison sentence here on Tuesday in a federal corruption case that has unexpectedly transcended the confines of this sleepy state capital. . . .

"Mr. Siegelman, a Democrat, tried to paint a bigger picture, saying he was a victim of Karl Rove, the senior political adviser in the White House.

"'The origins of this case are political,' Mr. Siegelman said. 'There's no question that Karl Rove's fingerprints are all over this case, from the inception.' . . .

"Mr. Siegelman and his backers refer to the affidavit of a Republican lawyer, released this month, that appears to implicate Mr. Rove. The lawyer, Jill Simpson, claims to have heard a top Alabama Republican operative with longstanding links to Mr. Rove boast over the phone in 2002 that Mr. Siegelman's political career would soon be scuttled.

"The operative, Bill Canary, was speaking with the son of Mr. Siegelman's Republican rival, Bob Riley, now the state's governor: 'William "Bill" Canary told him not to worry, that he had already gotten it worked out with Karl and Karl had spoken with the Department of Justice and the Department of Justice was already pursuing Don Siegelman,' Ms. Simpson said in the affidavit."

Tom Hamburger and David G. Savage write in the Los Angeles Times: "The controversy in part reflects the loss of credibility suffered by the Bush Justice Department in the wake of evidence that Rove and members of his staff played a role in the firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year. . . .

"White House spokesman Tony Fratto waved away the controversy, saying: 'Someone is always making some baseless charge about Karl. Unfortunately I can't comment in this case while legal proceedings are ongoing.'"

Patricia C. McCarter of the Huntsville Times writes: "Coincidentally, Rove was in Alabama on Thursday with President Bush as he toured the Browns Ferry nuclear plant in Athens. When asked about Siegelman's allegations that he was pulling the puppet strings behind the ex-governor's prosecution, Rove smiled and denied it.

"'I know nothing about any phone call,' Rove said.

"Then a White House press aide stepped up and said, 'What he meant to say was that he has no comment.'"

But like Fratto's response, Rove's was a non-denial denial. As Laura McGann writes for TPM Muckraker: "No one has accused of Rove of being involved in the call -- just that his name was mentioned in it."

Brett Kavanaugh Watch

Ari Shapiro reports for NPR: "One of President Bush's most controversial judicial appointees, Brett Kavanaugh, may have been less-than-forthright with Congress at a crucial hearing last year to confirm his appointment to a seat on the powerful federal appeals court in Washington, D.C.

"Kavanaugh told senators in May 2006 that he 'was not involved in the questions about the rules governing detention of combatants' during his time as a White House lawyer. Now, it is clear that Kavanaugh took part in at least one White House conversation about detainees."

Kavanaugh's statement at the time: "Senator, I was not involved and am not involved in the questions about the rules governing detention of combatants, and so I do not have any involvement with that."

But Shapiro reports: "In fact, in 2002, Kavanaugh and a group of top White House lawyers discussed whether the Supreme Court would uphold the Bush administration's decision to deny lawyers to American enemy combatants. Kavanaugh advised the group that the Supreme Court's swing voter, Justice Anthony Kennedy, would probably reject the president's assertion that the men were not entitled to counsel. Kavanaugh had worked as a clerk for Kennedy. That meeting was first reported in The Washington Post. NPR independently confirmed the details with multiple sources.

"Today, Kavanaugh has life tenure as a judge on the D.C. Circuit appeals court.

"Durbin now says he feels 'perilously close to being lied to' at Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing."

The CIA's Jewels

Scott Shane writes in the New York Times: "Comparisons between different historical eras are always tricky. With an incomplete account of C.I.A. misdeeds in its first quarter century from the so-called family jewels, released this week with many redactions, and a presumably even more incomplete knowledge of the spy agencies' actions since 2001, such a comparison is inevitably flawed.

"But it is also irresistible. And it raises a provocative question: do the actions of the intelligence agencies in the era of Al Qaeda, which include domestic eavesdropping without warrants, secret detentions and interrogations arguably bordering on torture, already match or even eclipse those of the Vietnam War period?

"At both times, Americans faced a hostile global ideology -- communism then, violent Islamic jihadism today -- and feared cells hidden in their midst. In the face of such a threat, it may be no surprise that secret agencies, wielding powerful technology and with the formidable backing of a president, sometimes come into conflict with democratic ideals.

On Tuesday, the C.I.A. director, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, wrote in a message to agency employees: "I firmly believe that the improved system of intelligence oversight that came out of the 1970s gives the C.I.A. a far stronger place in our democratic system. What we do now to protect Americans we do within a powerful framework of law and review."

But Shane writes that "independent historians of the agency did not see the sharp contrast between past and present that General Hayden described.

"'We don't know everything that's going on today,' said David M. Barrett, a political scientist at Villanova University. 'But it seems to me there's already enough evidence to conclude that things are not so different today.'"

Where's Osama?

Jonathan S. Landay writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "While the U.S. presses its war against insurgents linked to al Qaida in Iraq, Osama bin Laden's group is recruiting, regrouping and rebuilding in a new sanctuary along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, senior U.S. military, intelligence and law enforcement officials said.

"The threat from the radical Islamic enclave in Waziristan is more dangerous than that from Iraq, which President Bush and his aides call the 'central front' of the war on terrorism, said some current and former U.S. officials and experts. Bin Laden himself is believed to be hiding in the region, guiding a new generation of lieutenants and inspiring allied extremist groups in Iraq and other parts of the world."

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Late Night Humor

Samantha Bee tells Jon Stewart that even if Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy hadn't sided with the conservatives in major decisions this term, the liberals would not have won.

"If Kennedy were to rule on the liberal side, Justice Cheney would then cast the tie-making vote," she tells Stewart. "The vice president is not only in both and neither of the executive and legislative branches, he's also a member of the Supreme Court."

Cartoon Watch

Tony Auth and Stuart Carlson on Cheney; Ann Telnaes on the poodle.

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