The Disconnected President

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Monday, May 5, 2008; 1:04 PM

The headline on The Washington Post's front-page story on Saturday read: "For Bush in Last Year, It's the Principle; As Influence Wanes, He Stays Resolute." But the article would have easily supported a less generous headline: "For Bush in Last Year, a Major Disconnect; Impractical Proposals Defy Political Reality."

Dan Eggen surveyed the scene this way: "After U.S. gasoline prices surged to a record high this week, President Bush strode into the Rose Garden to unveil his plans for coping with skyrocketing energy costs: drill for oil in Alaska, add U.S. refineries and build more nuclear plants.

"Even the White House conceded that the ideas did not have a chance. Democrats howled, Republicans shrugged and Washington moved on.

"Ignoring the conventions of a lame-duck presidency, Bush is forging ahead with proposals that appear to have little chance of passage during his last nine months, relying on sharp rhetoric and strong-arm tactics in an attempt to influence the Democratic Congress. His plan for housing reform has languished since August, his push for a free trade pact with Colombia has been crushed, his climate-warming initiative has been largely ignored and he has yet to persuade the House to pass terrorist-surveillance legislation he deems vital to protecting the country.

"Presidential aides characterize Bush as intent on pursuing matters of principle, regardless of the polls. Democrats accuse him of needless stubbornness at the expense of improving a battered economy and addressing other problems. . . .

"Democrats say that on Colombia and other issues, Bush is marginalizing himself by repeatedly snubbing congressional leaders rather than attempting to work with them. . . .

"'He gets his ideas set, and he won't change them,' said Brendan Daly, [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi's spokesman. 'That's just sort of the way he is.'"

And yet, as Eggen writes: "Administration officials express confidence about the prospects for several national security measures, such as supplemental war budget proposals being debated in Congress. Several White House aides also said they believe that new surveillance legislation will be pushed through by summer, when wiretap orders issued under a previous law begin to expire.

"'Don't ever underestimate the leverage of the presidency,' said a senior White House official, who requested anonymity in order to speak candidly. 'Many of us here still believe there are a number of things that will get done.'"

'Clear and Candid'

Ben Feller writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush, defending his record and his rhetoric, said Saturday that his administration has been 'clear and candid' about the nation's economy.

"'We saw the economic slowdown coming, we were up front about these concerns with the American people, and we've been taking decisive action,' Bush said in his weekly radio address.

"The president's comments appeared at least partly in response to a drumbeat of criticism from Democratic leaders, who say his view of the economy is rosy and unrealistic. . . .

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