Bush's Oily Embrace

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, June 19, 2008; 12:33 PM

President Bush jumped into the 2008 presidential race with gusto yesterday, blessing John McCain as a worthy heir to his war presidency and joining McCain's call for offshore oil drilling.

But as with almost anything Bush attempts these days, the backfire risk is high. Establishing their candidate's independence from Bush is a top priority for the McCain campaign -- understandably so, considering that Bush is officially the most unpopular president of the modern era.

The move also exposes Bush and McCain to the criticism that they are in the tank for Big Oil -- as oil companies, who already have leveraged skyrocketing prices into even more stratospheric profits, arguably would be the only real beneficiaries of drilling offshore.

The Oil Pitch

Michael Abramowitz and Juliet Eilperin write in The Washington Post: "President Bush called yesterday for lifting the 27-year-old ban on U.S. offshore oil drilling, joining Sen. John McCain in endorsing an idea that Republicans hope will gain traction in Congress and on the campaign trail as the price of gasoline soars. . . .

"Democratic leaders in Congress said the plan is going nowhere. 'President Bush and John McCain are not serious about addressing gas prices,' said Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.). 'If they were, they would stop offering the same old ideas meant to pad the pockets of Big Oil and work with Democrats to reduce our dependence on oil.'"

Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the New York Times: "One was an oilman from Texas, the other a high-paid energy executive. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, for seven years George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have been unable to persuade Congress and the public that domestic oil drilling is an answer to America's energy needs.

"With the clock running down on his presidency, Mr. Bush made one last push Wednesday by calling on Congress to end the 27-year moratorium on most offshore drilling. With oil at more than $130 a barrel, gasoline over $4 a gallon and the broader economy threatened, the White House is betting it can finally break a decades-old Washington deadlock between those who favor domestic oil exploration and those who say conservation is the key."

But, as Stolberg writes: "If anything, Democrats say, the White House action gives them a chance to paint Mr. Bush as beholden to the oil industry and Mr. McCain as a clone of Mr. Bush, a message that will only grow louder as the November election draws near.

"'To have President Bush be the face of this issue for the Republicans means having the worst possible spokesman,' said Geoff Garin, a Democratic strategist who helped run Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign.

"'What Republicans are doing for themselves right now,' Mr. Garin added, 'is deepening the impression that they are the party of Big Oil.'"

John D. McKinnon and Stephen Power write in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required): "In a move that was carefully coordinated among the White House, Sen. McCain's presidential campaign and leading Republican lawmakers, the president sharply criticized the Democrat-run Congress for blocking the administration's past proposals to boost domestic oil production. . . .

"In a Rose Garden appearance, Mr. Bush framed the issue starkly: 'If congressional leaders leave for the Fourth of July recess without taking action, they will need to explain why $4-a-gallon gasoline is not enough incentive for them to act.' . . .

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