Put a Fork in Him

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, September 30, 2008; 10:18 AM

President Bush put what was left of his influence on the line in his push to get Congress to pass a massive financial bailout. So yesterday, when House Republicans killed his proposal, it wasn't just the stock market that took its biggest tumble in history.

Bush is now wiped out.

Dan Eggen and Michael Abramowitz write in The Washington Post: "The vote marked the biggest legislative defeat of Bush's tenure and underscored the vanishing influence of a president who could once bend a pliant Congress to his will on wars, taxes, surveillance and a host of other high-profile initiatives.

"The defeat also brought into focus some of the key characteristics of Bush's troubled second term, including his weakened hold on his party, his tendency to delegate major responsibilities to aides and his continued reliance on alarmist rhetoric in an effort to get his way. Bush left much of the sales job for the rescue plan to Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., and his last-minute warnings that 'our entire economy is in danger' appeared to have little impact on the debate. . . .

"Several GOP strategists and lobbyists said the White House deserves considerable criticism for the way it handled legislative advocacy for the Paulson program. Some faulted the president for not personally lobbying lawmakers until the end, leaving it to Paulson, Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten and other aides. The president began calling GOP lawmakers in the House and Senate over the past few days, White House officials said.

"Other Republicans said Bush gave too much leeway to Paulson, whom they consider tone-deaf to politics, in fashioning a plan that initially gave him broad powers with no oversight."

Jackie Calmes writes in the New York Times: "If there was any doubt that President Bush had been left politically impotent by his travails over the last few years and his lame-duck status, it was erased on Monday when, despite his personal pleas, more than two-thirds of the Republicans in the House abandoned the plan. . . .

"At the White House, aides described the president as working the phones to lobby a dozen Republicans. Vice President Dick Cheney, a former No. 2 House Republican leader, pitched in, with no better luck."

Calmes writes that some Republicans "complained that it was too little, too late. They said Mr. Bush should have summoned lawmakers to the White House and gone to the Capitol to personally plead his case -- as other presidents including Mr. Bush have done in the past to sell their highest priorities. 'Reagan did it!' one said.

"'There probably could have been an outreach that began earlier than in just the last couple of days,' said Representative Adam Putman of Florida, a member of the Republican leadership, who supported the bailout."

But that might not have made any difference.

"The episode underscored that Mr. Bush's credibility and political clout, long gone among Democrats, is lacking among Republicans as well. 'There is a fair number of people who believe we're not staring into the abyss as has been represented,' Mr. Putnam said. 'And some people do believe we are facing a market collapse and something needs to be done, but they would rather not be the ones who have to vote for it.'

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