White House Watch

Dan Froomkin
White House Watch Columnist
Wednesday, April 25, 2007; 1:00 PM

What's going on inside the White House? Ask Dan Froomkin, who writes the White House Watch column for washingtonpost.com. He answered your questions, took your comments and links, and pointed you to coverage around the Web on Wednesday, April 25, at 1 p.m. ET.

Bush's Inexplicable Confidence (washingtonpost.com, April 24)

The transcript follows.

Dan is also deputy editor of Niemanwatchdog.org.

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Dan Froomkin: Hi everyone, and welcome to another White House chat.
My column today leads with First Lady Laura Bush's possibly unfortunate comments this morning on NBC's Today Show, where she asserted that "no one suffers more than the president and I do" when watching footage of the carnage in Iraq. I think that potentially opens up the White House to charges that the first family is too removed from the anguish of American troops and their families. And it wouldn't be the first time.

The column should be up very shortly (I filed late again, sorry.) In the meantime, you can watch the video of the exchange here, at approximately the two-minute mark.

But there's much more to talk about, including Bush's interview last night with Charlie Rose, the war over the war, the purge of the U.S. attorneys (including the this-just-in news that Justice Department White House liaison Monica Goodling has been granted immunity), the White House Correspondents Association Dinner -- or whatever else is on your mind.

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Chantilly, Va.: Please explain to me the rationale of our exalted el Presidente, how on Earth his confidence in Fredo increased after Fredo's dismal performance in the Senate with, I recalled, about 60 "I don't recall"s or a variation thereof. Thanks.

washingtonpost.com: Bush Asserts Increased Confidence in Gonzales (Post, April 24)

Dan Froomkin: Well, I tried a few possible explanations in yesterday's column. The most likely scenario, in my book, is that Bush wasn't being entirely forthright. It was just his way of saying: I'm still sticking with my buddy.

The approved White House talking point appears to be that Gonzales is going to be able to ride this out. But as I wrote yesterday: "More likely, Bush and his aides are stalling for time, hoping to keep the public in the dark about what really prompted the prosecutor purge for as long as possible, taking some pleasure in befuddling congressional investigators -- and letting Gonzales's limp corpse take fire that might otherwise be aimed at the White House directly."

Washington Post opinion columnist David Ignatius sees Bush's response as a vivid illustration of the "disconnect that is destroying what's left of the Bush presidency."

That would be a disconnect from reality, presumably.

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Richmond, Va.: I'd like to see more stories like Anne Scott Tyson's piece, "Top U.S. Officers See Mixed Results From Iraq 'Surge'," from Sunday's Washington Post. We see a lot more stories about Harry Reid's choice of words than we do on the actual dynamics on the ground in Baghdad.

Dan Froomkin: A fair point. The political strategy on both sides right now is to keep the other side on the defensive, which is why they're both firing away daily. As a result, I'm not surprised that the coverage is highly focused on the fight, rather than on the issues. But you're absolutely right: There are some realities on the ground that bear close analysis.

My pet peeve: Bush's most aggressive argument against a timetable for withdrawal involves very dire predictions about what would happen if it was approved. Given that, I think my colleagues should be examining two things very closely: How accurate have Bush's predictions been about the region thus far? And are there other possibilities that are more or less likely?

For instance, some smart and informed people I know believe that a troop withdrawal is not just a smart domestic move in this current political climate -- but might actually reduce violence in Iraq more than our continued presence would. Maybe they're wrong. But maybe Bush is wrong.

That's more interesting to me than another round of name-calling.

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Columbus, Ohio: Dan, my take on the whole Bush-Gonzales debacle is Bush is keeping Gonzales because he knows where all the bodies are buried. Gonzales okayed all of the illegal torture, etc., and if Bush cuts him loose Gonzales would be free to start telling all he knows -- and he knows a lot.

Dan Froomkin: That's one take I don't buy, sorry. Gonzales is a very, very old friend and his legacy will forever be associated to Bush's. He'll keep his secrets to the grave. (Assuming he remembers any of them.)

If you're looking for a fear-of-buried-bodies hypothesis, I think this one is much more likely (it's from Peter S. Canellos of the Boston Globe.) He writes that "the administration's willingness to withstand its own party's disdain for Gonzales probably springs not from loyalty but from self-interest: The last thing the president needs right now is confirmation hearings for a new attorney general."

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Detroit: You frequently cite this administration's lack of credibility. With the testimony yesterday by the Tillman family and Jessica Lynch, is there any reason we should think the attorney firings were anything but political? Not to mention the deleted e-mails and insultingly vague answers given by Gonzales.

washingtonpost.com: Panel Vows to Pursue Tillman Case (Post, April 25)

Dan Froomkin: You are probably the target audience for today's speech by House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel. Jonathan Weisman writes in The Post today that it "marks an escalation in the party's rhetorical war with President Bush. For much of last year's campaign season, Democrats called the Bush administration incompetent. Now they are preparing a darker case, accusing the administration of harboring malevolent intent."

Here's the prepared text.

And here's my March 23 column on the "Rovian theory" -- the unifying theory of all Bush administration scandals.

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Dan Froomkin: My column is out! 'No One Suffers More Than the President'

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Cleveland: At this point, even Bush in his heart of hearts probably realizes that, if Iraq is to constitute his legacy, his legacy will be one of failure. Does he have any alternative legacy plans in the works? (Social Security already has failed, obviously.)

Dan Froomkin: I'm not at all sure that he believes that. But his only alternative is an overhaul of the immigration laws. That's one reason why I expect he'll be throwing himself into that with more energy again soon.

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Metz, France: Bonjour from France, Monsieur Froomkin, and many thanks for your decent and courageous journalism. By the way, I have just read Dana Milbank's column and feel quite angry I must confess. Much as I like a good laughter once in a while, I cannot, however accept this belittling of a U.S. Senator, who is trying to do what he considers his duty. By making fun on the senators hair or height Milbank does disservice to his line of trade and annoys the casual reader. My question Dan: Does the Ohio Senator stand any chance of bringing others in Congress to back his stance? Thanks.

washingtonpost.com: Kucinich's Battle Against Cheney Not So (Im)Peachy Keen (Post, April 25)

Dan Froomkin: Bonjour and merci. First of all, the gentleman from Ohio is a congressman, not a senator.

As for Dana, his signature is snark. (That is a French word, isn't it?) And in this case, it was with some justification. Kucinich's quest is quite hopeless at this point. He would have been well advised to get some co-sponsors before making his announcement -- were he able to do so.

Dana is normally able to exercise his rapier wit without descending to attacks on hair and height. I found those jarring myself. But keep in mind that Kucinich is also a presidential candidate. That, apparently, makes it open season on his hair. And maybe his height, too.

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Seattle: Is the First Lady's comment comparable to her mother-in-law's comment about Katrina victims being better off? Is the disconnect a symptom of being part of the Bush family?

Dan Froomkin: You're referring to Barbara Bush's declaration, while touring a Houston relocation site after Hurricane Katrina, that "so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them." That one is truly inexplicable.

I can sort of see how the First Lady comment came about -- she was presumably trying to express her and her husband's concerns about the war. And if you asked her directly, I'm quite sure she wouldn't for a second say that their suffering compared to the suffering of the troops and their families. But to think that this was an appropriate thing to say in any circumstance?

It's worth noting that, as I type, no news organizations appear to have picked up the story. (Although the bloggers are going wild.) It will be interesting to see how it plays.

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Richmond, Va.: Do you have faith in the Rove investigation by the OSC, or do you think that it might play out in a way designed to impede the congressional investigation?

washingtonpost.com: GSA Briefing Now Part Of Wider Investigation (Post, April 24)

Dan Froomkin: I think it's a sideshow. Probably.

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Chicago: Say what you will about Kucinich, but his articles of impeachment against Cheney are pretty straightforward and solid. The evidence is clear, and the matters involved are the most serious that a country could face -- deception by those entrusted with our national security. Also, is The Post going to do any polling on this?

washingtonpost.com: Kucinich Introduces Impeachment Articles Against Cheney (CQ Transcripts, April 24)

Dan Froomkin: Impeachment is a political act, and there's no way to make the argument with a straight face that it is in the cards anytime soon.

That said, on the rare occasions that anyone polls on the topic, a really pretty stunningly high percentage of Americans seem interested in the idea.

For that reason alone, I think it's worth a poll question. It's a fascinating and troubling barometer.

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Washington: Are you going to watch the Bill Moyers program this evening (the alternative (gag) is "American Idol")?

Dan Froomkin: Yup. It sounds like a doozy. But I'm also a little concerned.

For instance,
Tom Shales
writes today that "Exhibit A -- the first event recalled in this report -- is a news conference by President Bush on March 6, 2003, which Moyers says is two weeks before Bush 'will order America to war.' The press conference was a sham, with Bush calling only on 'friendly' reporters who'd ask friendly questions. The corker was this scorching investigative query: 'Mr. President, how is your faith guiding you?'"

Moyers I'm sure will make lots of good points tonight, but if you go look at the actual transcript of the press conference in question, he's being a bit unfair. Yes, Bush had a list of who to call on, but it was not of particularly friendly reporters.

And take a look at the questions. Way more typical than the "faith" one was this one from Ron Hutcheson, then of Knight Ridder:

"Q Thank you, Mr. President. As you know, not everyone shares your optimistic vision of how this might play out. Do you ever worry, maybe in the wee, small hours, that you might be wrong and they might be right in thinking that this could lead to more terrorism, more anti-American sentiment, more instability in the Middle East?"

I often criticize the corps for its weak questions and it unwillingness to follow through. But the bigger problem on that particular day may not have been the questions. It may have been the answers -- and the media's willingness to pass them along with insufficient skepticism.

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Free Washington: I suggest everyone read this piece on David Halberstam in Salon (April 24). I reread "The Best and the Brightest" a couple of years ago and it's surely relevant today. I wish more of today's journalists had his backbone. Rest in Peace Mr. Halberstam.

Dan Froomkin: Yeah, I linked to that yesterday. I am personally devastated by the loss. Halberstam was one of my heroes. There are all sorts of wonderful appreciations of Halberstam out today. You can find some of them here.

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Calgary, Canada: Laura Bush is a little too clever for her own good. If the question (or assertion, I guess) really was "You know the American people are suffering, watching--" then la Bush's reply was semantically correct. It was just that the emotional content was more than jarring, it was shocking and repulsive. I'm not surprised, though, that no other media outlets have taken it up. The semantics of the thing means that attacking the reply too vigorously is akin to the GOP attacks on Kerry's botched joke.

Dan Froomkin: The semantics are indeed a bit complicated, but I don't recall a whole lot of hesitation to go after Kerry's botched joke. I suspect what it will take is a prominent opposition figure to be publicly critical of her comment before the MSM picks it up. I wonder if that will happen. Maybe not. As I write in the column, I do think it raises questions that have legitimately been raised before.

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Vancouver: Hi. The Cove Herald reported that Vietnam vet Bill Thomas presented George Bush with his Purple Heart. While, I don't see this as a big deal, I do find it odd that Bush accepted it (saying "he didn't feel like he had earned it") and that the larger press doesn't seem to have found this worthy of comment. Your thoughts?

Dan Froomkin: Thanks for the link. I hadn't seen that before (I'd just see a story previewing the visit.) It's particularly appropriate given the subject of Bush and his suffering.

What apparently happened was that a fellow named Bill Thomas, from Texas, decided to give Bush one of the three Purple Hearts that he (Thomas, not Bush) received in Vietnam.

Joyce May writes for the Cove Herald: "Thomas said he and his wife came up with the unprecedented idea to present the president with the Purple Heart over breakfast one morning a few months ago as they discussed the verbal attacks, both foreign and domestic, the commander in chief has withstood during his time in office.

"'We feel like emotional wounds and scars are as hard to carry as physical wounds,' Thomas said."

Why exactly Bush accepted it is a pretty good question.

And here may be one of the understatements of the century:

"'He said he didn't feel like he had earned it,' Thomas said."

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Springfield, Va.: I hate Bush as much as the next guy, but was Laura Bush's slight misstatement such an awful thing? Isn't taking her to task for a statement that was undoubtedly meant to express her probably sincere anguish and sympathy for the suffering caused by the war a little unfair? We all know what she meant, and what she meant was unobjectionable. It strikes me a little like the misstatement that torpedoed Kerry's bid for the presidency, in that both of them misspoke in expressing sentiments and ideas that are not necessarily wrong and then got pounced on.

Dan Froomkin: You may be right. In fact, I'm sure you're right about her intentions. Nevertheless, I think her calling attention to her and the president's "suffering" legitimately raises issues about how much of a bubble they're in, exactly.

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New York: Dan, the quote you lead with was very evocative of a line that Bush used in the past ... along the lines of nobody cares about the troops more than he does. I'm pretty sure he used it in the 2004 debates, but at a minimum, it dates back to 2002:

"Secondly, I understand there's going to be loss of life and that people are going to -- and the reason I bring that up is because for a while, at least for a period it seemed to be that the definition of success in war was nobody lost their life. Nobody grieves harder than I do when we lose a life. I feel responsible for sending the troops into harm's way. It breaks my heart when I see a mom sitting on the front row of a speech and she's weeping, openly weeping for the loss of her son. It's -- it just -- I'm not very good about concealing my emotions. But I strongly believe we're doing the right thing."

Dan Froomkin: Thanks very much. That's another valuable data point.

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Washington: What's the point of the Laura Bush story. I mean, I loathe these people, but it's nothing. "No one feels worse" is really a figure of speech, but is a poor choice of words to use and they should expect it to be criticized. But what then? Impeach her? Have her resign as his wife? There's really not much to do if the First Lady says something inappropriate other than move on.

Dan Froomkin: As I said, I think it raises the issue of whether or not they are actually aware of the depth of the suffering of others. But you may be right.

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Washington: Monica Goodling received limited immunity from Congress, and has been invited to testify. Does this mean the focus of the investigation is now turning full-force on Karl Rove? And does Congress think they won't get Alberto Gonzales to resign?

washingtonpost.com: House Panel Votes to Give Gonzales Aide Immunity (AP, April 25)

Dan Froomkin: Goodling was Gonzales's White House liaison. So she, perhaps more than anyone -- likely more than Gonzales himself -- knows how extensive the White House involvement was in these firings. And there is plenty of reason to believe that it was extensive. So, assuming that Goodling actually comes in and tells the truth, this is a potentially huge development.

I think Congress generally believes that Gonzales is a dead man walking.

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Rockville, Md.: "Opens up the White House to charges..." You always have charges. I hope some day that a graduate student compares what you say to the facts. It might be worth a degree.

Dan Froomkin: Thanks. I welcome scrutiny. (And I certainly don't have a perfect record!)

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Dan Froomkin: Thanks everyone for all the great questions and comments. See you here again in two weeks, and every weekday afternoon on the home page.

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