For those who argue that President Bush's support for limiting jury awards has nothing to do with politics, a complication has emerged: His top political adviser, Karl Rove, has taken credit for the issue.
In an interview for a book published this week, Rove claimed responsibility for talking Bush into the subject of "tort reform" when he was packaging Bush for the 1994 Texas gubernatorial race.
"The two issues, education and juvenile justice, were on his agenda list," Rove told Wayne Slater and Jim Moore in an interview for their book, "Bush's Brain." Rove, noting Bush's interests in "compassionate conservatism" and "faith-based institutions," said: "Later, we added tort reform. I sort of talked him into that one."
Though Bush has said a civil liability revamp, specifically his plan to limit medical malpractice awards, "is not a Republican issue, it's not a Democrat issue," Rove's claim of paternity suggests otherwise. As Slater and Moore write, Rove was then a consultant to Philip Morris, an advocate for tort reform.
As part of his work for the tobacco company, Rove in 1996 provided advice on a "push poll" to see how best to damage then-Texas Attorney General Dan Morales, who was threatening to sue the tobacco industry. Rove presented a copy of the findings to Bush's office.
Rove's claim of responsibility for the tort reform issue is somewhat at odds with a deposition he gave during the tobacco lawsuit. Asked whether he discussed overhauling civil liability law with then-Gov. Bush, he replied: "I can't say that I did. But I can't say that I didn't. I do not recall. I know that tort reform was a significant part of his legislative agenda but it was not my area."
Slater and Moore write that while tort reform is standard Republican fare, "Rove wanted that issue elevated because he knew that its most ardent advocates in Texas could provide millions of dollars in campaign contributions needed to unseat [former Texas governor Ann] Richards."
At the national level, Bush's support for overhauling civil liability law has won him friends among insurers and doctors. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, health care professionals and insurers have given two-thirds of their $71 million in contributions to Republicans in the past two years.
The White House has had a difficult time staying "on message" with Bush's proposed $670 billion tax cut. The president's own economists have contradicted his and other aides' assertions that the cut would pay for itself and that deficits do not increase interest rates. Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan has raised doubts. And now, a survey of private economists has accused Bush of misrepresentation.
On Thursday, Bush implied that the private economists who participate in the "Blue Chip" forecast had based their estimates on his tax plan, saying his proposal "makes sense when analyzed by the economists behind the Blue Chip forecasts."
The survey's editor, Randell Moore, called the White House to complain that Bush "made it sound as if Blue Chip economic forecasters had endorsed his plan." The economists had assumed only that some generic stimulus would pass.
Newsday ran a headline shouting, "Editor: Bush Cited Report That Doesn't Exist." Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) said Bush is "making up imaginary supporters."
Yesterday, Bush softened his claim. "These economists predicted in the Blue Chip forecast that the economy would grow at 3.3 percent if Congress responded to a stimulative package," he said.
Moore proclaimed himself satisfied, adding: "Sometimes our president has a difficult time speaking."
When Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar visited the president's ranch Saturday, Bush heaped praise on the Spaniard for his stand against Iraq. He spoke of Aznar's "courage and moral clarity," adding: "I thank you for your friendship."
But Aznar shouldn't let his head swell: Last week, Bush said Turkey has "no better friend" than America. A month earlier, he told Poland's leader "I've got no better friend in Europe." Israel's Ariel Sharon "has got no better friend than the United States," which, in turn, has "no better friend in the world than Great Britain." Even the Philippines has earned "no better friend" status.
Two countries notably absent from Bush's current friendship list are France and Germany, both obstacles to his Iraq policy. Has Bush concluded he does not need them? "Au contraire," said press secretary Ari Fleischer.
The Quotable Bush
"We may not be cash-flowing that much, but the sky's the limit. Well, when you pay dividends, that sky's-the-limit business doesn't hunt."
-- Feb. 20, discussing his tax proposals.
"We're going to make sure we spend enough to win this war. And by spending enough to win a war, we may not have a war at all."
-- Feb. 20, discussing homeland security.
"So today, I ask you to challenge your listeners to . . . start a ministry which will find the children of those who are incarcinated and love them."
-- Feb. 10, to Christian broadcasters.