The president's approval numbers tumble as Cheney tells California to "tough" out its blackouts.

Published May 11, 2001 7:45PM (EDT)

Daily line

"Now that both the House and the Senate have acted, it's clear that the economic recovery package that the president has talked about is on the way. Tax relief is on the way."
-- White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer

Bush buzz

Bush got his way in the Senate on Thursday, with five Democrats joining 48 Republicans in approving his outline for the budget. Two Republicans, Vermont's Jim Jeffords and Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee, jumped ship to vote with the Democrats.

The resolution's success means that the $1.35 trillion tax cut, the largest in 20 years, is virtually a lock. Although Congress still has some decisions to make, such as whether it will abide by the spending caps set forward in the plan and how to come up with the $1.35 trillion to cut taxes, passage of the budget resolution ties the hands of tax-cut-wary or mischievous Senate Democrats. Any tax cut that falls within the scope of $1.35 trillion outlined in the resolution will be protected from extraneous amendments and will not be subject to a filibuster.

Ted Olson, the president's nominee for the post of solicitor general, is having a much tougher time getting past Senate Democrats. On Thursday, Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, delayed Olson's confirmation vote for a week after news reports questioned the truthfulness of the nominee's testimony during his confirmation hearing.

The Bushies are also struggling with energy policy, which has been left in the hands of Vice President Cheney, who spent two Thursday interviews defending the White House decision to not take federal action to help energy-strapped Californians. In remarks on CNBC, Cheney said that it looked as if the state would be in for a "tough summer," but that the administration would not try to impose price controls for electricity. Cheney was more strident in a USA Today interview, claiming that conservationists who criticize the administration's energy plan have "blinders on from 30 years ago."

But it looks like Bush and company may be blind to the effect of their energy policy on public opinion. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll shows that the president's approval rating has taken a 9-point tumble over the past month, slipping from 62 percent to 53 percent, and that the rising cost of energy is a major public concern.

Meanwhile, Bush is opening a new battle in Congress over fast-track trade authority. He sent a letter to Congress on Thursday requesting that it restore the president's right to negotiate international trade agreements without the federal legislative body looking over his shoulder. Clinton lost his fast-track authority early in his term. Democrats, observing Bush's seeming hostility to domestic labor and environmental regulation, are likely to balk at the prospect of the president being able to decide how much America will press such issues in international trade.

The Bush administration continues to step on every available toe of America's allies. A delegation from the European Parliament that is investigating whether the United States engages in economic espionage left Washington in a huff on Thursday after several U.S. agencies refused to meet with the group. While the delegation did meet with some members of Congress, the CIA and the National Security Agency turned down the group's meeting request, as did the Departments of State, Commerce and Justice.

Another potential blow to America's international relations is the Bush administration's decision to opt out of an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development crackdown on tax havens. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill says that the effort could subject the U.S. tax system to scrutiny and interference from the OECD. But participating nations say the effort would keep wealthy citizens from dumping their money in countries like Bermuda or the Cayman Islands, thus dodging tax liability in their home nations.

And don't miss the president's first Oval Office drug test. Bush set an example for the White House staff by being the first to step up and pee to prove himself drug-free. Thus far, all 650 staffers have passed their drug tests, and random testing is planned throughout Bush's term. Also, photographers just can't seem to get enough of the first lady. Annie Leibovitz has been at the Bushes' ranch in Crawford, Texas, to take pictures of Laura Bush in her native habitat. Last week, People magazine named Bush one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world.

For those who still aren't sure who really won Florida, the latest results from the USA Today recount won't help much. In a study of more than 170,000 disputed ballots, the paper found that Al Gore would have won the state by 15,000 to 25,000 votes had it not been for voter errors leading to so-called overvotes, in which more than one candidate appears to have been selected on a ballot. In early April, the USA Today/Miami Herald study of over 60,000 undervotes (hanging, dimpled and pregnant chads) concluded that the final result of the manual recount that the Supreme Court stopped in December could have been anywhere from a Bush victory by 1,655 votes to a Gore win by 393, depending on the standard applied.

Friday schedule: In a morning event in the Rose Garden, the president presents a plan to establish an international fund to fight HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. Bush meets with the Nigerian president in the afternoon before heading to Camp David for the weekend.

-- Alicia Montgomery

This day in Bush history

May 11, 1981: Vice President Bush won an American Eagle Award from the Invest-in-America National Council, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to the advancement of economic understanding. Bush told an audience that the government had been "taking too much of the gross national product in taxes" and spending too much for the health of the economy, and vowed to end such profligate spending.

Bush league: Nominee held up amid controversy

Ted Olson's bid to become solicitor general has been derailed, at least temporarily. Hours after an article appeared in the Washington Post that challenged the veracity of Olson's testimony in his April confirmation hearing, the Senate Judiciary Committee announced that the vote on his nomination has been delayed for one week. The conflict involves Olson's responses regarding his involvement with the "Arkansas Project," the effort funded by Clinton-hating billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife and affiliated with the American Spectator to dig up dirt on the former president and first lady. Salon first broke the news last week that Olson's spoken testimony before the committee regarding the Arkansas Project conflicted with later written responses submitted to the Senate.

In the Post account, former Spectator writer David Brock alleged a much larger role in the project than Olson has ever admitted to.

David Carle, press secretary for the committee's ranking Democrat, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, would not confirm whether the Arkansas Project questions or the Post article was a direct cause of the delay, but did acknowledge that Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, mentioned the Post story when the committee met in executive session earlier Thursday. The committee now expects to vote on Olson's nomination Thursday, May 17.

-- Jake Tapper and Alicia Montgomery

Rant: The e-mail boogeyman

It was certainly heartening to read last week that President Bush, concerned about the fate of California residents coping with their electricity shortage, issued plans for federal agencies in the state to conserve energy. Hey, even if Vice President Cheney argues that conservation only makes people feel good about themselves but doesn't really help solve the nation's energy problems, maybe Cheney's boss knows something Cheney doesn't.

But who can say what was going through the minds of Bush and his energy secretary, Spencer Abraham, when they suggested that one of the steps federal workers in California might take to save energy was to send less e-mail?

Turning off computers is certainly a legitimate way to cut electricity use. But once those boxes are on, sending more or less e-mail isn't going to have any impact on power consumption. If it did, surely the quickest path to electricity savings would be to outlaw spam.

-- Scott Rosenberg

"That's My Bush!" recap

The setup: The White House is throwing a "War on Drugs" party, and first mother Barbara Bush (played by eerie look-alike Marte Boyle Slout) drops by to "help" Laura Bush with the party. During the event, the 100-millionth "War on Drugs criminal" will be arrested on national television, and cuffed by Barbara Bush.

The subplot: Barbara hates Laura, whom she frequently refers to as "whore" and "slut," and memorably accuses of marital infidelity by saying, "I can smell the man jam on you!" She is convinced that Laura will screw up the party and, on cue, the signs that Laura ordered arrive. Instead of reading "You must be high to do drugs," the "to" has been deleted, and the red, white and blue sign now reads, split on two lines: "You must be high/Do drugs."

The rub: "The 100-millionth War on Drugs criminal" turns out to be a 20-ish club kid in shiny orange clothes ("He looks like a Gummi Bear!" complains George) coming down from an ecstasy high. And he has ecstasy on him, which he hands over to the president, who soon mistakenly takes the pills.

The high jinks: Before the event, the president begins to trip, hard. He has his assistant, Princess, lock him into his bedroom, but he soon escapes and, following the hallucinatory image of a giant banana, descends on the party, where he begins to dance wildly before Laura and Barbara yank him offstage.

The switcheroo: "The 100-millionth War on Drugs criminal," at George's behest, turns the party into a rave. (Wacky maid Maggie is seen spinning in a panic, saying, "I'm in a K hole. I'm in a K hole.") But as Barbara tries to take control of the event, Laura, captured by the microphone, tells her to stop trying to control her life. This prompts "the 100-millionth War on Drugs criminal" to say that Laura has taught him that drugs, like Barbara Bush, should not control his life, and he promises to use drugs only occasionally. He allows Laura to slap the handcuffs on him, to wild applause.

Reality ranking: Can sort of imagine the president on ecstasy (by accident, of course), and the lunacy of the war on drugs is aptly captured. Most impressively, Barbara Bush seems just as coarse and malevolent as we always figured she was. The score: 9 (out of a possible 10).

-- Kerry Lauerman

Burning Bush

Links to the Web's best sites for hardcore Bush watchers.

Send questions, comments and tips to bushed@salon.com.

Bushed! contributors: Eric Boehlert, Gary Kamiya, Kerry Lauerman, Daryl Lindsey, Alicia Montgomery, Fiona Morgan, Jake Tapper, Joan Walsh, Anthony York

Take a look at the previous edition of Bushed!

By Salon Staff

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George W. Bush