New poll numbers on the energy crisis. Plus: Bush nominee tied to video porn as the NRA cheers the president's gun plan.

Published May 15, 2001 2:55PM (EDT)

Poll watch

Two new polls show that President Bush has a lot riding on the success of his energy plan, scheduled for release on Thursday. A CBS News poll taken from May 10 to 12 found that 46 percent of Americans believe that the country is suffering from a lack of energy sources, while 44 percent "think people are just being told there are shortages of energy." That's a striking figure when compared with the 37 percent of Americans polled in Nov. 1979, during the heart of the Carter administration gas crunch, who thought that shortages were real.

Also, 62 percent of those surveyed in the poll think that "the oil industry has too much influence" at the White House. Also troubling for the administration was CBS's finding that 72 percent of its respondents would consider $3-per-gallon prices at the pump a "serious or very serious problem." Both Cheney and Bush have repeatedly responded to questions about rising fuel prices by insisting that there's little the administration can do in the short term to counter the problem, except pass a tax cut to help gas consumers.

Concerns about energy aside, Bush's approval rating remains stable, with 57 percent of Americans approving of his job performance, compared with a 56 percent approval rating in April. That falls in line with results of Gallup's latest survey, with Bush scoring a 56 percent approval rating in that poll, conducted from May 10 to 14.

An earlier Gallup poll, taken from May 7 to 9, had slightly better news for Bush on energy policy. While the Gallup poll found that more Americans continued to favor conservation over Bush's solution of increased oil production by a margin of 47 percent to 35 percent, that gap has narrowed considerably since March, when the margin was 56 percent to 33.

All the polls cited have a margin of error of 3 percent.

Bush job approval

  • 57 percent, CBS, May 10 to 12
  • 57 percent, Newsweek, May 3 to 4
  • 57 percent, Los Angeles Times, April 21 to 26
  • 56 percent, NBC News, Wall Street Journal, April 21 to 23
  • 62 percent, CNN/USA Today/Gallup, April 20 to 22
  • 63 percent, ABC News/Washington Post, April 19 to 22
  • 63 percent, Fox News, April 18 to 29

    -- Alicia Montgomery

    Daily line

    "We're going to reduce gun violence in America, and those who commit crimes with guns will find a determined adversary in my administration."
    --President Bush on Monday, speaking about his latest initiative

    Bush buzz

    The president has accomplished the tricky task of formulating a National Rifle Association-approved anti-gun crime policy, unveiling his "Operation Safe Neighborhoods" program in Philadelphia on Monday. Bush plans to fight bullets with lawyers, with the plan's $550 million going to fund more aggressive prosecutions of those who commit gun crimes.

    Though the two-year program has the support of the NRA and Handgun Control, Inc., critics charge that its goals are modest at best, and do nothing to address the easy availability of guns to criminals. The president's rivals in both parties are prepared to go farther on guns, with Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut joining Bush nemesis Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in unveiling their own gun control legislation on Tuesday. The McCain-Lieberman bill would close the "gun show loophole," the gap in existing laws that allows firearms purchasers at those events to avoid background checks.

    Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney also kicked off the week by staging a very public meeting with labor leaders to discuss their highly anticipated energy plan. The union leaders, including Teamsters chief James Hoffa, were guardedly supportive of Bush's push for new oil drilling and refining because they believe that it will create thousands of new jobs, many of them union jobs. Bush hopes that union support might ease his policy's path in Congress, splitting Democrats allied with both labor and environmental interests. But the Democrats won't take that lying down, and plan to unveil their own energy policy proposal before the Bush plan's debut on Thursday.

    While Bush woos his political adversaries, aspects of his energy policy are angering his ideological friends. Republicans in Western states with strong ties to the property-rights movement strongly disagree with the Bush plan's endorsement of the federal seizure of private property to expand electric transmission lines. But any Republican opposition to the president's energy proposal in Congress won't be coming from the top. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., has already pledged to push the plan through quickly, aiming to have a bill on the president's desk by July 4.

    Lott is not so eager to speed the progress of McCain's campaign finance reform initiative. Instead of sending the bill to the House for consideration, Lott will withhold the Senate's version of the legislation until the House comes up with its own campaign finance reform outline. McCain has declared that this is just a back-door attempt to kill the legislation, and has vowed to fight Lott's decision.

    Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, doesn't want any more delays in the confirmation process of solicitor general nominee Ted Olson. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Hatch has denied a Democratic request to start investigating inconsistencies in Olson's testimony during his confirmation hearings. At the base of Democratic concerns is Olson's involvement with the "Arkansas Project," an effort in the mid-90s by Clinton foes to dig up scandals about the former president and first lady. Olson's confirmation vote is currently set for Thursday.

    And don't miss celebrity tell-all author Kitty Kelley taking aim at the Bushes. Kelley is reportedly digging up dirt for a book about the Bush dynasty, and will not shy away from information about the younger Bushes, including the president's twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara. Meanwhile, Harvey Pitt, the president's nominee to head the Securities and Exchange Commission, has some dirt of his own to contend with. Beginning in 1999, Pitt worked as a consultant for a company that specializes in pay-per-view porn movies, and adult videos and Web sites. While the White House is standing by Pitt, social-conservative groups are predictably outraged.

    Tuesday schedule: The president will make remarks early this afternoon at the Annual Peace Officers Memorial Service at the U.S. Capitol. Then he'll return to the White House.

    -- A.M.

    This day in Bush history

    May 15, 1979: Republican presidential candidate George H. W. Bush files his financial disclosure forms, showing that he earned more than $250,000 in 1978 as an author, lecturer and business consultant. He also lists his assets as "at least" $700,000.

    Rant: Preparing for carnage at zero G

    So far, if you follow the coverage, the Bush administration's plan to put a "Star Wars"-style missile defense system on the fast track has claimed one big victim -- the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. But as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld pushes hard for a new military strategy built around defense against threats from outer space, a larger casualty is being widely ignored: the precious ideal of space as a demilitarized zone.

    One of the most potent elements of the 1960s Space Age gospel was a vision of outer space as a preserve of peace. And it wasn't just pipe-dream idealism. After all, hadn't our space program been explicitly pursued as a civilian enterprise? Didn't the U.S. and its Cold War opponent find ground for cooperation in their space programs even during the peak of their rivalry? Hadn't the U.S., along with scores of other countries, signed a treaty in 1967 that demilitarizes the moon and other "celestial bodies" and bars the stationing of nuclear or other "weapons of mass destruction" in space?

    Our first glimpse of the globe from space underscored the arbitrariness and artificiality of the political boundaries we draw on maps. With that picture etched in our imaginations, we could think of the leap into space as the first step away from the disastrous mess we've too often made of our own planet. The last thing you'd want was to let the horrors of terrestrial war making spill over into this new, vast, pristine realm. Who would shoulder the awful responsibility of starting a space-based arms race?

    Apparently, Rumsfeld. The Bush administration is tantalized by what its policymakers see as a historic opportunity to seize the latest version of the "high ground." Just as policymakers at the turn of the 20th century sought to control the high seas, and just as World War II-era leaders focused their efforts on controlling the skies, today's defense policy hawks -- following through on Reagan-era "high-frontier" rhetoric -- want the U.S. to grab a dominant military position in space before any rival can.

    That would make more sense if there were some rival out there capable of challenging the United States. Today, however, our former adversaries in Russia can't even afford to keep their antiquated satellites aloft and have taken to accepting payloads of wealthy Americans to fund their space shots.

    Our new space-based defense strategy is aimed at saving us from the threat of "rogue nations" taking potshots at U.S. cities. To date, though, there isn't a rogue nation out there -- not North Korea, not Iraq, not Libya -- that has the technical wherewithal to launch a missile against a U.S. city or the financial wherewithal to develop one. "Rogues" are shockingly low-tech -- they're much more likely to try to smuggle a bomb in a suitcase. Try stopping that with a satellite-borne laser.

    To date, Rumsfeld's efforts have been confined to a bureaucratic reorganization of responsibility for space defense. The secretary says his strategy is all about deterrence and that no firm decisions have been made to deploy weapons in space. But when that day comes, as looks increasingly likely, we will look back at this month's policy shifts as the first fateful step toward carnage at zero G.

    -- Scott Rosenberg


    Bush offered further evidence Friday about why he avoids formal press conferences. In his fourth solo outing, he was fine for the first few moments, with hardly a pause in his opening remarks. But the remaining 26 minutes were torture, plagued by Bush's determination to stay on message, even when that message had nothing to do with the question.

    The low point of the press conference, however, was the misplaced grin that came onto Bushs face when asked the following question:

    "Mr. President, you would not equate the baby that was killed in retaliatory Israeli fire in the Gaza Strip with the 13- and 14-year-old Jewish boys, one of them a U.S. citizen, who were tied up, beaten to death and mutilated near Tekoa, would you?

    At this point, the president chuckled. "I was kind of smiling," Bush explained, "it sounded kind of like an editorial." Shortly after, the president straightened his face and replied, "But the death in the Middle East is abhorrent, and our nation weeps when people lose their lives."

    Then, there was his "Rain Man"-style repetition: Bush uttered the term "tax relief" 11 times during the conference, though he never received a single question about his tax cut package. It was his handy response to pesky queries about souring energy prices.

  • "Tax relief will be good for our economy. But tax relief is also a very important way to help deal with high energy prices."
  • "But the quickest way to get money in people's pockets to deal with prices is tax relief."
  • "Let's get the tax relief done and do it quickly."
  • "But the clearest way to get things done quickly is tax relief."
  • "The quickest way to help people with their energy bills is tax relief. That is the quickest, surest way to do so."
  • "But, for certain, what needs to happen is additional refining capacity, as well as tax relief."
  • "To the Congress, who is interested in helping consumers pay high gas prices, pass the tax relief as quickly as possible."
  • "To anybody who wants to figure out how to help the consumers, pass the tax relief package as quickly as possible."
  • "I am doing what I think is the right thing to do. And the right thing to do is to -- is to have proposed a tax relief package that is an integral part of a fiscal policy that makes sense."
  • "Now there's a budget in place, $1.25 trillion of tax relief, coupled with $100 billion of immediate stimulus that's now available."

    Other favorite Bush solutions to rising energy costs were to "build more refining capacity," "develop more refining capacity," "build more refining capacity," and/or "expand refining capacity." In other exchanges about energy, Bush also insisted that "We need more supply. We need to meet the increasing demands with better supply;" that America should "increase the supply," and the best solution to current energy problems was to "increase supply."

    -- A.M.

    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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