Twin mania sweeps the media, and Jeffords gets guards after death threats.

Published June 1, 2001 7:20PM (EDT)

Daily line

"Again, I think that you really want to ask yourself ... do you want the American people to know that you're asking about private conversations that took place between the president of the United States and his child? And I will just have to leave that to you. But you know what my answer will be. This is and shall remain a private family matter."
-- White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, deflecting questions about alcohol charges against the president's daughters

Bush buzz

Bush twin mania has struck the media, with even the normally tame White House press corps digging for details about the booze bust of presidential daughters Barbara and Jenna Bush. Thursday, the police went from conducting an investigation to filing charges against both: Barbara was cited for possession of alcohol by a minor; Jenna, with using another person's I.D. to try to get booze. A report suggests that Barbara, too, may have used a fake I.D., but authorities never recovered it. Barbara got her margarita, while Jenna's I.D. was confiscated and she didn't get a drink.

Jenna may not have gotten the booze this time, but she's still getting the bulk of the attention, thanks to her previous tangles with liquor and the law. In late February, she dispatched Secret Service agents to pick up a drunken buddy from jail, and she pleaded no contest to illegal possession of alcohol by a minor on May 16. In the wake of the media storm, the White House has renewed calls for the press to cease and desist, pleading and lecturing about the sanctity of first family privacy.

Meanwhile, the White House is strategizing about how to deal with the newly hungry Democratic Senate set to take over Wednesday. Republican moderates want Bush to move toward the center and build a coalition between moderates in both parties, while conservatives believe that the numbers and the energy of the GOP are still on their side, despite the defection of Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vt.

Bush has also been encouraged to play up his tax cut victory as a way of distracting from the bad news that has plagued his administration in recent weeks. But critics charge that the cut won't do much to ease the tax burden for Americans. And those on the left continue to complain that the tax relief package dangerously dilutes the government's ability to handle national emergencies and even foreseeable crises in the future. Conversely, some on the right assert that Bush's original vision of broad tax relief was diluted by big-spending Democrats and cold-footed Republicans.

Republicans are showing plenty of moxie on their way out of control of the Senate. The GOP is threatening to stall or filibuster new committee assignments if the Dems go too far in declawing the new Republican minority.

Although the balance of power on committees is crucial in the judicial confirmation process, some conservatives wonder whether the White House wimped out on at least one nomination. Rep. Chris Cox, R-Calif., took his name out of the running for a federal judgeship after the power shift in the Senate, claiming that Democrats would poison his prospects for confirmation. His ideological allies, however, believe that the White House declined to stand up to California's Democratic duo in the Senate, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. Both senators gave an early and emphatic thumbs down to a possible Cox nomination when the congressman's name was first floated for a judgeship.

Jeffords' ideological opponents aren't playing nice, either. But it's no longer just a political matter; now it's a police matter as well. The senator, who has received death threats since announcing his defection from the Republican Party, has gotten extra security officers to guard him and his Senate office. And Republican donors who are angry with Jeffords will get what they've been asking for. He has offered to refund some campaign contributions.

And don't miss Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., milking every possible positive tidbit out of the GOP Senate loss. Lott claims that there will be less pressure and more unity among Republicans now that they're no longer in charge in the Senate.

Friday and weekend schedule: The president attends the funeral of the late Rep. Joe Moakley, D-Mass., on Friday morning in Boston. Afterward, he returns to Washington briefly before heading to Camp David for the weekend. There, he'll rededicate the Camp David chapel in honor of its 10th anniversary. On Sunday afternoon, he comes back to the White House for a T-ball game between the Fort Lincoln Brewers and the Ward 7/6th District Benning Park Parrots.

Laura Bush is in Massachusetts Friday as well, in her second official solo event since becoming first lady. She's speaking at the Reach Out and Read National Conference kickoff in Cambridge.

-- Alicia Montgomery

Twin watch

Jenna Bush is in trouble again. According to local police, she and her twin sister, Barbara, tried to order drinks from Chuy's, an Austin, Texas, restaurant on Tuesday night. Jenna allegedly used someone else's official identification to get the booze. If charges are filed and convictions won, Barbara will be a first-time offender. But Jenna, having allegedly crossed the line on Texas' alcohol laws for the second time in as many months, will be in for a tougher road.

Does that mean the president will be visiting her in one of the prisons he so lovingly maintained during his time as governor? Probably not.

If the current police investigation leads to charges being filed against Bush, then she could be in for a serious slap on the wrist, according to David Ball, a captain in the enforcement division of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. A second alcohol-related offense by a minor carries a possible punishment of a 60-day suspension of his or her driver's license, 20 to 40 hours of community service and a fine of up to $500. And if the incident results in a conviction, Bush should just forget about expunging her record after she turns 21; that option is available only to one-time offenders.

Bush's first offense was her citation on April 27 for drinking beer at Cheers, an Austin bar. After pleading no contest to that charge, Bush was let go with a $51.25 fine, eight hours of community service and a six-hour alcohol education course. Bush did not get the 30-day suspension of her driver's license that Texas law suggests is appropriate for such an offense. Really serious consequences kick in after a third conviction on underage-drinking charges, when the offender faces a $2,000 fine, up to six months in jail or both. Though Ball conceded that it is rare for judges to jail minors on alcohol charges, "they do have that option."

A more aggressive prosecutor could go for jail time immediately if Bush is charged with illegal possession of government identification, a Class B misdemeanor that could result in up to a six-month jail term and a $2,000 fine for a first offense. But Ball said that unless there's evidence that the identification has been tampered with, such prosecutions are rare in underage-drinking cases. Instead, most teenagers using a borrowed or fake I.D. are charged with misrepresenting their age to obtain liquor, a Class C offense with lesser punishments.

And that's when the authorities get involved. Bill Lewis, legislative liaison for the state's chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said that enforcement of underage-drinking laws is uneven in Texas but that college towns like Austin, home of the large University of Texas campus where Bush is a student, are more sensitive to underage alcohol consumption. "In other parts of the state," Lewis said, "it's just not a priority to police."

Ball acknowledges that certain enforcement operations are more likely to be aimed at Austin. Operation Fake-out is a two-year-old TABC initiative that sends plainclothes officers to Texas clubs and bars to grab phony I.D.s and arrest underage drinkers. Ball brags that the last Austin Fake-out netted 60 offenders. The operation, however, is usually scheduled for two or three nights at the beginning of the school term and one during the spring semester, and didn't happen this spring at all. "We're going to do it again in September," Ball said.

So Austin is hardly a town under siege by cops hunting for young boozers, which makes it difficult to account for why restaurant employees thought that two teenagers trying to buy drinks was a 911-worthy crisis. Ball maintains that Chuy's didn't step over the line by calling 911 on the Bush daughters, and that it's an acceptable way to deal with a violation in progress. "If it's something going on right now, they need to call the police office," Ball said. Still, there were other options. Though Ball said that merchants rarely use the service, Texas maintains a toll-free hot line for reporting underage drinking. And then there's the option that restaurants usually resort to in handling such cases, according to Lewis. "They would just say, 'Sorry, kid. You can't drink here.'"

That lack of zeal is one reason why Lewis believes that he has yet to hear of any underage drinker doing time for alcohol-related crimes. The other is a matter of time. "A minor has only a short period to commit these offenses," Lewis said. "If a kid starts drinking at 15 or 16, it's only five years before that becomes legal. For most, that's not enough time to get three arrests." Lewis has a theory about the kind of minor who could rack up three or more busts for underage drinking within that five-year window. "A kid would have to really want to get caught," he said.

-- A.M.

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