"My level of confidence with Karl Rove has never been higher. He's a man of -- he gives me sound advice. He adheres to the ethical rules of our government. And he's doing a great job on behalf of the American people."
-- President Bush, defending his aide against allegations of influence peddling
Now that the often-investigated Clinton administration is out of the White House, probing congressional leaders are learning that Republican presidents don't like the ethical third degree either. President Bush took time Monday morning to stand up for top advisor Karl Rove, who has recently come under criticism for wielding too much influence in Bush's decision to phase out military testing of live munitions on Puerto Rico's Vieques Island. Rove has also been slammed for allegedly mixing White House business with his own business interests.
Questions stem primarily from Rove's failure to divest himself of more than $100,000 worth of Intel Corp. stock before meeting with company representatives in March to discuss ways around possible government obstacles to its upcoming merger deal. Rove had also had investments in Enron, a top international energy firm that sent representatives to the White House energy task force headed by Vice President Cheney.
Congressional Democrats have been pushing the White House to make the energy task force guest list and meeting minutes public from the beginning, but they're still getting a firm refusal from Cheney's office to release the relevant records. The vice president's office has not yet complied with a General Accounting Office request to turn over the information pronto. White House staff say that they want to protect the privacy of participants; Democrats counter that Bush is covering up the extent of big power companies' influence on his policies.
Bush made a big switch in one area of his energy policy, softening his diehard resistance to any form of federal price controls in power-strapped Western states. After weeks of strong opposition from the White House, the president is supporting the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's decision to expand limited restraints on power prices. Bush insists, however, that he has not changed his mind, and refuses to call the latest FERC action price control.
Though the president would rather have stuck to the party line on FERC action, circumstances pushed him into Monday's reversal. Some critics contend that Bush changed his mind because the California power crisis was threatening to spread into neighboring states where Republican pols have a foothold. While Bush may have been willing to let Democrat-rich California suffer for what the GOP sees as the state government's shortsightedness on energy, that fate would be unacceptable for states that actually went for Bush in the presidential race.
In a more politically risky move, Bush has refused to relent in his criticism of the popular patients rights legislation authored by Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Bush finds the bill's provisions concerning lawsuits by dissatisfied HMO patients dangerously permissive, and charges that the bill would lead to excessive litigation should it become law. And it won't if Bush has anything to say about it; though he has not stated unequivocally that he will veto the bill, the president has strongly hinted that he will.
In the Senate, Republican opponents of the legislation are sending mixed signals about their willingness to compromise. Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said over the weekend that he was open to giving patients the right to sue HMOs under some circumstances outlined in Kennedy-McCain. But on Monday, he sought to delay further consideration of the bill by the full Senate.
Meanwhile, congressional Democrats and Republicans are tussling over the fine print in Bush's budget, with the Democrats looking to undo some of the strict spending controls necessitated by the size of the Bush tax cut. But even some loyal Republicans are having trouble living with those limits as they try to stretch federal dollars to accommodate programs popular among their constituents.
In foreign policy, Bush says that his meeting last week with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was positive, despite neither leader's having budged in his polar-opposite opinion about American plans for a missile defense system. While the president is clearly pleased with the duo's newfound friendship, Democratic critics worry that Bush could be lulled into a false sense of security about Russian intentions. Putin has had good things to say about Bush, but has promised that any move toward building a missile defense system would prompt Russia to build its own shield.
And don't miss the second in command at the Defense Department calling on Americans to quit peacekeeping. Paul Wolfowitz, deputy defense secretary, believes the U.S. military should concentrate on preparing for war, and leave peacekeeping to historically conciliatory countries like Canada and Norway.
The Bush twins are getting support overseas for their right to drink booze. Sunday's London Daily Telegraph featured a column by an American writer who asserts that Jenna's and Barbara's legal woes are the fault of Elizabeth Dole, the Republican "it" girl who ran a short-lived presidential campaign in 2000. As President Reagan's transportation secretary, Dole was responsible for forcing states to adopt the drinking age of 21 or else give up federal highway funds.
Tuesday schedule: The president tours the Pentagon and makes remarks at the Assisted Technology Center there.
-- Alicia Montgomery
This day in Bush history
June 19, 1996: The Clinton White House refused to let Texas Gov. George W. Bush's representative attend a meeting about a spate of church burnings in the South. Bush had sent Rep. Ralph Hall, a Texas Democrat, to represent the state at the meeting because the governor himself had a prior engagement. But Hall apparently didn't rank high enough to merit a seat at the table. According to then White House spokesman Mike McCurry, Clinton was meeting only with governors, lieutenant governors or state attorneys general.
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Bushed! contributors: Eric Boehlert, Karen Croft, Gary Kamiya, Kerry Lauerman, Daryl Lindsey, Alicia Montgomery, Fiona Morgan, Scott Rosenberg, Jake Tapper, Joan Walsh, Anthony York
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