Is a beleaguered Bush on the comeback trail?

Published July 13, 2001 8:40PM (EDT)

Daily line

"Right now I have no plans to bring this bill up."
-- House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., tabling a campaign finance reform measure that had worried Bush

Bush buzz

Thanks to a bounce in the polls, the derailing of campaign finance reform, and a rare Senate victory on his energy policy, Bush had a good day on Thursday, and that's noteworthy all by itself. For several weeks, the White House has been suffering through a slump, catching blame for bungling away Republican control of the Senate, losing face in the patients' rights bill, and enduring small defeats or stagnation on much of Bush's top agenda items like increased domestic energy production and faith-based charities.

But now things may be looking up. Fifty-seven percent of Americans approved of Bush's performance in the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted from July 10 to 11. That's a five-point rebound from the administration-low 52 percent scored two weeks ago, and the first major poll in two months showing a solid Bush gain.

And congressional Republicans did Bush a big favor by smothering the Shays-Meehan campaign finance reform legislation, the House version of the Senate's McCain-Feingold reform bill that would have banned soft money. While Democrats and congressional observers are crying foul over the GOP House leadership's shady tactics in tabling the bill, Bush was never dragged into the fray. Though he never committed himself to vetoing the measure, the president actively opposed McCain-Feingold from the beginning.

The Senate, where Democrats have largely shelved Bush's agenda in favor of their own since the power switch, refused to throw up an additional roadblock to oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, a key element of Bush's energy initiative. It wasn't even close, with 67 senators voting against a six-month delay in permits to drill off Florida's coast.

With the wind finally at his back, the president formally announced a new policy initiative to give pharmaceutical discounts to American seniors. While Bush touted the plan as a first step in mending gaps in Medicare coverage, Democrats responded that the president was trying to pass off the measure as a substitute for real reform.

And there were other problems nagging at Bush. The administration had to spin a new story about the deal it reportedly struck up with the Salvation Army to allow that group to discriminate against gays in the hiring process and still receive federal funds. The Washington Post, which broke the story on Tuesday, challenged early White House assertions that the Salvation Army's discrimination issue ever reached the ears of officials high in the administration.

After the Post revealed that top Bush aide Karl Rove had a hand in the deal, the White House backed off its original account. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer did acknowledge that Rove played a role in the discussions, but insisted that it was a minor one. Defending Rove is getting to be a major White House preoccupation, with Democrats criticizing his continuing ties to companies doing business with the administration, and Republicans blasting his heavy involvement in Bush policy decisions on military testing on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques and embryonic stem-cell research.

So Bush didn't have a perfect day Thursday, but with the luck he's had lately, it was close enough.

And don't miss the Secret Service jumping at a false bomb scare at the White House on Thursday. For two hours, agents believed that a bomb may have been planted in an unattended car in the White House driveway. As it turned out, the car belonged to a congressional staffer who was attending a White House event.

Thursday schedule: Bush meets with Justin Washington, a 6-year-old March of Dimes National Ambassador, and later with the Costa Rican president at the White House. In the afternoon, the president will speak about the patients' bill of rights at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins Hospital before making a 3:45 p.m. departure for a weekend at Camp David.

-- Alicia Montgomery

This day in Bush history

July 13, 1997: The Houston Chronicle reported that Gov. George W. Bush would likely win approval at the polls for a planned cut in property taxes, though most Texans were indifferent to the proposal. A top Bush aide predicted that the public would ignore the early August vote on the plan. "Unless there is a collective and massive awakening, which we will try to incite, [turnout] is going to be pretty low," said Secretary of State Tony Garza. Still, Bush believed that the cut, which would trigger $140 property tax rebate checks for state homeowners, was a can't-miss proposition. "This isn't a controversial issue. Who would vote against a $1 billion property tax cut?" he asked.

Burning Bush

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

Send scoops to bushed@salon.com.

Bushed! contributors: Eric Boehlert, Karen Croft, Gary Kamiya, Kerry Lauerman, Daryl Lindsey, Alicia Montgomery, Fiona Morgan, Scott Rosenberg, 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