The president tries to undercut anti-globalization protests as he heads for Europe.

Published July 18, 2001 9:50AM (EDT)

It's Grecian to me: Bush and Blair do Britain

The president kicked off his second overseas trip on Wednesday, starting in Great Britain, where he will pay a visit to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip at Buckingham Palace, and meet with Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Bush conspicuously skipped Britain in his first European trip in June, despite referring to the nation as America's "strongest friend and closest ally" during Blair's visit to Camp David in February. At the time, though Bush emphasized common interests of the two nations, he stumbled over a question about what he had in common with Blair. "Well, we both use Colgate toothpaste," he said, a response that was greeted with snickers and a nervous smile from Blair. Bush later added, "Well, we like sports," and "We've both got great wives. I think probably the place we're going to find a lot of common ground is we're both dads, and proudly so, and recognize that as our most important responsibility, is to be loving dads." It sounded more like the two were members of the same Rotary Club.

The reticence marked a significant change from the warmth of former President Clinton's relationship with Blair, with the British leader regarding him as a mentor and Clinton viewing Blair as a trusted friend. But Bush and Blair have since bonded -- rhetorically anyway -- in their disdain for the anti-globalization protesters who have pledged to mar the president's journey in Britain and also at the G-8 summit in Genoa, Italy.

The president made a preemptive strike at protesters in a Tuesday speech to the World Bank, questioning demonstrators' commitment to ending global poverty, one of their oft-stated aims. Blair, for his part, voiced his disdain through a spokesman who told the BBC that the protesters were "misguided and wrong" about the effects of global trade. He further warned that if British citizens who objected to Bush's views on trade and the environment pushed to weaken the alliance, "we would all be the losers."

Not everyone in Britain is taking heed. A coalition of environmental activists has planned a two-day-long "unwelcoming" for the president, according to the Guardian Unlimited news service. Among other acts of civil disobedience, protesters allied with Friends of the Earth, Globalise Resistance and the Green party plan to follow in the footsteps of demonstrators who bared their butts at Bush during his June visit to Switzerland.

As embarrassing as such a display could be, that's much tamer than what authorities in Italy have had to prepare for, with authorities guarding against threats of G-8 related terrorism. The first incident may have occurred on Wednesday, when a bomb exploded at an Italian television station. No one has yet claimed responsibility.

-- Alicia Montgomery

Daily line

"I respect the right to peaceful expression, but make no mistake -- those who protest free trade are no friends of the poor. Those who protest free trade seek to deny them their best hope for escaping poverty."
-- President Bush, launching his European trip by promoting trade as a solution to poverty during a speech at the World Bank

Bush buzz

Bush heads to Europe for the second time in two months for the annual G-8 summit in Genoa, Italy. And, after the protests that plagued his first presidential voyage to the continent, he's already on the defensive. His speech Tuesday encouraged the World Bank to promote programs targeted toward alleviating global poverty, a regular cause for chanting among anti-globalization protesters.

While the rhetorical handwringing over the poor -- and the earnest pronouncements that increased trade will diminish poverty -- may help Bush's image domestically, similar remarks by global trade advocates have failed to deter hundreds of thousands of protesters from showing up for the last two years at events like the G-8 summit. So Bush's latest European foray could be plagued by the same pictures of banner-waving youths and breached police barricades that appeared during his first trip in June. Bush may have to rely on the media's willingness to tune out demonstrations to get positive press out of this journey.

Of course, he still has to worry about his image with the other world leaders he'll meet with. While European heads of state may speak with more civility than the street protesters, there's little doubt that they'll continue to criticize Bush for his environmental policies -- particularly his opposition to the Kyoto treaty on global warming -- and for his enthusiasm for an American missile defense shield.

The president's position on missile defense was recently bolstered by a rare successful Pentagon test of the technology, something that got missile shield enthusiasts gloating. But a new report says that the system didn't work as perfectly as the Bush administration would have liked, with the radar failing to accurately report whether the defensive missiles hit their target. The glitch is unlikely to deter Bush and other missile defense fans in his administration.

In contrast to his decisiveness on missile defense, Bush has been on the verge of making a decision about fetal stem cell research for several weeks, soliciting advice from scientists, ethicists and political gurus like top White House advisor Karl Rove. At the heart of the dispute is whether the federal government should fund research that uses cells from human embryos. Now the National Institutes of Health has complicated Bush's choice further, releasing a study that effectively reinforces claims that fetal stem cell research could prove invaluable in finding cures for a host of diseases.

While the White House insists that Bush is going through an internal moral struggle over the issue, some on both sides of the issue grumble that the president is trying to parse his policy, hoping to pander to antiabortion absolutists who believe that the embryos have life without seeming deaf to the increasingly unified voice of medical experts in favor of the research. And the split between self-avowed pro-life Republicans in Congress over the issue isn't helping.

The GOP is carrying Bush's water a little more effectively on the energy issue. On Tuesday, a House panel defeated a Democratic measure to ban oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, while another panel approved a White House request to shift the entire $186,000 electric bill for Vice President Cheney's official residence to the Navy's tab.

The administration balked at criticism of the move, saying that it was just a continuation of a policy implemented to help former veep Al Gore shoulder his utility costs. While the Navy did pay a portion of Gore's electric bill, Bush's call to make the Navy responsible for the entire sum is something new. The move also comes at a bad time for Bush's renewed push for his energy policy, an effort led by Cheney.

And don't miss conservative watchdog organization Judicial Watch suing Vice President Cheney for records concerning the White House energy policy task force. Officials with the group insist that the Bush administration is acting improperly by failing to release the information to Congress and the public. Judicial Watch plagued the Clinton administration with lawsuits, and is still pursuing an investigation of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., over her reporting of campaign contributions.

Wednesday schedule: The president begins his second European trip, traveling to England, where he'll meet with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip and later hold talks with Prime Minister Tony Blair.

-- AM

Suck-up alert: National Review watches Bush's back

The conservative National Review Online suggests that the Washington Post's Dana Milbank is mercilessly picking on the president. Milbank's latest offense, it says, comes from his pool coverage of a recent Bush trip to Capitol Hill. The NR Online editors keep the criticism of Milbank secondhand, declaring that the story "has raised eyebrows among Bushies. They think it drips with contempt for Bush, and shows the 'real Milbank,' an intelligent reporter but one singularly unimpressed with W."

As backup, NR Online includes a full transcript of Milbank's report, in which he quotes the president saying, "We're going to talk about a lot of things" and "We're going to get a lot of things done for America," before stepping into a meeting with congressional GOP members. Milbank later observed, "The president and the caucus got so many things done for America so quickly that the hour-long meeting lasted only 45 minutes: a 25-minute speech by the president and 20 minutes of schmoozing."

While Milbank's pool report is plenty snarky, it hardly leaves the ink stains of a poison pen. And NR Online's habit of attacking anything that's not pro-Bush not only reveals its lack of objectivity about the commander in chief but something else far more depressing: a streak of humorlessness.

-- A.M.

Poll watch: Bush slips in Fox poll

Fox News is usually Bush-friendly territory, but the president didn't get any special favors from its most recent poll. The conservative network's latest survey, conducted July 10-11, shows Bush's job approval rating at 56 percent, a three-point drop from early June. Luckily for the president, that part of the poll was eclipsed by the other survey findings about public confidence in the honesty of Rep. Gary Condit, D-Calif. (FYI: There isn't much.)

Another poll finds that the White House rightly boasts that Bush is easy to like, no matter what he does on the job. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted July 10-11, shows that 70 percent of Americans approve of Bush as a person, and an even higher proportion -- 78 percent -- say that they respect him. That compares with just 57 percent who approve of the job he's doing as president.

But Bush still has work to do in convincing the American people that he cares about their problems, with 57 percent of those polled believing that Bush does care, but 40 percent claiming that he doesn't. It's the second time during his tenure that he's cracked the 40-point mark on the negative side of the empathy question, with that number hitting 42 percent in a March poll.

The president has a more pressing problem with public perception of his leadership skills. While 57 percent of Americans see him as a strong and decisive leader, 40 percent believe that he's not. What's worse for Bush is that July was the first time such a large number of Americans saw him as indecisive. When he was an untried candidate for the presidency in March 1999, 60 percent of those polled called him decisive, while a scant 14 percent said he was not. In January, days before his inauguration, 66 percent of Americans believed him decisive, compared with 24 percent who did not.

Both polls have a three-point margin of error.

Bush job approval

  • 56 percent, Fox News, July 10 to 11
    Down from 59 percent, June 6 to 7

  • 57 percent, CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, July 10 to 11
    Up from 52 percent, June 28 to July 1

  • 50 percent, NBC News/Wall Street Journal, June 23 to 25
    Down from 56 percent, April 21 to 23

  • 53 percent, CBS News/New York Times, June 14 to 18
    Down from 57 percent, May 10 to 12

  • 50 percent, Pew Center, June 13 to 17
    Down from 53 percent, May 15 to 20

  • 55 percent, ABC News/Washington Post, May 31 to June 3
    Down from 63 percent, April 19 to 22

  • 54 percent, Bloomberg, May 29 to June 3
    Down from 56 percent, April 3 to 8

    -- A.M.

    Burning Bush

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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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