Bush league I: Daschle's long-distance diss bugs Bush team
The president and his advisors bristled at comments made by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., in a Wednesday USA Today interview. Daschle had remarked that Bush was bungling foreign policy, rattling America's allies with his stands on missile defense and global warming, and pulling the nation toward isolationism. "I think we are isolating ourselves, and in so isolating ourselves, I think we're minimizing ourselves," Daschle said. "I don't think we are taken as seriously today as we were a few years ago."
Administration officials traveling with the president were furious. "This is a real violation of a long-standing tradition of bipartisanship on foreign policy," groused White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. "It is unseemly, unwise and inaccurate." National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, who has tutored Bush in foreign affairs from his campaign days to the present, reportedly called Daschle to register her dissatisfaction.
The president himself, however, played it cool. "One of the things that America has prided itself on is a bipartisan foreign policy," Bush said. "And I would hope that that tradition continues. It's a very important tradition." When asked if Daschle had violated that standard, the president demurred. "I think that's going to be up for Tom Daschle to make up his own mind whether he did or not," he said.
Apparently, Daschle did make up his mind fairly quickly, telling USA Today on Thursday that he regretted the timing of his statements.
Bush league II: The last time I saw London ...
The president's team has always been tight-lipped about his history of overseas travel, leading many of Bush's critics to speculate that he's rarely ventured off American soil. But a Bush staff member revealed on Wednesday that the president had been to London twice before his current journey. The first trip happened in 1982, when he passed through on his way to a friend's wedding in Scotland. Bush's last trip to the British city came more than a decade ago in 1990, when he attended a gathering of the Young Presidents Organization, a group of young business leaders.
But at that time, Bush had a spotty -- and some would say checkered -- record as a businessman, and one of his business successes in 1990 came during a questionable stock deal. In June of that year, Bush had sold $840,000 worth of shares in Harken Energy Corp., at a time when he also served as a paid consultant to the firm. Weeks later, the company stock plummeted after it posted a $23 million quarterly loss. Though the Securities and Exchange Commission investigated Bush for insider trading, it declined to press charges.
Though Bush maintained his innocence throughout, the deal surfaced as a campaign issue when Bush first ran for Texas governor in 1994. During that campaign, Bush continued to deny any wrongdoing. "My sale of Harken stock was entirely legal and proper," he said.
"No one said this was going to be easy. This is as close as it gets."
-- Rep. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, speaking about the latest snag for the faith-based charity bill
Just as the president was flying out of town for his second European odyssey, things started to go wrong for his faith-based charity initiative in the House. On Tuesday, one of the plan's sponsors, Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., was confidently predicting that there were enough votes to pass the measure outright. But on Wednesday, Republican moderates joined Democrats in stalling the bill over a provision that would allow faith-based groups to ignore local and state civil rights laws in hiring without jeopardizing federal funds.
The civil rights issue has long concerned the bill's critics as well as top boosters of Bush's faith-based charity plan, including John DiIulio Jr., chief of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Salon reported in June that DiIulio was worried that this provision would kill the legislation in the Senate.
While there's a policy question at the heart of the bill's latest troubles, Bush and Republican House leaders have to wonder if this is the first strike from GOP moderates who were pissed off at House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., for his procedural smothering of the Shays-Meehan campaign finance reform bill last week. At the time, Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., vowed to lead a moderate GOP coalition in blocking certain items on the party leadership's agenda until Shays-Meehan received a floor vote in the House.
On Wednesday, Shays met with Hastert to put the speaker on notice that the campaign finance reform crowd would try to pry the bill loose from Republican leaders' hands with a "discharge petition," which could get Shays-Meehan a floor vote with the approval of a majority of the House.
None of this palace intrigue is good for the president, who has already seen his policy priorities put on ice in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Losing steam on the faith-based charity plan is particularly troublesome for Bush, considering that it was supposed to be both the great bipartisan triumph of his "compassionate conservative" agenda and a crucial bone to throw to his religious conservative supporters.
The president could get more trouble from the Christian right with the tough choice he faces on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Antiabortion absolutists want Bush to stand against federal funding, but that's getting tougher every day for the president. Wednesday, the National Institutes of Health released a study that supports doctors' claims that fetal stem cells are crucial in finding cures to myriad diseases, and key Bush ally Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., sided with proponents of that view.
No matter what happens on the issue at home, Bush will get plenty of chances to think about it while he's traveling in Europe. Bush is already set to speak with the pope about the matter when he visits Italy to attend the G-8 summit.
Even more nettlesome issues will soak up the remainder of Bush's time in Europe, as he continues to fend off attacks from leaders and jeers from protesters about his opposition to the Kyoto treaty on global warming. He'll also have to tangle with his new buddy, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, on the effect American missile defense would have on the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
And don't miss a split decision for the Bush twins on traveling with their folks to Europe. Reporters covering the president's trip report that daughter Barbara is tagging along on the trip while Jenna remains in the States, working in a part-time job. Apparently, it's one of those really important teen summer jobs that can't be delayed for a tour of Europe. Jenna recently pleaded guilty to her second drinking-related offense in a year. (Barbara has suffered only one booze bust.)
Meanwhile, Vice President Cheney is getting more heat for the secrecy surrounding the White House energy policy task force. The General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative agency, has stopped asking nicely and has now officially demanded that Cheney turn over records about task force activities at once.
Thursday schedule: Bush spends the first full day of his European journey in Britain.