The president's lack of clout on Capitol Hill is crippling him on the latest big issue, patients' rights.

Published July 26, 2001 10:47PM (EDT)

Poll watch: A stupid question?

Liberal Web site Buzzflash.com teamed up with pollster John Zogby to find out just how the American public felt about Elliot Abrams, the former Reagan administration official who pled guilty to deceiving Congress, and whom President Bush has hired to head the National Security Council's office for democracy, human rights and international operations. It got the answer it was looking for.

In a survey conducted from July 16 to 19, Zogby found that 74 percent of Americans believe that "someone who admitted to deceiving Congress," as Abrams did during the Iran-Contra scandal, should not receive an appointment to a "top level White House position." Only 16 percent said that such an appointment would be fine. There was a 3.3 percent margin of error.

The partnership between the liberals at Buzzflash and Zogby, a Republican, was greeted with jeers from some conservatives. On Wednesday, James Taranto, writing for the Wall Street Journal's best-of-the-Web opinion section, declared that Buzzflash.com "may well be both the shrillest and the most dimwitted political site on the Web," and that Zogby "ought to be ashamed of himself for lending (or renting) his name to this dishonest survey."

But Taranto did plenty of parsing on his own in explaining why Zogby's questions about Abrams were inappropriate. "One problem with the Zogby question is that it makes it sound as if Abrams committed perjury," he writes. "In fact he pleaded guilty only to two misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress, in connection with the Iran-contra scandal."

The poll does use language like "lying" to Congress instead of the technical terms used in Abrams' guilty plea -- "withholding information" -- but that's hardly clear bias in the poll's language. To Taranto, however, the Buzzflash poll is just another point of victimization for Abrams, who was pushed into those guilty pleas by "a politically motivated, out-of-control independent counsel."

Sounds like Taranto would like to give the GOP take on what the meaning of "is" is.

Bush job approval

  • 56 percent, CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, July 19 to 22
    Down from 57 percent, July 10 to 11

  • 52 percent, Pew Center, July 18 to 22
    Up from 51 percent, July 2 to 12

  • 55 percent, CNN/Time magazine, July 17 to 18
    Up from 52 percent, May 23 to 24

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

  • 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

  • 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

    -- Alicia Montgomery

    Daily line

    "I am hopeful we'll get a bill I can sign. And I appreciate so very much the hard work that's going on, particularly now in the House of Representatives, to bring a bill that is fair to patients ... There was a lot of negotiations going on when I was gone, and there still seems to be a lot of talk. And, obviously, we'd like to get this bill finished and on my desk, and a bill I can sign."
    -- President Bush, speaking about the patients' bill of rights during a meeting with congressional leaders

    Bush buzz

    The president wants a patients' bill of rights he can sign, preferably one that doesn't include the right to sue healthcare providers in state and federal court, the way the Democrat-favored Ganske-Dingell bill does. But since Republican leaders can't seem to get the votes together for such a bill, they have postponed a vote on the Ganske-Dingell bill, effectively tabling the legislation until after Labor Day. (It's worth noting that when the House GOP leadership said it was too busy to revive campaign finance reform legislation after smothering it in a procedural vote two weeks ago, it cited patients' rights as its top priority.)

    The new timeline means that Republicans will have more time to twist the arms of party members to get them to ditch the popular Ganske-Dingell measure, which closely resembles the Kennedy-McCain bill that passed the Senate. The move also keeps Bush from having to follow through on his pledge to veto the legislation.

    This latest drama highlights a serious clout deficit in the Bush White House. Both the president and the vice president personally lobbied several GOP representatives to win their support on the issue but still couldn't get it. What's more, Bush has demanded quick action on his religious charities initiative and his education plan, but there's no sense of urgency on the Hill to do as he says. And the president's energy policy, which he tried to revive with a series of town hall meetings featuring Vice President Cheney and members of his Cabinet, has gone nowhere.

    It's a big change from Bush's first tangle with Congress, when he won surprisingly swift passage of a tax cut that had been met with snickers during the presidential campaign. But since the Senate slipped into Democratic hands -- a calamity that many blamed on White House arrogance and insensitivity to Republican moderates -- Bush has been fighting a losing battle to keep his own party members on board for his agenda.

    On military reform, for example, Republican fiscal conservatives in Congress who place a high value on tax cuts are now quibbling with GOP defense enthusiasts who believe that Bush's budget for the armed forces is too stingy to ensure America's security.

    In another policy battle, free-trade Republicans, including Bush nemesis Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., are fighting on the president's side to prevent Democrats from tightening safety requirements for Mexican truckers traveling through the U.S. under the auspices of the North American Free Trade Agreement. But in addition to being up against Democrats, they must face down protectionist elements within their own party. McCain has already signaled his acceptance of at least temporary defeat on the issue, declaring that there would be enough votes in the Senate to sustain a presidential veto of the new safety standards should they pass.

    Bush also has had to deal with grumbling among divided Republicans over his upcoming decisions on funding fetal stem cell research and amnesty for millions of illegal Mexican immigrants. On the latter issue, the president has to weigh whether the good feelings an amnesty would foster in the Mexican-American community would outweigh the anger many conservatives would feel over what they see as rewarding lawbreakers. There are even signs that granting an amnesty could prompt a backlash among Hispanic voters who are not of Mexican heritage and other immigrants, who might wonder why such a break on immigration law was being given only to illegal immigrants from Mexico and not those from other countries.

    The perception of vulnerability of the Bush agenda and the Bush White House may partially explain the heat now being applied to top presidential advisor Karl Rove. Democrats have repeatedly threatened to launch a formal investigation of Rove's sizable investments in companies doing business with the White House, which he has been rather sluggish in relinquishing. And some Republicans have complained that Rove has too much say in Bush's decision making, and that his influence has inappropriately injected electoral calculations into issues like stem cell research, immigration and military tests on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. If Bush can't get his troops in order soon, Democrats may not have to do much to delay, dismiss or defeat the president's policy plans.

    If there's any silver lining to Bush's troubles, it's that his legislative problems have yet to affect his party's fundraising prowess. Since the inauguration, the GOP has bested Democrats in fundraising by a 2-to-1 margin.

    And don't miss House Republicans sealing the vice president's deal to pass on his utility bills to the Navy, defeating Democrats who challenged the arrangement. In addition to keeping Cheney's lights on, Congress also agreed to allow corporations to donate small gifts to offset entertaining costs at the vice president's official residence.

    Thursday schedule: The president participates in a ceremony awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to 29 Navajo "code talkers" who served in World War II.

    -- A.M.

    Bush league: Rhymes with "rich"

    Though the current president pledged to bring a new era of civility to post-Clinton Washington, apparently old habits die hard for some Republicans. Barbara Olson, wife of Solicitor General Ted Olson and author of the ultimate Hillary-bashing bio, "Hell to Pay," skipped the small talk in an interview with London's Daily Telegraph about post-feminist politics.

    Olson attributed Bush's reliance on women as high-level advisors to the example set by his mother, former first lady Barbara Bush. Clinton -- and his late mother, Virginia Kelley -- didn't fare well in comparison. "Look at Bill Clinton's mother as opposed to George W.'s mother," Olson said. "Is your mother a barfly who gets used by men? Or is your mother a strong woman who demanded respect for her ideas and always received it?"

    Though Bush and his wife have tried to keep their family lives private, family was strictly in bounds for the conservative ladies quoted in the piece. Barbara Ledeen, a founder of the Independent Women's Forum (a conservative think tank), said that many women have soured on feminism because feminists have done a poor job in managing their kids. "Their children are a mess," Ledeen said. "They're taking guns to schools and shooting each other. It is hard to say that it is not because of the parents." The boozy Bush twins, products of the president's traditional family, however, never came up in the article.

    But first lady Laura Bush did not go unmentioned. Kate O'Beirne, the Washington editor of the National Review, said that the latest Bush first lady was too competent to maintain a public relations edge over Tipper Gore during their husbands' White House contest. "It was because Tipper doesn't have her act together. Tipper's a little heavy, she's had problems -- Tipper has shown weakness," O'Beirne said. "Laura is self-contained, a little too perfect."


    -- A.M.

    Twin watch: What a swell party

    Both the president's twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara Bush, kept their names out of the papers after their most recent legal tangle over booze. But that all changed this past week, when Barbara traveled with her parents on a European tour, while Jenna stayed in the States for a summer job.

    Even under the watchful eye of her folks, Barbara managed to stumble into an unwelcome spotlight last Thursday, reportedly greeting the queen of England clad in jeans at a Buckingham Palace lunch. Over the weekend, first lady Laura Bush denied the story, claiming that her daughter wore a skirt to meet the queen. But Alan Hamilton, the Times of London reporter who broke news of the fashion faux pas, stands by his account. Barbara was properly attired when she tagged along on the president's Monday meeting with the pope, covering her head with a traditional black lace mantilla, as did her mother.

    On the other side of the ocean, Jenna enjoyed a more laid-back week, spending Saturday night at a Los Angeles birthday bash for the daughter of screenwriter Robert Towne. Though the White House has refused to comment on Jenna's summer plans, word leaked to Inside.com earlier this month that the first daughter was interning at Hollywood management firm Brillstein-Grey. According to a Wednesday report in the New York Daily News, the party featured perennial scenesters Jared Leto and Balthazar Getty, as well as female strippers. Jenna's Secret Service agents stayed in a parked car outside.

    Coincidentally, the New York Post's Page Six section ran a Wednesday item asking, "WHICH wild child daughter of a politico was smoking pot at an L.A. party? The hard-partying lass puffed right under the nose of the minders who try to keep her out of trouble."

    -- A.M.

    Burning Bush

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

    Send scoops to bushed@salon.com.

    Bushed! contributors: Eric Boehlert, Gary Kamiya, Kerry Lauerman, Alicia Montgomery, Scott Rosenberg, Jake Tapper, Joan Walsh, Anthony York

    Take a look at the previous edition of Bushed!

  • By Salon Staff

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