Bush league: Big donors, little ethics?
On his first day in office, the president very pointedly distributed a memo regarding the high ethical standards that those in his administration would have to observe. So it's puzzling that two of his recent ambassadorial picks each have a serious ethical lapse -- one that landed them in court-- in their backgrounds.
Earlier this week, the Boston Globe reported that Richard J. Egan, Bush's pick to be ambassador to Ireland, had fudged facts about his military background. The bio released by the White House on March 14 listed him as a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, and his corporate bio on the Web site of EMC Corp., the data storage company he founded, claimed Egan served "during the Korean conflict." But Egan enlisted three short weeks before the end of hostilities in Korea, and both bios graciously omit the fact that he was court-martialed for going AWOL in 1954. He served one month's detention, and had his rank busted from private first class to plain private.
The mistake of John Price, a Utah businessman and Bush's choice as ambassador to the small East African country of Mauritius, is a bit more recent. In May, the White House announced Price's pending nomination and the president declared, "John Price is a proven business leader and committed member of his community." In April, Price was assessed a $6.6 million civil penalty for a crooked real estate deal which benefited his company, JP Realty.
And Price's testimony during the trial, according to one juror interviewed by Salt Lake City's Deseret News, did little to inspire much confidence in his character. "You take a man that is over a corporation as large as his is and is worth as much money as he is and he says 'I don't know' 19 times?" the juror said. "I didn't find him believable."
Whatever their problems with veracity, neither man has any difficulty in taking care of their friends in the Republican Party. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that Egan and his wife donated more than $450,000 to Republican candidates and causes during the last election cycle, and sent a $100,000 check to Bush's inaugural committee in December. And Price beat Egan's mark, sending over $580,000 to GOP causes during the last campaign. Both men were Bush "Pioneers," individuals who pledged to raise at least $100,000 for the candidate.
"I'm offering to sign a bill and not veto it. And that's pretty powerful incentive for someone to try to come up with an agreement. I will not sign a bill that I think will end up tossing people out of health insurance."
-- President Bush speaking about the prospects for a deal on patients' rights legislation
With the summer recess just days away, Tuesday found Bush sounding more and more optimistic about the prospects for a deal on the patients' bill of rights. The president has been steadily negotiating with Rep. Charles Norwood, R-Ga., one of the bill's chief proponents, to try to find a middle ground on the question of lawsuits and liability limits for patients who sue. Bush has promised to veto the bill if its authors don't move it closer to his own preferences for damages awards caps and federal as opposed to state courts as the proper venue for any suits.
But the Democrats and moderate Republicans who support the current patients' rights legislation have not publicly signed onto Bush's sunny progress report. So far, the president's lobbying efforts seem to have fallen short of flipping most of the current bill's supporters, and the Republican alternative that Bush favors remains short of the votes necessary for passage.
After days of dithering over scheduling a vote on the bipartisan patients' rights bill, the Republican leadership in the House has finally set Thursday as the date. That could either be an attempt to live up to previous pledges to strive for a resolution on the issue before Congress' summer recess or a way to push the bill's advocates toward a deal with Bush.
While pressing for action on patients' rights, GOP House leaders were forced to put off until September a vote on granting the president fast-track trade authority or else risk an embarrassing defeat for Bush. In recent days, the White House has been more aggressive about labeling Democratic opponents of Bush's trade policies "isolationists" or "protectionists," but the slam has apparently failed to deter the president's trade opponents, particularly those who have been closely allied with organized labor.
A contentious campaign finance reform package could also be back on the president's radar screen in September. In just the first 24 hours of their efforts, proponents of the procedurally smothered Shays-Meehan campaign finance reform plan gathered about 80 percent of the required 218 signatures needed for a "discharge petition," a parliamentary tool to force a vote on the bill. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., has said that nothing short of force would move him to bring the bill back for consideration before the end of the year.
For a while, it seemed as if the president's energy plan would have to wait at least that long for legislative attention, but House Republicans went forward Tuesday with Bush's proposals to expand domestic power production. Though the plan is much more modest than the president had called for, critics charge that big energy producers -- many of which are heavy donors to Republican candidates -- will get billions in unwarranted tax breaks if Bush's plan goes through.
On election reform, Bush seems content to let Congress take the lead. On Tuesday, he graciously accepted a report from a commission headed by former Presidents Carter and Ford that called for extensive changes to the nation's voting system, but reserved judgment on specific reforms. When asked whether he would have won the White House had the Florida voting apparatus met the report's standards, Bush replied, "It would have been a landslide."
And don't miss Bush and Republicans risking a showdown with African-American lawmakers over the United Nations' upcoming conference on race issues. The White House has threatened not to attend if reparations for slavery are up for discussion. Black members of Congress charge that Bush is just looking for excuses to avoid a dialogue on race.
Wednesday schedule: The president speaks to the National Urban League in the morning, and later travels to the Pentagon for a meeting with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to discuss long-term military strategy.
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Bushed! contributors: Eric Boehlert, Gary Kamiya, Kerry Lauerman, Alicia Montgomery, Scott Rosenberg, Jake Tapper, Joan Walsh, Anthony York
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