The Gall!

Published August 2, 2001 10:18PM (EDT)

Bush league: Nominee goes down

The president suffered his first confirmation defeat when the Senate Commerce Committee rejected Mary Sheila Gall's bid to chair the Consumer Product Safety Commission by a party line 12-11 vote. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., is being hailed/blamed as the chief architect of Gall's defeat, objecting to the nominee's record of siding with businesses on kid safety issues like recalls for flammable pajamas and defective bunk beds.

Gall was first named to the commission in 1991 and earned a new term in 1999 (thanks to Sen. Clinton's husband). Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., could try a procedural maneuver to bring her nomination to the floor, but he's expressed little enthusiasm for that. Gall will retain her post as commissioner. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer responded to the news by declaring that "bipartisanship lost today."

The Democrats had threatened nominees before, most notably Attorney General John Ashcroft, whose right-wing resume angered almost every liberal interest group in the galaxy. In the end, Ashcroft passed the full Senate 58-42, with eight Democrats switching sides to back him. Likewise, veteran Clinton hater Ted Olson won confirmation after considerable Democratic huffing and puffing, scraping by with a 51-47 win.

-- Alicia Montgomery

Daily line

"We have reached an agreement on how to amend this bill that will meet the principles I outlined."
-- President Bush heralding a possible compromise on the patients' bill of rights

Bush buzz

There's still grumbling, but there is a deal on patients' rights, and the president has plenty to smile about. With time running out before the Thursday House vote on the Ganske-Dingell-Norwood bill, Bush emerged for a brief, triumphant press conference with Rep. Charles Norwood, R-Ga., at the White House to announce a compromise on the thorny issue of patient lawsuits.

Bush agreed to allow patients to sue in state court, but under federal rules that, among other things, would cap pain and suffering damages at $1.5 million and would allow for punitive damages awards of up to $1.5 million under special circumstances. Employers who administer their own health plans could be sued only in federal court. The president conceded on the point of allowing lawsuits even when patients lose challenges before outside review boards, something that the House bill backed by Bush and the Republican leadership would not have permitted.

Bush might be happy, but some are calling Norwood a sellout. While the White House and Norwood were celebrating the compromise, several of the Georgia Republican's one-time allies on patients' rights were taken by surprise. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., one of the primary architects of the Senate version of the patients' rights bill, said he had no idea what Norwood had been up to, and Rep. Greg Ganske, R-Iowa, told Salon, "Charlie cut his own deal with the White House, and he didn't bother to tell any of us anything." Democratic proponents of the bill expressed anger over the deal, and it's not clear how House Democrats will respond when the vote is taken on Thursday. But most House Republicans are confident that the president's version will prevail.

Along with the tentative victory on patients' rights, Bush got his way in the House on the once-stalled energy bill. Republicans passed several elements of the president's plan, including a provision to allow for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Though Democrats contend that much of the president's proposal is hostile to the environment and was bought and paid for by the big power companies that bankrolled Bush's White House run, getting the votes was a major Republican victory, considering that the plan had been stalled for two months.

More good news will follow Bush into his summer break. The latest poll from the Washington Post and ABC News puts his job approval rating at 59 percent, a rebound from the 55 percent mark he hit in that survey during the first days of June, and the second-highest mark that poll has recorded for Bush since he took office.

With his mojo back in working order, Bush is likely to find it easier to shrug off the defeats he continues to suffer in the Senate, where Democrats Wednesday passed a measure that would impose tighter safety rules on Mexican truckers covered by the North American Free Trade Agreement. The White House has lashed out at the bill's supporters as protectionists, labeling the Democratic effort "unfair to Mexico."

Despite that defeat, Bush didn't strike out entirely in the Senate on Wednesday. Prospects for passage of his faith-based charities initiative improved as the bill's Senate sponsor, Rick Santorum, R-Pa., agreed to drop a provision that passed muster in the House that would have allowed faith-based organizations to ignore state and local civil rights laws without jeopardizing their federal funding.

With that step forward in the Senate, and Bush's House wins on patients' rights and energy, the charge that Bush lacks the power to push his agenda forward on the Hill has lost some of its punch. The president's political foes may find him harder to ignore from now on.

And don't miss outrage on the Internet over an upcoming Talk magazine fashion spread featuring a "Bush twins do time" story line. In a highly unscientific Vote.com poll, close to 90 percent of respondents said they believe that the spread, which depicts model stand-ins for Jenna and Barbara going to jail on booze charges, crosses the line.

Thursday schedule: The president holds a meeting at the White House with members of Congress to discuss his education plan. Vice President Cheney travels to Capitol Hill to meet with Republicans.

-- Alicia Montgomery This day in Bush history

Aug. 2, 1995: The Dallas Morning News reported that the number of poorly performing Texas schools increased during the first year of Gov. George W. Bush's term, despite his promises to improve the state's public education system. The governor's representatives said that the study's findings came to early to reflect the effect of Bush's programs.

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

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

George W. Bush