The president stays engaged on the Middle East and silent on a stem cell decision.

Published August 8, 2001 10:09AM (EDT)

Daily line

"I think the people of Texas know me, they know what I'm like, they know I can make decisions. They know I'm a person who stands on principles. I really don't worry about polls or focus groups. I do what I think is right. And so there's no political heat here."
-- President Bush expounding on the joys of being on vacation in Texas

Bush buzz

The president seems torn between trying to convince the press and the public that he's actually getting something done during the first days of his vacation in Crawford, Texas, and asserting the value of putting some distance between himself and Washington.

As he puttered around a local golf course, Bush teased the reporters trailing him about the heat, all the while declaring himself thoroughly engaged as a world leader, particularly in relation to the current crisis in the Middle East.

However, Bush's remarks were largely confined to the sort of standard-issue statements of concern that would have been appropriately uttered on almost any day in the past 10 years. "Our administration is in contact with the Israelis and the Palestinians on a regular basis," Bush said. "We will continue to do so. It is important for both sides to break the cycle of violence." His response to a letter from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that expressed outrage over recent Israeli strikes against Palestinians was remarkably similar. "I told him that we're still very much engaged in the process, obviously, that we take the violence very seriously."

Vague as those comments were, Bush was defiantly noncommittal about whether federal funds should be used to support embryonic stem cell research. "I'll be making that decision when -- I'll be making that announcement when I'm ready to make the announcement," he said. Administration officials have said that Bush will announce his decision after Labor Day.

While Bush and most other Washington politicos are on vacation, Attorney General John Ashcroft did a little work, traveling to an American Bar Association meeting in Chicago to complain that Senate Democrats are dragging their feet on approving Bush's judicial appointments. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has joined the chorus of leading Democrats who accuse Republicans of hypocrisy on the issue, pointing to what they consider politically motivated slowdowns in the confirmation process during the waning years of the Clinton administration.

More recent political history has been lost in Florida, where investigators have discovered that recount-related files were erased from four computers in the offices of Secretary of State Katherine Harris. The files were wiped out shortly before Bush's inauguration, when Harris' staff installed new operating systems on the machines. What was left on the computers challenges Harris' assertions that she ran a nonpartisan shop during the recount fight. In several instances, staff e-mail messages heralded positive developments for the Bush team, and referred to Bush supporters as "we."

The president may have reason to worry about having friendly faces preside over future recounts. After years of gains, the GOP could suffer serious losses in upcoming governors races. Republican seats are vulnerable in key battleground states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin. Barring the necessity of a recount in one of these states in 2004, Bush may not be directly affected by the losses, but the fortunes of the Republican Party could suffer. The support or opposition of a governor can greatly influence the partisan leanings of a state's citizens, and statehouses are a primary source of presidential contenders.

But these possible problems are too far down the road for Bush to be concerned with at the moment. Then again, he seems to have plenty of time on his hands down there in Texas.

And don't miss a report covering the Christians-only hiring policy of Bush's nominee for the post of assistant administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Kent Hill, whom Bush nominated last week for the job, instituted a policy of hiring only "committed Christians" to teach in the adult education program at Eastern Nazarene College when he was president of that school. Civil liberties groups are protesting the nomination.

Wednesday schedule: On the fifth day of his monthlong break, the president leaves his ranch to help build a house for the Habitat for Humanity program.

-- Alicia Montgomery

This day in Bush history

Aug. 8, 1993: The Dallas Morning News reported that George W. Bush, managing partner of the Texas Rangers baseball team, was close to making a decision about whether to run in an upcoming race for governor. Bush vowed to make a decision by Labor Day. It wasn't the first time Bush's name was bounced around as a possible Republican hopeful for the post. In 1989, he laid to rest rumors that he would run for governor in 1990.

Burning Bush

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

Send questions, comments and tips to bushed@salon.com.

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

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By Salon Staff

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