Is the president working hard or hardly working?

Published August 9, 2001 2:56PM (EDT)

Daily line

"They don't understand the definition of work, then. I'm getting a lot done. Secondly, you don't have to be in Washington to work. It's amazing what can happen with telephones and faxes."
-- President Bush, responding to critics who say that he's taking too long a vacation

Bush buzz

The president ventured off his Crawford, Texas, ranch Wednesday to pound in a few nails for a Habitat for Humanity house, injuring his finger in the process. He made remarks tying the event to his faith-based charities initiative, then headed back home. Bush stopped briefly on the return trip to talk to a few Crawford citizens at the town's only restaurant, ordering a cheeseburger and onion rings, and returned the verbal volleys of unnamed critics in the ongoing working-hard/hardly working debate over his vacation.

But there is room for drama at the Bush ranch. After months of dithering, the president has promised to announce a decision about federal funding of fetal stem cell research on Thursday night. As late as Wednesday, the president was in no hurry to make an announcement, setting an Aug. 21 date to make his decision public.

Coincidentally, the announcement is likely to steal the thunder out of the Democratic leadership's headline-grabbing strike at the president's foreign policy. In a speech before the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., plans to attack Bush as a go-it-alone world leader whose autocratic style is alienating America's allies in Europe and elsewhere. Daschle plans to single out Bush's unswerving enthusiasm for a missile defense shield as a particular danger to the nation's role as an international leader.

It's not the first time that Daschle has made such accusations; last month he launched what he later admitted was an ill-timed attack on Bush's foreign policy while the president was in Europe attending the G-8 summit. But Daschle stood by the substance of those remarks, and the Democrats seem determined to make Bush's perceived weakness on foreign policy a permanent issue. Just last week, House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., delivered a speech slamming Bush as a unilateralist.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, accused by Hill Democrats and Republicans alike of making unilateral decisions about the direction of America's military, is dealing with the consequences of Bush's victory on the tax cut. Reportedly, Rumsfeld is set to recommend a 10 percent cut in armed forces personnel to finance his new weapons projects and still stay within his budget. He is also committed to scrapping the nation's historic two-war defense strategy, in which the military is kept prepared to fight two major wars simultaneously.

While Bush hasn't yet suffered a major backlash from the military over his administration's plans to cut bases, reconfigure troops and tighten resources, they pose a significant threat to the president's political standing among conservatives. With the Democrats attacking missile defense and some in the military questioning Rumsfeld's plans, Bush could be faced with fighting his own two wars -- one from the right, the other from the left -- on defense and foreign policy issues.

And don't miss a celebrity panel offering fashion tips to first lady Laura Bush. In the upcoming issue of People magazine, supermodel Naomi Campbell advises Bush to wear more hats, while Joan Rivers warns her to stay out of her mother-in-law's closet. Former hot starlet Jennifer Love Hewitt, on the other side, defends Bush's fashion sense, calling her "adorable."

Thursday schedule: The president enjoys his sixth day of vacation in Crawford, Texas.

-- Alicia Montgomery

This day in Bush history

Aug. 9, 1998: The Austin American-Statesman reported that a conservative contender for the 2000 GOP presidential nomination was campaigning in Gov. George W. Bush's backyard. Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft spoke with social conservative groups in Texas, and hinted that he might make a play for the White House. While many in his audiences doubted that Ashcroft could overtake Bush as the Republican favorite, some conservatives suggested that Ashcroft would make a good running mate, considering the Texas governor's reputation on the right as too moderate.

Burning Bush

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

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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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By Salon Staff

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