The rising backlash against Bush

From the war on terrorism to the war in Iraq, the president is starting to feel heat from his own party.

By Mark Follman
Published June 16, 2005 3:23PM (EDT)

Over at TPM Cafe, ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero weighs in on Wednesday's House vote to rein in the sweeping powers of the Patriot Act. He calls it "perhaps the single most significant vote" in the nearly four-year debate on the issue, with a decisive majority (238 to 187) backing an amendment to exempt libraries and bookstores from snooping by federal investigators.

"I'd like to see how Karl Rove spins those numbers," Romero says, noting that no less than 40 Republicans, some known as staunch conservatives, voted for the amendment. Romero says the vote effectively pops a big hole in the claim that Americans overwhelmingly were behind the sweeping mandate. "Ever since 9/11, the pro-Patriot Act posse has echoed the same mantra: the public supports the law, the public supports the law. Just yesterday, in a CNN debate with Bob Barr, former Justice Department communications chief Barbara Comstock just kept repeating 'two out of three Americans support the Patriot Act.'" But the vote, Romero says, is "proof positive of what the polls actually show: that a little bit of education goes a long way with the Patriot Act. When you ask generic questions about whether folks support the 'Patriot Act,' 60 percent usually says sure. When you ask them whether they like the specific provisions we've been addressing, two-thirds or more begin to have concerns."

"Looking at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Gitmo [this week] and the House vote on the Patriot Act," Romero adds, "maybe something's afoot in D.C. that presents some new opportunities -- with Republicans beginning to ask some of the tough questions."

And they're tough questions that don't bode well for the Bush administration. More on that from today's Wall Street Journal:

"As bad news continues to emerge from Iraq and the U.S. detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, some Republicans are starting to edge away from the White House on its policies in the war on terror. The strains were on display yesterday, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Guantanamo Bay to address what Chairman Arlen Specter called the 'crazy quilt' system that governs the treatment of about 520 suspected enemy combatants being held there. Mr. Specter, a Republican from Pennsylvania, called on Congress to set out rules.

"More pointedly, Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, warned that if the administration and Congress and the courts can't come up with an effective policy for Guantanamo Bay, 'we're going to lose this war if we don't watch it.'"

President Bush is starting to get peppered by his own side on Iraq, too. Over the weekend, Republican Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina -- once a co-promoter of "freedom fries" -- called for the U.S. to set a date to withdraw troops from Iraq. And last week, Republican Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida, a former Bush cabinet member who strongly supported the Iraq war in its earlier days, said he was "discouraged" by the lack of progress and the inability of the Pentagon to draw down U.S. forces.

While it's not curtains for Bush yet, the rising agitation in his own party is a striking departure from the broad and deep support the president enjoyed not long ago for his policies on both Iraq and the war on terrorism. The president doesn't have to worry about reelection, but many of the lawmakers who've backed him without blinking, do, some as soon as next year. (One would like to think that a genuine sobering over poor policies plays into the shift as much as growing public dissatisfaction does, but whatever it takes.) And, as the Journal notes, "even minor Republican defections may embolden Democrats, whose criticism of the administration's war strategy has at times been muted, in large part because of the public support Mr. Bush's efforts have received." For more on the direction of public support for Bush's policies, see Romero above, or any number of the latest polls.

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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George W. Bush Guantanamo Iraq Middle East Terrorism War Room