George W. Bush arrived in Japan this morning, and it seems that a lot of Republicans might like him to stay there. Over the weekend, Doug Forrester, the Republican who lost the New Jersey governor's race to Democrat Jon Corzine, put the blame for his defeat squarely on the president. And in Washington now, Republicans in Congress are trying hard to put some political distance between themselves and a president they embraced not so long ago.
Republican senators are bucking Bush on two fronts, both related to the war on terror -- the issue on which Bush was supposed to be invincible. As the New York Times reports this morning, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Sen. John Warner are pushing a proposal that would call on the president to lay out a plan for ending the war in Iraq.
The Republican proposal doesn't go as far as some Democrats would like -- it doesn't move toward setting dates for the gradual withdrawal of troops -- but its very existence undercuts the president's attempts to dismiss criticism of the war as the work of the partisan left. It also underscores the political reality facing Republicans in the Senate: With 60 percent of the public saying the war hasn't been worth the cost, and a majority of the public saying the president misled the country about the reasons for it, the GOP has to be seen as doing something to bring the troops home.
As Frist and Warner float their plan, other senators have struck a deal that represents, as the Washington Post says today, "Congress's first attempt to assert some control" over the rights and treatment of detainees, a subject the Bush administration "has closely guarded as its sole prerogative." The deal combines John McCain's anti-torture provision -- the one Dick Cheney has spent the last several months fighting -- with a modified version of the Lindsey Graham amendment that would have denied detainees access to U.S. courts. The new version of the Graham amendment would provide an automatic appeal to detainees sentenced to death or more than 10 years in prison and some appeal rights for other detainees. If the senators succeed in keeping the Graham amendment linked to the McCain provision, Bush's hand may be forced. To get the restriction on detainee appeals he wants, he may have to sign the anti-torture provision Cheney opposes.