I can’t help wondering whether this will be the pattern for the future. Following Tuesday’s decimation of Republican’ts in both the U.S. Congress and the statehouses, “lame duck” George W. Bush dearly wants to capture and maintain control of the near-term national agenda. But something else of greater importance or public interest keeps beating him to the headlines.
During a Rose Garden appearance this morning, the prez declared that “The first order of business is for Congress to complete the work on the federal spending bills for this year with strong fiscal discipline and without diminishing our capacity to fight the war on terror.” (Of course, Bush himself has failed to exercise fiscal discipline during the last six years, never once vetoing GOP spending bills that, together, have driven the national debt to record-setting heights.) Bush also told Congress it should pass the “Terrorist Surveillance Act,” which was introduced by the newly defeated Senator Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) and would “retroactively authorize the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance program and ... allow for future warrantless surveillance without judicial oversight,” according to one assessment. “We also need to pass the bipartisan energy legislation that’s now before Congress,” Bush insisted. “And ... we need to complete the work on legislation that will allow us to cooperate with India on civilian nuclear technology and pass trade legislation that will enable us to recognize Vietnam as a member of the WTO [World Trade Organization].”
Likely, Bush thinks he can win notice from the lapdog American media with such pronouncements, and make them do his work of following up on these issues. However, Bush should find it more difficult to get some of his agenda items past Congress, once Democrats are in the majority. That might be especially true of the so-called Terrorist Surveillance Act of 2006 (which is really a “bill,” not an “act,” since as any high-school civics student could tell you, a bill doesn’t become an act until it’s passed into law). A vast majority of Dems in the House tried to kill related legislation in September; and though DeWine’s proposal cleared the GOP-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee two months ago, Democrats in the upper chamber aren’t now likely to pass it as is, if they take it up at all.
For the time being, the Connecticut Cowboy is having a hard enough time just keeping the spotlight on himself and trying to appear relevant in a vastly altered Washington, D.C. His Rose Garden message of this morning, for instance, were quickly stepped on by breaking news about Republican Senator George Allen of Virginia conceding defeat at the hands of his Democratic opponent, former Navy Secretary Jim Webb--a move that places Dems in control of both houses of Congress for the first time since 1994. Allen, who’d been plagued during the campaign by allegations of racist behavior (remember the “macaca” incident?) and questions surrounding two arrest warrants from the 1970s), was reportedly “shell-shocked” by his unanticipated defeat, and still looked it during a subdued concession speech in which he couldn’t resist alluding to his religiosity (must all Republican’ts mention God and the Bible at least three or four times in every address, no matter how short?) and tossing around a football. (He is, after all, the son of former NFL head coach George Allen.) Television news commentators quickly followed up with predictions that this marks the end of any presidential aspirations Allen might have harbored. Less than an hour after Allen’s concession, it was Webb’s turn before the cameras. With supporters cheering him on, Webb waved a pair of combat boots above his head--“a campaign trademark for the former Navy secretary whose Marine son is fighting in Iraq,” CNN explained--before assuring listeners, many of whom had voted against Republican’ts because of their dissatisfaction with Bush’s war policies, that “[Democrats are] going to work hard to bring a sense of responsibility in our foreign policy that will, in my view, result in a diplomatic solution in Iraq.”
By this point, anybody who remembered the prez saying something vague about what Congress should or shouldn’t do in the coming months was a rare bird, indeed.
Additional distractions followed, including:
-- the news that Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, “a centrist Democrat,” will join the race for the U.S. presidency in 2008;
-- reports that “Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman is all but certain to step down at the end of the year” (those reports coming not long after political satirist, author, and HBO-TV host Bill Maher suggested on CNN’s Larry King Live that Mehlman is gay);
-- and word that the White House, only one day after Bush claimed on national television that he’s looking forward to working with Democratic leaders to “find common ground in the next two years,” is renominating John R. Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and hoping to ram through confirmation of Robert Gates as the next Secretary of Defense before Republican’ts lose their grip on the Senate. The Bolton effort comes just 15 months after the prez installed the controversial “diplomat” temporarily at the U.N. by way of a recess appointment, following a successful attempt by Democrats to block Bolton’s confirmation for the job. There’s no telling yet where the Gates appointment might go, but even FOX News concedes that Bolton “won’t get a hearing before the 109th Congress adjourns, effectively killing any chance he would have of being confirmed for his post.” Outgoing GOP Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, who as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee opposed sending Bolton’s U.N. nomination to the full Senate in 2005, has made it clear that he won’t reconsider his crucial “no” vote, and Democratic Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, who’s widely expected to become head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January, says he sees “no point in considering Mr. Bolton’s nomination again.” (FOX points out that Bush “can re-appoint Bolton during the [coming] congressional recess, ... [b]ut the ambassador won’t get paid until he is confirmed by the Senate.” Better for the prez to simply put forward another nominee.)
Oh, and let’s not forget Rush Limbaugh’s much-noticed admission that he feels “liberated” by the failure of so many Republican’t incumbents to hold onto their posts. “I no longer am going to have to carry the water for people who I don’t think deserve having their water carried,” said Mr. Morally Upstanding. In other words, Limbaugh is nothing more than an entertainer and propagandist, so why take anything he says seriously?
With all of this in the wind, is it any wonder that Bush is having trouble finding an audience these days? Or getting folks to remember that he isn’t yet retiring to that 1,583-acre estate-cum-ranch of his back in Crawford? Heck, he can’t even throw his trusted War Secretary under the bus and expect more than a few hours worth of attention. Poor guy.
READ MORE: “Bush’s Presidential Quagmire,” by Walter Shapiro (Salon); “Thumper on the Right,” by Bruce Reed (Slate); “Republicans Blame Their Party Leadership for Tuesday’s Losses,” by Steven Thomma (McClatchy Newspapers); “A New Bellwether for America,” by Garrett Epps (Salon); “Bipartisanship on Hold” (The New York Times); “Chafee Unsure of Staying with GOP After Losing Election,” by Michelle R. Smith (AP).