Thursday, April 20, 2006
The Worst President in History? One of America's leading historians assesses George W. Bush George W. Bush's presidency appears headed for colossal historical disgrace. Barring a cataclysmic event on the order of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, after which the public might rally around the White House once again, there seems to be little the administration can do to avoid being ranked on the lowest tier of U.S. presidents. And that may be the best-case scenario. Many historians are now wondering whether Bush, in fact, will be remembered as the very worst president in all of American history. From time to time, after hours, I kick back with my colleagues at Princeton to argue idly about which president really was the worst of them all. For years, these perennial debates have largely focused on the same handful of chief executives whom national polls of historians, from across the ideological and political spectrum, routinely cite as the bottom of the presidential barrel. Was the lousiest James Buchanan, who, confronted with Southern secession in 1860, dithered to a degree that, as his most recent biographer has said, probably amounted to disloyalty -- and who handed to his successor, Abraham Lincoln, a nation already torn asunder? Was it Lincoln's successor, Andrew Johnson, who actively sided with former Confederates and undermined Reconstruction? What about the amiably incompetent Warren G. Harding, whose administration was fabulously corrupt? Or, though he has his defenders, Herbert Hoover, who tried some reforms but remained imprisoned in his own outmoded individualist ethic and collapsed under the weight of the stock-market crash of 1929 and the Depression's onset? The younger historians always put in a word for Richard M. Nixon, the only American president forced to resign from office. Now, though, George W. Bush is in serious contention for the title of worst ever. In early 2004, an informal survey of 415 historians conducted by the nonpartisan History News Network found that eighty-one percent considered the Bush administration a "failure." Among those who called Bush a success, many gave the president high marks only for his ability to mobilize public support and get Congress to go along with what one historian called the administration's "pursuit of disastrous policies." In fact, roughly one in ten of those who called Bush a success was being facetious, rating him only as the best president since Bill Clinton -- a category in which Bush is the only contestant. The lopsided decision of historians should give everyone pause. Contrary to popular stereotypes, historians are generally a cautious bunch. We assess the past from widely divergent points of view and are deeply concerned about being viewed as fair and accurate by our colleagues. When we make historical judgments, we are acting not as voters or even pundits, but as scholars who must evaluate all the evidence, good, bad or indifferent. Separate surveys, conducted by those perceived as conservatives as well as liberals, show remarkable unanimity about who the best and worst presidents have been. Historians do tend, as a group, to be far more liberal than the citizenry as a whole -- a fact the president's admirers have seized on to dismiss the poll results as transparently biased. One pro-Bush historian said the survey revealed more about "the current crop of history professors" than about Bush or about Bush's eventual standing. But if historians were simply motivated by a strong collective liberal bias, they might be expected to call Bush the worst president since his father, or Ronald Reagan, or Nixon. Instead, more than half of those polled -- and nearly three-fourths of those who gave Bush a negative rating -- reached back before Nixon to find a president they considered as miserable as Bush. The presidents most commonly linked with Bush included Hoover, Andrew Johnson and Buchanan. Twelve percent of the historians polled -- nearly as many as those who rated Bush a success -- flatly called Bush the worst president in American history. And these figures were gathered before the debacles over Hurricane Katrina, Bush's role in the Valerie Plame leak affair and the deterioration of the situation in Iraq. Were the historians polled today, that figure would certainly be higher. Even worse for the president, the general public, having once given Bush the highest approval ratings ever recorded, now appears to be coming around to the dismal view held by most historians. To be sure, the president retains a considerable base of supporters who believe in and adore him, and who reject all criticism with a mixture of disbelief and fierce contempt -- about one-third of the electorate. (When the columnist Richard Reeves publicized the historians' poll last year and suggested it might have merit, he drew thousands of abusive replies that called him an idiot and that praised Bush as, in one writer's words, "a Christian who actually acts on his deeply held beliefs.") Yet the ranks of the true believers have thinned dramatically. A majority of voters in forty-three states now disapprove of Bush's handling of his job. Since the commencement of reliable polling in the 1940s, only one twice-elected president has seen his ratings fall as low as Bush's in his second term: Richard Nixon, during the months preceding his resignation in 1974. No two-term president since polling began has fallen from such a height of popularity as Bush's (in the neighborhood of ninety percent, during the patriotic upswell following the 2001 attacks) to such a low (now in the midthirties). No president, including Harry Truman (whose ratings sometimes dipped below Nixonian levels), has experienced such a virtually unrelieved decline as Bush has since his high point. Apart from sharp but temporary upticks that followed the commencement of the Iraq war and the capture of Saddam Hussein, and a recovery during the weeks just before and after his re-election, the Bush trend has been a profile in fairly steady disillusionment. * * * * How does any president's reputation sink so low? The reasons are best understood as the reverse of those that produce presidential greatness. In almost every survey of historians dating back to the 1940s, three presidents have emerged as supreme successes: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt. These were the men who guided the nation through what historians consider its greatest crises: the founding era after the ratification of the Constitution, the Civil War, and the Great Depression and Second World War. Presented with arduous, at times seemingly impossible circumstances, they rallied the nation, governed brilliantly and left the republic more secure than when they entered office. Calamitous presidents, faced with enormous difficulties -- Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Hoover and now Bush -- have divided the nation, governed erratically and left the nation worse off. In each case, different factors contributed to the failure: disastrous domestic policies, foreign-policy blunders and military setbacks, executive misconduct, crises of credibility and public trust. Bush, however, is one of the rarities in presidential history: He has not only stumbled badly in every one of these key areas, he has also displayed a weakness common among the greatest presidential failures -- an unswerving adherence to a simplistic ideology that abjures deviation from dogma as heresy, thus preventing any pragmatic adjustment to changing realities. Repeatedly, Bush has undone himself, a failing revealed in each major area of presidential performance. * * * * THE CREDIBILITY GAP No previous president appears to have squandered the public's trust more than Bush has. In the 1840s, President James Polk gained a reputation for deviousness over his alleged manufacturing of the war with Mexico and his supposedly covert pro-slavery views. Abraham Lincoln, then an Illinois congressman, virtually labeled Polk a liar when he called him, from the floor of the House, "a bewildered, confounded and miserably perplexed man" and denounced the war as "from beginning to end, the sheerest deception." But the swift American victory in the war, Polk's decision to stick by his pledge to serve only one term and his sudden death shortly after leaving office spared him the ignominy over slavery that befell his successors in the 1850s. With more than two years to go in Bush's second term and no swift victory in sight, Bush's reputation will probably have no such reprieve. The problems besetting Bush are of a more modern kind than Polk's, suited to the television age -- a crisis both in confidence and credibility. In 1965, Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam travails gave birth to the phrase "credibility gap," meaning the distance between a president's professions and the public's perceptions of reality. It took more than two years for Johnson's disapproval rating in the Gallup Poll to reach fifty-two percent in March 1968 -- a figure Bush long ago surpassed, but that was sufficient to persuade the proud LBJ not to seek re-election. Yet recently, just short of three years after Bush buoyantly declared "mission accomplished" in Iraq, his disapproval ratings have been running considerably higher than Johnson's, at about sixty percent. More than half the country now considers Bush dishonest and untrustworthy, and a decisive plurality consider him less trustworthy than his predecessor, Bill Clinton -- a figure still attacked by conservative zealots as "Slick Willie." Previous modern presidents, including Truman, Reagan and Clinton, managed to reverse plummeting ratings and regain the public's trust by shifting attention away from political and policy setbacks, and by overhauling the White House's inner circles. But Bush's publicly expressed view that he has made no major mistakes, coupled with what even the conservative commentator William F. Buckley Jr. calls his "high-flown pronouncements" about failed policies, seems to foreclose the first option. Upping the ante in the Middle East and bombing Iranian nuclear sites, a strategy reportedly favored by some in the White House, could distract the public and gain Bush immediate political capital in advance of the 2006 midterm elections -- but in the long term might severely worsen the already dire situation in Iraq, especially among Shiite Muslims linked to the Iranians. And given Bush's ardent attachment to loyal aides, no matter how discredited, a major personnel shake-up is improbable, short of indictments. Replacing Andrew Card with Joshua Bolten as chief of staff -- a move announced by the president in March in a tone that sounded more like defiance than contrition -- represents a rededication to current policies and personnel, not a serious change. (Card, an old Bush family retainer, was widely considered more moderate than most of the men around the president and had little involvement in policy-making.) The power of Vice President Dick Cheney, meanwhile, remains uncurbed. Were Cheney to announce he is stepping down due to health problems, normally a polite pretext for a political removal, one can be reasonably certain it would be because Cheney actually did have grave health problems. * * * * BUSH AT WAR Until the twentieth century, American presidents managed foreign wars well -- including those presidents who prosecuted unpopular wars. James Madison had no support from Federalist New England at the outset of the War of 1812, and the discontent grew amid mounting military setbacks in 1813. But Federalist political overreaching, combined with a reversal of America's military fortunes and the negotiation of a peace with Britain, made Madison something of a hero again and ushered in a brief so-called Era of Good Feelings in which his Jeffersonian Republican Party coalition ruled virtually unopposed. The Mexican War under Polk was even more unpopular, but its quick and victorious conclusion redounded to Polk's favor -- much as the rapid American victory in the Spanish-American War helped William McKinley overcome anti-imperialist dissent. The twentieth century was crueler to wartime presidents. After winning re-election in 1916 with the slogan "He Kept Us Out of War," Woodrow Wilson oversaw American entry into the First World War. Yet while the doughboys returned home triumphant, Wilson's idealistic and politically disastrous campaign for American entry into the League of Nations presaged a resurgence of the opposition Republican Party along with a redoubling of American isolationism that lasted until Pearl Harbor. Bush has more in common with post-1945 Democratic presidents Truman and Johnson, who both became bogged down in overseas military conflicts with no end, let alone victory, in sight. But Bush has become bogged down in a singularly crippling way. On September 10th, 2001, he held among the lowest ratings of any modern president for that point in a first term. (Only Gerald Ford, his popularity reeling after his pardon of Nixon, had comparable numbers.) The attacks the following day transformed Bush's presidency, giving him an extraordinary opportunity to achieve greatness. Some of the early signs were encouraging. Bush's simple, unflinching eloquence and his quick toppling of the Taliban government in Afghanistan rallied the nation. Yet even then, Bush wasted his chance by quickly choosing partisanship over leadership. No other president -- Lincoln in the Civil War, FDR in World War II, John F. Kennedy at critical moments of the Cold War -- faced with such a monumental set of military and political circumstances failed to embrace the opposing political party to help wage a truly national struggle. But Bush shut out and even demonized the Democrats. Top military advisers and even members of the president's own Cabinet who expressed any reservations or criticisms of his policies -- including retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni and former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill -- suffered either dismissal, smear attacks from the president's supporters or investigations into their alleged breaches of national security. The wise men who counseled Bush's father, including James Baker and Brent Scowcroft, found their entreaties brusquely ignored by his son. When asked if he ever sought advice from the elder Bush, the president responded, "There is a higher Father that I appeal to." All the while, Bush and the most powerful figures in the administration, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, were planting the seeds for the crises to come by diverting the struggle against Al Qaeda toward an all-out effort to topple their pre-existing target, Saddam Hussein. In a deliberate political decision, the administration stampeded the Congress and a traumatized citizenry into the Iraq invasion on the basis of what has now been demonstrated to be tendentious and perhaps fabricated evidence of an imminent Iraqi threat to American security, one that the White House suggested included nuclear weapons. Instead of emphasizing any political, diplomatic or humanitarian aspects of a war on Iraq -- an appeal that would have sounded too "sensitive," as Cheney once sneered -- the administration built a "Bush Doctrine" of unprovoked, preventive warfare, based on speculative threats and embracing principles previously abjured by every previous generation of U.S. foreign policy-makers, even at the height of the Cold War. The president did so with premises founded, in the case of Iraq, on wishful thinking. He did so while proclaiming an expansive Wilsonian rhetoric of making the world safe for democracy -- yet discarding the multilateralism and systems of international law (including the Geneva Conventions) that emanated from Wilson's idealism. He did so while dismissing intelligence that an American invasion could spark a long and bloody civil war among Iraq's fierce religious and ethnic rivals, reports that have since proved true. And he did so after repeated warnings by military officials such as Gen. Eric Shinseki that pacifying postwar Iraq would require hundreds of thousands of American troops -- accurate estimates that Paul Wolfowitz and other Bush policy gurus ridiculed as "wildly off the mark." When William F. Buckley, the man whom many credit as the founder of the modern conservative movement, writes categorically, as he did in February, that "one can't doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed," then something terrible has happened. Even as a brash young iconoclast, Buckley always took the long view. The Bush White House seems incapable of doing so, except insofar as a tiny trusted circle around the president constantly reassures him that he is a messianic liberator and profound freedom fighter, on a par with FDR and Lincoln, and that history will vindicate his every act and utterance. * * * * BUSH AT HOME Bush came to office in 2001 pledging to govern as a "compassionate conservative," more moderate on domestic policy than the dominant right wing of his party. The pledge proved hollow, as Bush tacked immediately to the hard right. Previous presidents and their parties have suffered when their actions have belied their campaign promises. Lyndon Johnson is the most conspicuous recent example, having declared in his 1964 run against the hawkish Republican Barry Goldwater that "we are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves." But no president has surpassed Bush in departing so thoroughly from his original campaign persona. The heart of Bush's domestic policy has turned out to be nothing more than a series of massively regressive tax cuts -- a return, with a vengeance, to the discredited Reagan-era supply-side faith that Bush's father once ridiculed as "voodoo economics." Bush crowed in triumph in February 2004, "We cut taxes, which basically meant people had more money in their pocket." The claim is bogus for the majority of Americans, as are claims that tax cuts have led to impressive new private investment and job growth. While wiping out the solid Clinton-era federal surplus and raising federal deficits to staggering record levels, Bush's tax policies have necessitated hikes in federal fees, state and local taxes, and co-payment charges to needy veterans and families who rely on Medicaid, along with cuts in loan programs to small businesses and college students, and in a wide range of state services. The lion's share of benefits from the tax cuts has gone to the very richest Americans, while new business investment has increased at a historically sluggish rate since the peak of the last business cycle five years ago. Private-sector job growth since 2001 has been anemic compared to the Bush administration's original forecasts and is chiefly attributable not to the tax cuts but to increased federal spending, especially on defense. Real wages for middle-income Americans have been dropping since the end of 2003: Last year, on average, nominal wages grew by only 2.4 percent, a meager gain that was completely erased by an average inflation rate of 3.4 percent. The monster deficits, caused by increased federal spending combined with the reduction of revenue resulting from the tax cuts, have also placed Bush's administration in a historic class of its own with respect to government borrowing. According to the Treasury Department, the forty-two presidents who held office between 1789 and 2000 borrowed a combined total of $1.01 trillion from foreign governments and financial institutions. But between 2001 and 2005 alone, the Bush White House borrowed $1.05 trillion, more than all of the previous presidencies combined. Having inherited the largest federal surplus in American history in 2001, he has turned it into the largest deficit ever -- with an even higher deficit, $423 billion, forecast for fiscal year 2006. Yet Bush -- sounding much like Herbert Hoover in 1930 predicting that "prosperity is just around the corner" -- insists that he will cut federal deficits in half by 2009, and that the best way to guarantee this would be to make permanent his tax cuts, which helped cause the deficit in the first place! The rest of what remains of Bush's skimpy domestic agenda is either failed or failing -- a record unmatched since the presidency of Herbert Hoover. The No Child Left Behind educational-reform act has proved so unwieldy, draconian and poorly funded that several states -- including Utah, one of Bush's last remaining political strongholds -- have fought to opt out of it entirely. White House proposals for immigration reform and a guest-worker program have succeeded mainly in dividing pro-business Republicans (who want more low-wage immigrant workers) from paleo-conservatives fearful that hordes of Spanish-speaking newcomers will destroy American culture. The paleos' call for tougher anti-immigrant laws -- a return to the punitive spirit of exclusion that led to the notorious Immigration Act of 1924 that shut the door to immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe -- has in turn deeply alienated Hispanic voters from the Republican Party, badly undermining the GOP's hopes of using them to build a permanent national electoral majority. The recent pro-immigrant demonstrations, which drew millions of marchers nationwide, indicate how costly the Republican divide may prove. The one noncorporate constituency to which Bush has consistently deferred is the Christian right, both in his selections for the federal bench and in his implications that he bases his policies on premillennialist, prophetic Christian doctrine. Previous presidents have regularly invoked the Almighty. McKinley is supposed to have fallen to his knees, seeking divine guidance about whether to take control of the Philippines in 1898, although the story may be apocryphal. But no president before Bush has allowed the press to disclose, through a close friend, his startling belief that he was ordained by God to lead the country. The White House's sectarian positions -- over stem-cell research, the teaching of pseudoscientific "intelligent design," global population control, the Terri Schiavo spectacle and more -- have led some to conclude that Bush has promoted the transformation of the GOP into what former Republican strategist Kevin Phillips calls "the first religious party in U.S. history." Bush's faith-based conception of his mission, which stands above and beyond reasoned inquiry, jibes well with his administration's pro-business dogma on global warming and other urgent environmental issues. While forcing federally funded agencies to remove from their Web sites scientific information about reproductive health and the effectiveness of condoms in combating HIV/AIDS, and while peremptorily overruling staff scientists at the Food and Drug Administration on making emergency contraception available over the counter, Bush officials have censored and suppressed research findings they don't like by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Agriculture. Far from being the conservative he said he was, Bush has blazed a radical new path as the first American president in history who is outwardly hostile to science -- dedicated, as a distinguished, bipartisan panel of educators and scientists (including forty-nine Nobel laureates) has declared, to "the distortion of scientific knowledge for partisan political ends." The Bush White House's indifference to domestic problems and science alike culminated in the catastrophic responses to Hurricane Katrina. Scientists had long warned that global warming was intensifying hurricanes, but Bush ignored them -- much as he and his administration sloughed off warnings from the director of the National Hurricane Center before Katrina hit. Reorganized under the Department of Homeland Security, the once efficient Federal Emergency Management Agency turned out, under Bush, to have become a nest of cronyism and incompetence. During the months immediately after the storm, Bush traveled to New Orleans eight times to promise massive rebuilding aid from the federal government. On March 30th, however, Bush's Gulf Coast recovery coordinator admitted that it could take as long as twenty-five years for the city to recover. Karl Rove has sometimes likened Bush to the imposing, no-nonsense President Andrew Jackson. Yet Jackson took measures to prevent those he called "the rich and powerful" from bending "the acts of government to their selfish purposes." Jackson also gained eternal renown by saving New Orleans from British invasion against terrible odds. Generations of Americans sang of Jackson's famous victory. In 1959, Johnny Horton's version of "The Battle of New Orleans" won the Grammy for best country & western performance. If anyone sings about George W. Bush and New Orleans, it will be a blues number. * * * * PRESIDENTIAL MISCONDUCT Virtually every presidential administration dating back to George Washington's has faced charges of misconduct and threats of impeachment against the president or his civil officers. The alleged offenses have usually involved matters of personal misbehavior and corruption, notably the payoff scandals that plagued Cabinet officials who served presidents Harding and Ulysses S. Grant. But the charges have also included alleged usurpation of power by the president and serious criminal conduct that threatens constitutional government and the rule of law -- most notoriously, the charges that led to the impeachments of Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, and to Richard Nixon's resignation. Historians remain divided over the actual grievousness of many of these allegations and crimes. Scholars reasonably describe the graft and corruption around the Grant administration, for example, as gargantuan, including a kickback scandal that led to the resignation of Grant's secretary of war under the shadow of impeachment. Yet the scandals produced no indictments of Cabinet secretaries and only one of a White House aide, who was acquitted. By contrast, the most scandal-ridden administration in the modern era, apart from Nixon's, was Ronald Reagan's, now widely remembered through a haze of nostalgia as a paragon of virtue. A total of twenty-nine Reagan officials, including White House national security adviser Robert McFarlane and deputy chief of staff Michael Deaver, were convicted on charges stemming from the Iran-Contra affair, illegal lobbying and a looting scandal inside the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Three Cabinet officers -- HUD Secretary Samuel Pierce, Attorney General Edwin Meese and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger -- left their posts under clouds of scandal. In contrast, not a single official in the Clinton administration was even indicted over his or her White House duties, despite repeated high-profile investigations and a successful, highly partisan impeachment drive. The full report, of course, has yet to come on the Bush administration. Because Bush, unlike Reagan or Clinton, enjoys a fiercely partisan and loyal majority in Congress, his administration has been spared scrutiny. Yet that mighty advantage has not prevented the indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, on charges stemming from an alleged major security breach in the Valerie Plame matter. (The last White House official of comparable standing to be indicted while still in office was Grant's personal secretary, in 1875.) It has not headed off the unprecedented scandal involving Larry Franklin, a high-ranking Defense Department official, who has pleaded guilty to divulging classified information to a foreign power while working at the Pentagon -- a crime against national security. It has not forestalled the arrest and indictment of Bush's top federal procurement official, David Safavian, and the continuing investigations into Safavian's intrigues with the disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, recently sentenced to nearly six years in prison -- investigations in which some prominent Republicans, including former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed (and current GOP aspirant for lieutenant governor of Georgia) have already been implicated, and could well produce the largest congressional corruption scandal in American history. It has not dispelled the cloud of possible indictment that hangs over others of Bush's closest advisers. History may ultimately hold Bush in the greatest contempt for expanding the powers of the presidency beyond the limits laid down by the U.S. Constitution. There has always been a tension over the constitutional roles of the three branches of the federal government. The Framers intended as much, as part of the system of checks and balances they expected would minimize tyranny. When Andrew Jackson took drastic measures against the nation's banking system, the Whig Senate censured him for conduct "dangerous to the liberties of the people." During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln's emergency decisions to suspend habeas corpus while Congress was out of session in 1861 and 1862 has led some Americans, to this day, to regard him as a despot. Richard Nixon's conduct of the war in Southeast Asia and his covert domestic-surveillance programs prompted Congress to pass new statutes regulating executive power. By contrast, the Bush administration -- in seeking to restore what Cheney, a Nixon administration veteran, has called "the legitimate authority of the presidency" -- threatens to overturn the Framers' healthy tension in favor of presidential absolutism. Armed with legal findings by his attorney general (and personal lawyer) Alberto Gonzales, the Bush White House has declared that the president's powers as commander in chief in wartime are limitless. No previous wartime president has come close to making so grandiose a claim. More specifically, this administration has asserted that the president is perfectly free to violate federal laws on such matters as domestic surveillance and the torture of detainees. When Congress has passed legislation to limit those assertions, Bush has resorted to issuing constitutionally dubious "signing statements," which declare, by fiat, how he will interpret and execute the law in question, even when that interpretation flagrantly violates the will of Congress. Earlier presidents, including Jackson, raised hackles by offering their own view of the Constitution in order to justify vetoing congressional acts. Bush doesn't bother with that: He signs the legislation (eliminating any risk that Congress will overturn a veto), and then governs how he pleases -- using the signing statements as if they were line-item vetoes. In those instances when Bush's violations of federal law have come to light, as over domestic surveillance, the White House has devised a novel solution: Stonewall any investigation into the violations and bid a compliant Congress simply to rewrite the laws. Bush's alarmingly aberrant take on the Constitution is ironic. One need go back in the record less than a decade to find prominent Republicans railing against far more minor presidential legal infractions as precursors to all-out totalitarianism. "I will have no part in the creation of a constitutional double-standard to benefit the president," Sen. Bill Frist declared of Bill Clinton's efforts to conceal an illicit sexual liaison. "No man is above the law, and no man is below the law -- that's the principle that we all hold very dear in this country," Rep. Tom DeLay asserted. "The rule of law protects you and it protects me from the midnight fire on our roof or the 3 a.m. knock on our door," warned Rep. Henry Hyde, one of Clinton's chief accusers. In the face of Bush's more definitive dismissal of federal law, the silence from these quarters is deafening. The president's defenders stoutly contend that war-time conditions fully justify Bush's actions. And as Lincoln showed during the Civil War, there may be times of military emergency where the executive believes it imperative to take immediate, highly irregular, even unconstitutional steps. "I felt that measures, otherwise unconstitutional, might become lawful," Lincoln wrote in 1864, "by becoming indispensable to the preservation of the Constitution, through the preservation of the nation." Bush seems to think that, since 9/11, he has been placed, by the grace of God, in the same kind of situation Lincoln faced. But Lincoln, under pressure of daily combat on American soil against fellow Americans, did not operate in secret, as Bush has. He did not claim, as Bush has, that his emergency actions were wholly regular and constitutional as well as necessary; Lincoln sought and received Congressional authorization for his suspension of habeas corpus in 1863. Nor did Lincoln act under the amorphous cover of a "war on terror" -- a war against a tactic, not a specific nation or political entity, which could last as long as any president deems the tactic a threat to national security. Lincoln's exceptional measures were intended to survive only as long as the Confederacy was in rebellion. Bush's could be extended indefinitely, as the president sees fit, permanently endangering rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution to the citizenry. * * * * Much as Bush still enjoys support from those who believe he can do no wrong, he now suffers opposition from liberals who believe he can do no right. Many of these liberals are in the awkward position of having supported Bush in the past, while offering little coherent as an alternative to Bush's policies now. Yet it is difficult to see how this will benefit Bush's reputation in history. The president came to office calling himself "a uniter, not a divider" and promising to soften the acrimonious tone in Washington. He has had two enormous opportunities to fulfill those pledges: first, in the noisy aftermath of his controversial election in 2000, and, even more, after the attacks of September 11th, when the nation pulled behind him as it has supported no other president in living memory. Yet under both sets of historically unprecedented circumstances, Bush has chosen to act in ways that have left the country less united and more divided, less conciliatory and more acrimonious -- much like James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson and Herbert Hoover before him. And, like those three predecessors, Bush has done so in the service of a rigid ideology that permits no deviation and refuses to adjust to changing realities. Buchanan failed the test of Southern secession, Johnson failed in the face of Reconstruction, and Hoover failed in the face of the Great Depression. Bush has failed to confront his own failures in both domestic and international affairs, above all in his ill-conceived responses to radical Islamic terrorism. Having confused steely resolve with what Ralph Waldo Emerson called "a foolish consistency . . . adored by little statesmen," Bush has become entangled in tragedies of his own making, compounding those visited upon the country by outside forces. No historian can responsibly predict the future with absolute certainty. There are too many imponderables still to come in the two and a half years left in Bush's presidency to know exactly how it will look in 2009, let alone in 2059. There have been presidents -- Harry Truman was one -- who have left office in seeming disgrace, only to rebound in the estimates of later scholars. But so far the facts are not shaping up propitiously for George W. Bush. He still does his best to deny it. Having waved away the lessons of history in the making of his decisions, the present-minded Bush doesn't seem to be concerned about his place in history. "History. We won't know," he told the journalist Bob Woodward in 2003. "We'll all be dead." Another president once explained that the judgments of history cannot be defied or dismissed, even by a president. "Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history," said Abraham Lincoln. "We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation." SEAN WILENTZ
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
Senate Hearings on Bush, Now By CARL BERNSTEIN In this VF.com exclusive, a Watergate veteran and Vanity Fair contributing editor calls for bipartisan hearings investigating the Bush presidency. Should Republicans on the Hill take the high road and save themselves come November? Worse than Watergate? High crimes and misdemeanors justifying the impeachment of George W. Bush, as increasing numbers of Democrats in Washington hope, and, sotto voce, increasing numbers of Republicans—including some of the president's top lieutenants—now fear? Leaders of both parties are acutely aware of the vehemence of anti-Bush sentiment in the country, expressed especially in the increasing number of Americans—nearing 50 percent in some polls—who say they would favor impeachment if the president were proved to have deliberately lied to justify going to war in Iraq. John Dean, the Watergate conspirator who ultimately shattered the Watergate conspiracy, rendered his precipitous (or perhaps prescient) impeachment verdict on Bush two years ago in the affirmative, without so much as a question mark in choosing the title of his book Worse than Watergate. On March 31, some three decades after he testified at the seminal hearings of the Senate Watergate Committee, Dean reiterated his dark view of Bush's presidency in a congressional hearing that shed more noise than light, and more partisan rancor than genuine inquiry. The ostensible subject: whether Bush should be censured for unconstitutional conduct in ordering electronic surveillance of Americans without a warrant. Raising the worse-than-Watergate question and demanding unequivocally that Congress seek to answer it is, in fact, overdue and more than justified by ample evidence stacked up from Baghdad back to New Orleans and, of increasing relevance, inside a special prosecutor's office in downtown Washington. In terms of imminent, meaningful action by the Congress, however, the question of whether the president should be impeached (or, less severely, censured) remains premature. More important, it is essential that the Senate vote—hopefully before the November elections, and with overwhelming support from both parties—to undertake a full investigation of the conduct of the presidency of George W. Bush, along the lines of the Senate Watergate Committee's investigation during the presidency of Richard M. Nixon. How much evidence is there to justify such action? Certainly enough to form a consensus around a national imperative: to learn what this president and his vice president knew and when they knew it; to determine what the Bush administration has done under the guise of national security; and to find out who did what, whether legal or illegal, unconstitutional or merely under the wire, in ignorance or incompetence or with good reason, while the administration barricaded itself behind the most Draconian secrecy and disingenuous information policies of the modern presidential era. "We ought to get to the bottom of it so it can be evaluated, again, by the American people," said Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on April 9. "The President of the United States owes a specific explanation to the American people … about exactly what he did." Specter was speaking specifically about a special prosecutor's assertion that Bush selectively declassified information (of dubious accuracy) and instructed the vice president to leak it to reporters to undermine criticism of the decision to go to war in Iraq. But the senator's comments would be even more appropriately directed at far more pervasive and darker questions that must be answered if the American political system is to acquit itself in the Bush era, as it did in Nixon's. Perhaps there are facts or mitigating circumstances, given the extraordinary nature of conceiving and fighting a war on terror, that justify some of the more questionable policies and conduct of this presidency, even those that turned a natural disaster in New Orleans into a catastrophe of incompetence and neglect. But the truth is we have no trustworthy official record of what has occurred in almost any aspect of this administration, how decisions were reached, and even what the actual policies promulgated and approved by the president are. Nor will we, until the subpoena powers of the Congress are used (as in Watergate) to find out the facts—not just about the war in Iraq, almost every aspect of it, beginning with the road to war, but other essential elements of Bush's presidency, particularly the routine disregard for truthfulness in the dissemination of information to the American people and Congress. The first fundamental question that needs to be answered by and about the president, the vice president, and their political and national-security aides, from Donald Rumsfeld to Condoleezza Rice, to Karl Rove, to Michael Chertoff, to Colin Powell, to George Tenet, to Paul Wolfowitz, to Andrew Card (and a dozen others), is whether lying, disinformation, misinformation, and manipulation of information have been a basic matter of policy—used to overwhelm dissent; to hide troublesome truths and inconvenient data from the press, public, and Congress; and to defend the president and his actions when he and they have gone awry or utterly failed. Most of what we have learned about the reality of this administration—and the disconcerting mind-set and decision-making process of President Bush himself—has come not from the White House or the Pentagon or the Department of Homeland Security or the Treasury Department, but from insider accounts by disaffected members of the administration after their departure, and from distinguished journalists, and, in the case of a skeletal but hugely significant body of information, from a special prosecutor. And also, of late, from an aide-de-camp to the British prime minister. Almost invariably, their accounts have revealed what the president and those serving him have deliberately concealed—torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, and its apparent authorization by presidential fiat; wholesale N.S.A. domestic wiretapping in contravention of specific prohibitive law; brutal interrogations of prisoners shipped secretly by the C.I.A. and U.S. military to Third World gulags; the nonexistence of W.M.D. in Iraq; the role of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney's chief of staff in divulging the name of an undercover C.I.A. employee; the non-role of Saddam Hussein and Iraq in the events of 9/11; the death by friendly fire of Pat Tillman (whose mother, Mary Tillman, told journalist Robert Scheer, "The administration tried to attach themselves to his virtue and then they wiped their feet with him"); the lack of a coherent post-invasion strategy for Iraq, with all its consequent tragedy and loss and destabilizing global implications; the failure to coordinate economic policies for America's long-term financial health (including the misguided tax cuts) with funding a war that will cost an estimated $300 billion and that will drive the national debt toward $10 trillion; the assurance of Wolfowitz (since rewarded by Bush with the presidency of the World Bank) that Iraq's oil reserves would pay for the war within two to three years after the invasion; and Bush's like-minded confidence, expressed to Blair, that serious internecine strife in Iraq would be unlikely after the invasion. But most grievous and momentous is the willingness—even enthusiasm, confirmed by the so-called Downing Street Memo and the contemporaneous notes of the chief foreign-policy adviser to British prime minister Tony Blair—to invent almost any justification for going to war in Iraq (including sending up an American U-2 plane painted with U.N. markings to be deliberately shot down by Saddam Hussein's air force, a plan hatched while the president, the vice president, and Blair insisted to the world that war would be initiated "only as a last resort"). Attending the meeting between Bush and Blair where such duplicity was discussed unabashedly ("intelligence and facts" would be jiggered as necessary and "fixed around the policy," wrote the dutiful aide to the prime minister) were Ms. Rice, then national-security adviser to the president, and Andrew Card, the recently departed White House chief of staff. As with Watergate, the investigation of George W. Bush and his presidency needs to start from a shared premise and set of principles that can be embraced by Democrats and Republicans, by liberals and centrists and conservatives, and by opponents of the war and its advocates: that the president of the United States and members of his administration must defend the requirements of the Constitution, obey the law, demonstrate common sense, and tell the truth. Obviously there will be disagreements, even fierce ones, along the way. Here again the Nixon example is useful: Republicans on the Senate Watergate Committee, including its vice chairman, Howard Baker of Tennessee ("What did the president know and when did he know it?"), began the investigation as defenders of Nixon. By its end, only one was willing to make any defense of Nixon's actions. The Senate Watergate Committee was created (by a 77 to 0 vote of the Senate) with the formal task of investigating illegal political-campaign activities. Its seven members were chosen by the leadership of each party, three from the minority, four from the majority. (The Democratic majority leader of the Senate, Mike Mansfield, insisted that none of the Democrats be high-profile senators with presidential aspirations.) One of the crucial tasks of any committee charged with investigating the Bush presidency will be to delineate the scope of inquiry. It must not be a fishing expedition—and not only because the pond is so loaded with fish. The lines ought to be drawn so that the hearings themselves do not become the occasion for the ultimate battle of the culture wars. This investigation should be seen as an opportunity to at last rise above the culture wars and, as in Watergate, learn whether the actions of the president and his deputies have been consistent with constitutional principles, the law, and the truth. Karl Rove and other White House strategists are betting (with odds in their favor) that Republicans on Capitol Hill are extremely unlikely to take the high road before November and endorse any kind of serious investigation into Bush's presidency—a gamble that may increase the risk of losing Republican majorities in either or both houses of Congress, and even further undermine the future of the Bush presidency. Already in the White House, there is talk of a nightmare scenario in which the Democrats successfully make the November congressional elections a referendum on impeachment—and the congressional Republicans' lockstep support for Bush—and win back a majority in the House, and maybe the Senate too. But voting now to create a Senate investigation—chaired by a Republican—could work to the advantage both of the truth and of Republican candidates eager to put distance between themselves and the White House. The calculations of politicians about their electoral futures should pale in comparison to the urgency of examining perhaps the most disastrous five years of decision-making of any modern American presidency. There are huge differences between the Nixon presidency and this one, of course, but surprisingly few would appear to redound to this administration's benefit, including even the fundamental question of the competence of the president. First and foremost among the differences may be the role of the vice president. The excesses of Watergate—the crimes, the lies, the trampling of the Constitution, the disregard for the institutional integrity of the presidency, the dutiful and even enthusiastic lawbreaking of Nixon's apparatchiks—stemmed from one aberrant president's psyche and the paranoid assumptions that issued from it, and from the notion shared by some of his White House acolytes that, because U. S. troops were fighting a war—especially a failing one against a determined, guerrilla enemy in Vietnam—the commander in chief could assume extraordinary powers nowhere assigned in the Constitution and govern above the rule of law. "When the president does it that means that it is not illegal," Nixon famously told David Frost. Bush and Cheney have been hardly less succinct about the president's duty and right to assume unprecedented authority nowhere specified in the Constitution. "Especially in the day and age we live in … the president of the United States needs to have his Constitutional powers unimpaired, if you will, in terms of the conduct of national-security policy," Cheney said less than four months ago. Bush's doctrine of "unimpairment"—at one with his tendency to trim the truth—may be (with the question of his competence) the nub of the national nightmare. "I have the authority, both from the Constitution and the Congress, to undertake this vital program," Bush said after more than a few Republican and conservative eminences said he did not and joined the chorus of outrage about his N.S.A. domestic-surveillance program. "Terrorism is not the only new danger of this era," noted George F. Will, the conservative columnist. "Another is the administration's argument that because the president is commander in chief, he is the 'sole organ for the nation in foreign affairs' … [which] is refuted by the Constitution's plain language, which empowers Congress to ratify treaties, declare war, fund and regulate military forces, and make laws 'necessary and proper' for the execution of all presidential powers." A voluminous accumulation of documentary and journalistic evidence suggests that the policies and philosophy of this administration that may be unconstitutional or illegal stem not just from Bush but from Cheney as well—hence there's even greater necessity for a careful, methodical investigation under Senate auspices before any consideration of impeachment in the House and its mischievous potential to create the mother of all partisan, ideological, take-no-prisoners battles, which would even further divide the Congress and the country. Cheney's recognition of the danger to him and his patron by a re-assertion of the Watergate precedent of proper congressional oversight is not hard to fathom. Illegal wiretapping—among other related crimes—was the basis of one of the articles of impeachment against Nixon passed by the House Judiciary Committee. The other two were defiance of subpoenas and obstruction of justice in the Watergate cover-up. "Watergate and a lot of the things around Watergate and Vietnam, both during the 1970s, served, I think, to erode the authority … [that] the president needs to be effective, especially in the national-security area," Cheney has observed. Nixon did not share his decision-making, much less philosophizing, with his vice president, and never relegated his own judgment to a number two. Former secretary of state Colin Powell's ex-chief of staff, retired army colonel Larry Wilkerson, has attested, "What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made." Here it may be relevant that Powell has, in private, made statements interpreted by many important figures in Washington as seemingly questioning Cheney's emotional stability, and that Powell no longer recognizes the steady, dependable "rock" with whom he served in the administration of George W. Bush's father. Powell needs to be asked under oath about his reported observations regarding Cheney, not to mention his own appearance before the United Nations in which he spoke with assurance about Saddam Hussein's possession of weapons of mass destruction and insisted that the United States was seeking a way to avoid war, not start it. Because Powell was regarded by some as the administration "good guy," who was prescient in his anxiety about Bush's determination to go to war in Iraq ("You break it, you own it"), he should not be handed a pass exempting him from tough questioning in a congressional investigation. Indeed, Powell is probably more capable than any other witness of providing both fact and context to the whole story of the road to war and the actions of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the others. One of the similarities between Bush and Nixon is their contempt, lip service aside, for the legitimate oversight of Congress. In seeking to cover up his secret, illegal activities, Nixon made broad claims of executive privilege or national security, the most important of which were rejected by the courts. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and their colleagues have successfully evaded accountability for the dire consequences of their policies through a tried-and-true strategy that has exploited a situation in which the press (understandably) has no subpoena power and is held in ill repute (understandably) by so many Americans, and the Republican-controlled Congress can be counted on to ignore its responsibility to compel relevant, forthright testimony and evidence—no matter how outrageous (failure to provide sufficient body armor for American soldiers, for example), mendacious, or inimical to the national interest the actions of the president and his principal aides might be. As in Watergate, the Bush White House has, at almost every opportunity when endangered by the prospect of accountability, made the conduct of the press the issue instead of the misconduct of the president and his aides, and, with help from its Republican and conservative allies in and out of Congress, questioned the patriotism of the other party. As during the Nixon epoch, the strategy is finally wearing thin. "He's smoking Dutch Cleanser," said Specter when Bush's attorney general claimed legality for the president's secret order authorizing the wiretapping of Americans by the N.S.A.—first revealed in The New York Times in December. Before the Times story had broken, the president was ardent about his civil-libertarian credentials in such matters: "Any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires—a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so," Bush said in a speech in Buffalo, New York, in April 2004. Obviously, Bush's statement was demonstrably untrue. Yet instead of correcting himself, Bush attacked the Times for virtual treason, and his aides initiated a full-court press to track down whoever had provided information to the newspaper. "Our enemies have learned information they should not have, and the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk," he declared, as if America's terrorist enemies hadn't assumed they were subject to all manner of electronic eavesdropping by the world's most technologically sophisticated nation. As in the Nixon White House, the search for leakers and others in the executive branch who might be truthful with reporters has become a paranoid preoccupation in the Bush White House. "Revealing classified information is illegal, alerts our enemies, and endangers our country," Bush added. (The special prosecutor's revelation that Bush himself—through Cheney—was ultimately behind Scooter Libby's leaking to undermine Joseph Wilson has ironically caused Bush more damage among Republican members of Congress than far more grievous acts by the president.) The irony of the Valerie Plame affair, like the Watergate break-in itself, is its relative insignificance in terms of the greater transgressions of a presidency that has gone off the tracks. The "third-rate burglary," as it was famously dismissed by Nixon's press secretary, Ron Ziegler, was actually the key to unlocking the rest of the White House secrets and their cover-up by the President and his men. Absent the knowledge of those other illegal activities of the Nixon presidency, the vehemence with which Nixon, Mitchell, Haldeman, Ziegler, Colson, et al. denied any knowledge of the Watergate break-in, or even its tangential connection to the White House, never made such sense. As in the case of the Watergate break-in and the Nixon White House, it is now evident that the Plame investigation by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has opened the door to larger questions of transgression: at minimum giving clarity to how far this president and his men and women have been willing to go to protect their knowledge of the false premises and pretenses on which they went to war and sold it to the Congress, the people, the press, the United Nations, and the world. Contrary to all the denials of the President's spokesman, Scott McClellan, the White House sought "to discredit, punish, or seek revenge against Mr. Wilson," according to the special prosecutor. And, Fitzgerald told the U. S. District Court, "It is hard to conceive of what evidence there could be that would disprove the existence of White House efforts to punish Wilson." Lost in most accounts of the complicated Plame backstory is its relevance in terms of Bush's 2004 re-election, and hence the obvious concern by Rove and other presidential deputies: that if Wilson's credentials and information were not undermined they would serve as confirmation during the presidential campaign that Bush had knowingly used false claims (that Saddam Hussein had been trying to seek nuclear materials from Niger) in his 2003 State of the Union address to publicly justify going to war. The parallel with potential damage from Watergate to Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign is almost eerie (and equally complicated): if the insistent denials about White House involvement in the Watergate break-in had been proven false at the time, or the door opened on the other illegal activities of the President and his men, Nixon might have been a far more vulnerable candidate for re-election in 1972. Literally dozens of investigations have been ordered at the C.I.A., the Pentagon, the National Security Agency, and elsewhere in the executive branch to find out who is talking to the press about secret activities undertaken in Bush's presidency. These include polygraph investigations and a warning to the press that reporters may be prosecuted under espionage laws. Bush's self-claimed authority to wiretap without a court order—like his self-claimed authority to hold prisoners of war indefinitely without habeas corpus (on grounds those in custody are suspected "terrorists")—stems from the same doctrine of "unimpairment" and all its Nixonian overtones: "The American people expect me to protect their lives and their civil liberties, and that's exactly what we're doing with this [N.S.A. eavesdropping] program," asserted Bush in January. When Nixon's former attorney general John N. Mitchell was compelled to testify before the Watergate Committee, he laid out the sordid "White House horrors," as he called them—activities undertaken in the name of national security by the low-level thugs and high-level presidential aides acting in the president's name. Mitchell, loyal to the end, pictured the whole crowd, from Haldeman and Ehrlichman and Colson down to Liddy and the Watergate burglars, as self-starters, acting without authority from Nixon. The tapes, of course, told the real story—wiretapping, break-ins, attempts to illegally manipulate the outcome of the electoral process, routine smearing of the president's opponents and intricate machinations to render it untraceable, orders to firebomb a liberal think tank, the Watergate cover-up, and their origin in the Oval Office. In the case of the Bush administration's two attorneys general, John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales, there are indications that—as in the Nixon White House—they approved and/or promulgated policies (horrors?) that would appear intended to enable the president to circumvent the Constitution and the law. Ashcroft expressed reservations as early as 2004 about the legality of the wiretapping authority claimed by Bush, according to recent disclosures in the press, but Ashcroft's doubts—and the unwillingness of his principal deputy attorney general to approve central aspects of the N.S.A. domestic eavesdropping plan—were not made known to the Congress. Gonzales, as White House counsel, drew up the guidelines authorizing torture at American-run prisons and U.S. exemption from the Geneva war-crimes conventions regarding the treatment of prisoners. (His memo to the president described provisions of the conventions as "quaint.") "Let me make very clear the position of my government and our country," said Bush when confronted with the undeniable, photographic evidence of torture. "We do not condone torture. I have never ordered torture. I will never order torture. The values of this country are such that torture is not a part of our soul and our being." The available facts would indicate this was an unusually evident example of presidential prevarication, but we will never know exactly how untruthful, or perhaps just slippery, until the president and the White House are compelled to cooperate with a real congressional investigation. That statement by Bush, in June 2004, in response to worldwide outrage at the infamous Abu Ghraib photographs, illustrates two related, core methodologies employed by this president and his cadre to escape responsibility for their actions: First, an Orwellian reliance on the meaninglessness of words. (When is "torture" torture? When is "ordered" "authorized"? When is "if someone committed a crime they will no longer work in my administration" a scheme to keep trusted aides on the payroll through a legal process that could take years before adjudication and hide the president's own role in helping to start—perhaps inadvertently—the Plame ball rolling?) "Listen, I know of nobody—I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information," the president was quoted saying in Time magazine's issue of October 13, 2003. Time's report then noted with acuity, "Bush seemed to emphasize those last two words ['classified information'] as if hanging onto a legal life preserver in choppy seas." The second method of escape is the absence of formal orders issued down the chain of command, leaving non-coms, enlisted men and women, and a few unfortunate non-star officers to twist in the wind for policies emanating from the president, vice president, secretary of defense, attorney general, national-security adviser to the president, and current secretary of state (formerly the national-security adviser). With a determined effort, a committee of distinguished senators should be able to establish if the grotesque abuse of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo was really the work of a "few bad apples" like Army Reserve P.F.C. Lynndie England wielding the leash, or a natural consequence of actions and policies flowing from the Oval Office and office of the secretary of defense. In a baker's dozen of hearings before pliant committees of Congress, a parade of the top brass from Rice to Rumsfeld, to the Joint Chiefs, to Paul Bremer has managed for almost three years to evade responsibility for—or even acknowledgment of—the disintegrating situation on the ground in Iraq, its costs in lives and treasure, and its disastrous reverberations through the world, and for an assault on constitutional principles at home. Similarly, until the Senate Watergate hearings, Nixon and his men at the top had evaded responsibility for Watergate and their cover-up of all the "White House horrors." With the benefit of hindsight, it is now almost impossible to look at the president's handling of the war in Iraq in isolation from his handling of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Certainly any investigation of the president and his administration should include both disasters. Before 9/11, Bush and Condoleezza Rice had been warned in the starkest of terms—by their own aides, by the outgoing Clinton administration, and by experts on terrorism—of the urgent danger of a spectacular al-Qaeda attack in the United States. Yet the first top-level National Security Council meeting to discuss the subject was not held until September 4, 2001—just as the F.B.I. hierarchy had been warned by field agents that there were suspected Islamic radicals learning to fly 747s with no legitimate reasons for doing so, but the bureau ultimately ignored the urgency of problem, just as Bush had ample opportunity (despite what he said later) to review and competently execute a disaster plan for the hurricane heading toward New Orleans. There will forever be four indelible photographic images of the George W. Bush epoch: an airplane crashing into World Trade Tower number two; Bush in a Florida classroom reading from a book about a goat while a group of second-graders continued to captivate him for another seven minutes after Andrew Card had whispered to the president, "America is under attack"; floodwaters inundating New Orleans, and its residents clinging to rooftops for their lives; and, two days after the hurricane struck, Bush peeking out the window of Air Force One to inspect the devastation from a safe altitude. The aftermath of the hurricane's direct hit, both in terms of the devastation and the astonishing neglect and incompetence from the top down, would appear to be unique in American history. Except for the Civil War and the War of 1812 (when the British burned Washington), no president has ever lost an American city; and if New Orleans is not lost, it will only be because of the heroics of its people and their almost superhuman efforts to overcome the initial lethargy and apparent non-comprehension of the president. Bush's almost blank reaction was foretold vividly in a video of him and his aides meeting on August 28, 2005, the day before Katrina made landfall. The tape—withheld by the administration from Congress but obtained by the Associated Press along with seven days of transcripts of administration briefings—shows Bush and his Homeland Security chief being warned explicitly that the storm could cause levees to overflow, put large number of lives at risk, and overwhelm rescuers. In the wake of the death and devastation in New Orleans, President Bush refused to provide the most important documents sought by Congress or allow his immediate aides in the White House to testify before Congress about decision-making in the West Wing or at his Crawford ranch in the hours immediately before and after the hurricane struck. His refusal was wrapped in a package of high principle—the need for confidentiality of executive-branch communications—the same principle of preserving presidential privacy that, presumably, prevented him from releasing official White House photos of himself with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff or allowing White House aides to testify about the N.S.A. electronic-eavesdropping program on grounds of executive privilege. The unwillingness of this president—a former Texas governor familiar with the destructive powers of weather—to deal truthfully ("I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees," he said in an interview with Good Morning America three days after the hurricane hit) and meaningfully with the people of the Gulf Coast or the country, or the Congress, about his government's response ("Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job") to Hurricane Katrina may be the Rosebud moment of his presidency. The president's repeated attempts to keep secret his actions and those of his principal aides by invoking often spurious claims of executive privilege and national security in the run-up to the war in Iraq—and its prosecution since—are rendered perfectly comprehensible when seen in relation to the Katrina claim. It is an effective way to hide the truth (as Nixon attempted so often), and—when uncomfortable truths have nonetheless been revealed by others—to justify extraordinary actions that would seem to be illegal or even unconstitutional. Is incompetence an impeachable offense? The question is another reason to defer the fraught matter of impeachment (if deserved) in the Bush era until the ground is prepared by a proper fact-finding investigation and public hearings conducted by a sober, distinguished committee of Congress. We have never had a presidency in which the single unifying thread that flows through its major decision-making was incompetence—stitched together with hubris and mendacity on a Nixonian scale. There will be no shortage of witnesses to question about the subject, among them the retired three-star Marine Corps general who served as director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the war's planning, Gregory Newbold. Last week he wrote, "I now regret that I did not more openly challenge those who were determined to invade a country whose actions were peripheral to the real threat—Al Qaeda. I retired from the military four months before the invasion, in part because of my opposition to those who had used 9/11's tragedy to hijack our security policy." The decision to invade Iraq, he said, "was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions—or bury the results." Despite the military's determination that, after Vietnam, "We must never again stand by quietly while those ignorant of and casual about war lead us into another one and then mismanage the conduct of it.… We have been fooled again." The unprecedented generals' revolt against the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, is—like the special prosecutor's Plame investigation—a door that once cracked open, cannot be readily shut by the president or even his most senior aides. What outsiders long suspected regarding the conduct of the war has now been given credence by those on the inside, near the top, just as in the unraveling of Watergate. General Newbold and his fellow retired generals have (as observed elsewhere in the press) declared Rumsfeld unfit to lead America's military at almost exactly the moment when the United States must deal with the most difficult legacy of the Bush presidency: how to pry itself out of Iraq and deal with the real threat this administration ignored next door, from Iran. Rumsfeld appeared Friday on an Al Arabiya television broadcast and said, "Out of thousands and thousands of admirals and generals, if every time two or three people disagreed we changed the secretary of defense of the United States, it would be like a merry-go-round." This kind of denial of reality—and (again) Orwellian abuse of facts and language—to describe six generals, each with more than 30 years military experience, each of whom served at the top of their commands (three in Iraq) and worked closely with Rumsfeld, is indicative of the problem any investigation by the Senate must face when dealing with this presidency. And if Rumsfeld is unfit, how is his commander-in-chief, who has steadfastly refused to let him go (as Nixon did for so long with Haldeman and Ehrlichman, "two of the finest public servants it has been my privilege to know"), to be judged? The roadblock to a serious inquiry to date has been a Republican majority that fears the results, and a Democratic minority more interested in retribution and grandstanding than the national weal. There are indications, however, that by November voters may be far more discerning than they were in the last round of congressional elections, and that Republicans especially are getting the message. Indeed many are talking privately about their lack of confidence in Bush and what to do about him. It took the Senate Watergate Committee less than six months to do its essential work. When Sam Ervin's gavel fell to close the first phase of public televised hearings on August 7, 1973, the basic facts of Nixon's conspiracy—and the White House horrors—were engraved on the nation's consciousness. The testimony of the president's men themselves—under oath and motivated perhaps in part by a real threat of being charged with perjury—left little doubt about what happened in a criminal and unconstitutional presidency. On February 6, 1974, the House voted 410 to 4 to empower its Judiciary Committee to begin an impeachment investigation of the president. On July 27, 1974, the first of three articles of impeachment was approved, with support from 6 of the 17 Republicans (and 21 Democrats) on the committee. Two more articles were approved on July 29 and 30. On August 8, facing certain conviction in a Senate trial, Nixon resigned and Gerald Ford became president. In Watergate, Republicans were the ones who finally told Richard Nixon, "Enough." They were the ones who cast the most critical votes for articles of impeachment, ensuring that Nixon would be judged with nonpartisan fairness. After the vote, the Republican congressional leadership—led by the great conservative senator Barry Goldwater—marched en masse to the White House to tell the criminal president that he had to go. And if he didn't, the leadership would recommend his conviction in the Senate. In the case of George W. Bush, important conservative and Republican voices have, finally, begun speaking out in the past few weeks. William F. Buckley Jr., founder of the modern conservative movement and, with Goldwater, perhaps its most revered figure, said last month: "It's important that we acknowledge in the inner counsels of state that [the war in Iraq] has failed so that we should look for opportunities to cope with that failure." And "Mr. Bush is in the hands of a fortune that will be unremitting on the point of Iraq.… If he'd invented the Bill of Rights it wouldn't get him out of this jam." And "The neoconservative hubris, which sort of assigns to America some kind of geo-strategic responsibility for maximizing democracy, overstretches the resources of a free country." Even more scathing have been some officials who served in the White House under Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush's father. Bruce Bartlett, a domestic-policy aide in the Reagan administration, a deputy assistant treasury secretary for the first President Bush, and author of a new book, Impostor: How George Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy, noted: "A lot of conservatives have had reservations about him for a long time, but have been afraid to speak out for fear it would help liberals and the Democrats"—a situation that, until the Senate Watergate Committee hearings, existed in regard to Nixon. "I think there are growing misgivings about the conduct of the Iraq operation, and how that relates to a general incompetence his administration seems to have about doing basic things," said Bartlett. After Nixon's resignation, it was often said that the system had worked. Confronted by an aberrant president, the checks and balances on the executive by the legislative and judicial branches of government, and by a free press, had functioned as the founders had envisioned. The system has thus far failed during the presidency of George W. Bush—at incalculable cost in human lives, to the American political system, to undertaking an intelligent and effective war against terror, and to the standing of the United States in parts of the world where it previously had been held in the highest regard. There was understandable reluctance in the Congress to begin a serious investigation of the Nixon presidency. Then there came a time when it was unavoidable. That time in the Bush presidency has arrived. Carl Bernstein is a Vanity Fair contributing editor. His biography of Hillary Rodham Clinton will be published by Knopf next year. Illustrations by TIM SHEAFFER
Back to Story - Help Gingrich Worries About GOP Chances in Nov. By DOUGLASS K. DANIEL, Associated Press WriterSun Apr 16, 3:52 PM ET Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, an architect of the Republican takeover of the House in 1994, says incumbents sometimes forget they are in office to change the government, not to be changed by it. And he is worried that the GOP is in for a bad time in the fall elections. "When you get poll after poll telling you basically the same thing, you have to respect the right of the American people to say they want change," Gingrich said on "Fox News Sunday." An AP-Ipsos poll this month found that just 30 percent of the public approves of the job performance of the GOP-led Congress. By a 49-33 margin, the public favored Democrats over Republicans when asked which party should control Congress. That was the largest margin the Democrats have enjoyed in AP-Ipsos polling. "I think it's very dangerous to stay on defense when you get these kinds of numbers," Gingrich said. "I would hope they would take a real message to the American people, which is not about general direction. It's about performance and it's about specific components of what they're doing." Gingrich was critical of the failure of immigration legislation in the Senate to reflect what he called the nation's desire for border control and other stringent measures. He also questioned the extent of the hurricane recovery in New Orleans. "It's going to be really bad by September when we go back and have a one-year review and we realize how much of New Orleans is not fixed," he said. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, have the potential to turn around the GOP's fortunes in the House, Gingrich said. And President Bush has a role to play as well, he said. "I am saying that if the president would aggressively look at the failures of performance of the bureaucracy and lead the Congress toward changing the bureaucracy, that the country could, in fact, get very excited again about the opportunity to make government work," he said.
Gore Revs Up Campaign - on Global Warming By WILL LESTER, Associated Press WriterTue Apr 18, 9:44 PM ET Al Gore has a major campaign under way — to change policies on global warming. The 2000 Democratic presidential nominee has hired longtime political associate Roy Neel to aid in his effort to raise awareness about global warming, a problem Gore calls "a planetary emergency." Gore's movie and book about the issue, both called "An Inconvenient Truth," are set for widespread release in May. "He's taking an increasingly high-profile role in working on the climate change issue," Gore spokesman Michael Feldman said. Gore repeatedly has brushed aside talk of another presidential bid, telling a Tennessee audience last month, "I'm not planning to be a candidate again. I haven't reached a stage in my life where I'm willing to say I will never consider something like this." A payment of $40,000 to a Democratic polling firm stirred political talk, but pollster Mark Penn said it was settlement of a 2000 account. Gore has warned about the dangers of global warming for years, arguing that without dramatic changes in the emission of greenhouse gases, the planet is likely to experience a dramatic increase in violent storms, infectious disease, deadly heat waves and rising sea levels that will force the evacuation of low-lying cities. He plans to hold a training session in Nashville this summer on how to deliver the message on climate change. The New York Daily News first reported on Gore's hiring of Neel on Tuesday. Gore's campaign will pit him against an old adversary: President Bush. Bush acknowledges global warming is a real problem, but he believes more uncertainty exists about the degree to which humans play a part — mainly through fossil fuel burning — than most scientists do. He reversed a 2000 campaign pledge to regulate carbon dioxide, the chief global warming pollutant, and withdrew the United States from the Kyoto climate treaty, saying it would harm the U.S. economy and unfairly excluded fast-growing developing countries. Gore is a strong supporter of the Kyoto treaty. ___ ATLANTA (AP) — Just days after a religious conservative questioned Rudolph Giuliani's views, ex-Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed said the former New York City mayor will headline a fundraiser for him next month. Reed is running for lieutenant governor in Georgia. His campaign has been undercut by his ties to disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is facing prison time after pleading guilty to charges of conspiracy, tax evasion and fraud. The Reed campaign trumpeted the appearance with Giuliani, distributing an invitation on Tuesday which featured a smiling photo of the two men together. Giuliani, a potential 2008 presidential candidate, was widely praised for his leadership of the city after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. On Sunday, the Rev. Jerry Falwell said he admired Giuliani, but could not support him for president because of "irreconcilable differences on life and family." Giuliani supports abortion rights, gay rights and gun control. The appearance with Reed could help Giuliani reach out to religious conservatives who would be critical in a GOP primary. In Pennsylvania on Tuesday, Giuliani campaigned for another conservative, Sen. Rick Santorum (news, bio, voting record), highlighting the Republican's record on national security. Santorum trails Democratic challenger Bob Casey in polls but has narrowed the gap recently. Santorum's campaign and Giuliani played down the former mayor's differences with the senator. Giuliani said Santorum has "taken many positions. Most of them I agree with." ___ WASHINGTON (AP) — An Ohio congressional candidate who couldn't get enough valid signatures to get on the May 2 primary ballot is getting some help from a well-known Democrat — former President Clinton. State Sen. Charlie Wilson, in his write-in campaign for the House seat being vacated by gubernatorial candidate Rep. Ted Strickland (news, bio, voting record), started using automated calls by the former president. At the same time, Republicans hit the airwaves with ads that give Bob Carr, one of Wilson's lesser-known, poorly funded Democratic opponents more face time. Carr thanked the Republicans on Tuesday for the name recognition from a $30,000 ad buy that he could never afford. "Bob Carr is running for U.S. Congress; that's what they're saying," Carr said. "These are the guys doing all the work for me." The ad makes equivocal statements about Carr's positions that Democratic voters might support such as he "hasn't even ruled out trying to eliminate President Bush's tax cuts, and could fight for environmental regulations that would hurt businesses." "That's hilarious," Carr said. The NRCC declined to comment about its strategy in placing the ad. ___ Associated Press Writers David Hammer and John Heilprin in Washington, Shannon McCaffrey in Atlanta and Patrick Walters in Blue Bell, Pa., contributed to this report.
Iraq Police Deny Report of Teachers Killed 1 hour, 17 minutes ago Militants killed two people at elementary schools in a mainly Shiite district of Baghdad on Wednesday, the government said. But police in the neighborhood denied any attack occurred. The contradictory accounts could not immediately be reconciled. The National Security Ministry initially said in a statement that militants broke into the Amna and Shaheed Hamdi schools and "slaughtered" a teacher in each one in front of students in the Shaab neighborhood of the capital. But the ministry later said the dead were a school guard and a teacher. It said the guard was stabbed to death by militants in front of students, while the teacher was shot outside the school as he arrived in the morning for classes. The ministry said it was still working to establish details in the attack. Ali al-Obeidi, the director of the police in the Shaab district, said there was no attack against any school in the area. Pupils at elementary schools in Iraq range in age from 6 to 12 years.
As head of Amway, Dick DeVos laid off nearly 1,400 people in Michigan in 1998 and 2000. The 1,400 jobs never came back to Michigan. Amway suffered a net loss in Michigan jobs while DeVos was President. Dick DeVos invested over $200 million in manufacturing plants which created jobs in China. Dick DeVos cares more about creating jobs for Chinese workers, for his own profit, than he does about creating jobs and a secure future for Michigan families. Dick DeVos supports unfair free trade agreements, like NAFTA, and failed Washington policies that send Michigan jobs everywhere else. DeVos supports free trade, despite how it has hurt Michigan Ã– Amway leaders have long supported trade with China and they lobbied for Permanent Normal Trade Relations for China, according to their lobbying disclosure reports. Dick DeVos, though quick to criticize the work of others, has yet to come forward with a detailed, realistic plan of his own, other than political rhetoric. DeVos has been in the race since June and has not offered a single solution to Michigan's economic future.LISTEN: DeVos on the Kevin Fobbs Show Instead of showing bi-partisan leadership in this time of crisis, Dick DeVos, through personal phone calls and media appearances, used his money and political influence to attempt to force Republicans in the Legislature to break their agreement for his own political gain, and at the cost of Michigan jobs. Dick DeVos is playing politics with Michigan working families and putting himself first. I wonder that slimeball at the Detroit News Nolan Finley will talk about this? If you don't know about the Detroit News here's a quick breakdown of the "News" the Detroit News is a right wing rag in a heavy democratic city and the last guy running for governor on the Republican side spent half of his campaign running racist ads against the city guess the newspaper that endorse the Republican running the racist ads? It was the Detroit News and they didn't threaten to pull the endorsement until pressure from local officals, citzens and the mayor got too hot for the Detroit News. And the Michigan "media" is running around acting like Dick DeVos is a breath of fresh air. And I aslo find it funny that the same people complaining about Gov. Granholm are the same people who defended and voted for former Gov. John Engler in his three terms only manage to expand his waistline and his bank account.
Dick DeVos and Ethics Connections to GOP Culture of Corruption Dick DeVos and Karl Rove Dick DeVos was personally offered an Ambassadorship by Karl Rove for his help on the Bush Campaign. Dick DeVos' campaign Matthew Dowd has been described as 'former top lieutent' and at one point second only to Rove. Alex Castellanos worked with Rove on Media Strategy. Castellanos' past media strategy has included the infamous 'Rat Ad'. Rove chose Calvin College as one of two places Bush gave a commencement speech this year because of the DeVos family. DeVos Family has contributed to Rove's friends PACS. Betsy DeVos worked personally with Rove on Election strategy. DeVos Refuses to Disclose Tax Returns Dick DeVos refuses to disclose his taxes, even though that has been the tradition in Michigan. All challengers, including Governor Granholm, disclosed their taxes in 2002. LISTEN: Dick DeVos on the Kevin Fobbs Show DeVos and the Amway China Special Interest Tax Break Dick DeVos has been one of the biggest campaign contributors in Washington. According to the Wall Street Journal, the DeVos family "contributed more than any other to the Bush campaign and the Republican Party," around "$602,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington." Taking advantage of the family political influence created by soft money contributions to the GOP, as President of Amway DeVos sought and got federal tax breaks on Amway's China investments and favorable China trade legislation, legislation which resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars of benefits for Amway, himself and his family. Dick DeVos and Tom DeLay Dick DeVos personally allowed Tom DeLay to hold a Republican Majority Issues Committee meeting on his yacht. According to the FEC, DeVos and his Political Action Committee (PAC), Restoring the American Dream have exchanged thousands of dollars with DeLay, his campaign committee and his PAC, Americans for a Republican Majority. DeVos gave the Tom DeLay Congressional Committee $1,000 in 2000 and gave DeLay's PAC $5,000 in 1999. DeLay's PAC in turn gave DeVos' PAC $5,000 over the course of two weeks in the fall of 2000. "RAD (Restoring American Dream PAC, founded by Dick DeVos) has played an essential role in maintaining Republican control of the House of Representatives in both 1998 and 2000. Dick's commitment to electing men and women of integrity and character is unmatched. I look forward to working closely with RAD in identifying and recruiting conservative candidates for the year 2002." Congressman Tom DeLay (R-Texas) Majority Whip, U.S. House of Representatives
McClellan to Leave White House By NEDRA PICKLER, Associated Press Writer 1 minute ago White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove gave up some of his responsibilities and White House press secretary Scott McClellan announced his resignation Wednesday, continuing a shakeup in President Bush's administration that has already yielded a new chief of staff. Rove is giving up oversight of policy development to focus more on politics with the approach of the fall midterm elections, said a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the president had not yet made the announcement. Just over a year ago, Rove was promoted to deputy chief of staff in charge of most White House policy coordination. That new portfolio came on top of his title as senior adviser and role of chief policy aide to Bush. But now, the job of deputy chief of staff for policy is being given to Joel Kaplan. The move signals a broad effort to rearrange and reinvigorate Bush's staff by new chief of staff Joshua Bolten. Bolten moved into his position last week; Kaplan was his No. 2 person at the Office of Management and Budget. At least for the time being, the promotion of Kaplan would leave Bush with three deputy chiefs of staff: Rove, Kaplan and Joe Hagin, who oversees administrative matters, intelligence and other national security issues. Appearing with Bush on the South Lawn, McClellan, who has parried especially fiercely with reporters on Iraq and on intelligence issues, told Bush: "I have given it my all sir and I have given you my all sir, and I will continue to do so as we transition to a new press secretary." Bush said McClellan had "a challenging assignment." "I thought he handled his assignment with class, integrity," the president said. "It's going to be hard to replace Scott, but nevertheless he made the decision and I accepted it. One of these days, he and I are going to be rocking in chairs in Texas and talking about the good old days." McClellan is expected to remain in his job until a successor is named. Among those under consideration are Tony Snow, a former White House speechwriter under the first President Bush, former Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke and Dan Senor, a former coalition spokesman after the invasion of Iraq, according to Republican officials. McClellan was named press secretary in June 2003, not long after the United States invaded Iraq and had first been a deputy to Ari Fleischer in the job — a White House position with daily public visibility rivaling virtually everyone there except the president. After the announcement, Bush and McClellan walked across the lawn together and boarded Marine One, but a problem with the helicopter's radio kept it grounded. The president and his staff were forced to take a motorcade to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., where Bush boarded Air Force One for a flight to Alabama. McClellan and Rove rode in the president's limousine to the military base. McClellan came back on the plane to the press cabin and shook hands all around. Someone said it was a sad moment, and McClellan replied, "It is sad on some level." He said he would accompany Bush on a trip to California this weekend and remain on the job for a couple more weeks. I don't take pleasure in other people bad luck or bad time but these guys I'm loving what's going on these guys ego got in the way and now they're paying for it. Rove "stepping" down really means since Libby finger him Rove will need all the time in the world to think of a really good defense for leaking a CIA agent. Like I told people after the 2004 election the bright side of Bush "re-election is that he's going to be the main reason the Republicans won't be a majority party for a very long time and guess what folks it could be happening look at Bush approval rating the dude is only popular in seven states and New York city has more people living in them then any of the seven states Bush approval rating is above 40% and the country is seeing the Republicans in congress and senate as nothing more than a rubber stamp and a protection blanket for the White House. The Times are changing people.
Friday, April 14, 2006
Back to Story - Help US knew that alleged Iraqi WMD trailers were harmless: report Wed Apr 12, 11:35 AM ET The George W. Bush administration insisted publicly that two trailers captured in Iraq were evidence of a banned weapons program, months after Pentagon experts had reportedly ruled otherwise. In May 2003, Bush proclaimed that the trailers, captured just weeks after the start of US-led invasion, were long-sought mobile "biological laboratories," the Washington Post reported. "We have found the weapons of mass destruction," the president said at the time. The claim was repeated by top administration officials for months, even though US intelligence officials had received the findings of a Pentagon report determining that the allegation was not true, the Post reported. The secret Pentagon-sponsored fact-finding mission, the conclusions from which were recently released, found that the trailers were ill-suited for the production of biological weapons. But for nearly a year after the May 2003 report was published, Bush administration and intelligence officials continued to publicly assert that the trailers were weapons factories, the Post reported. The document was written by nine US and British civilian bioweapons experts. Copyright © 2006 Agence France Presse. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AFP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Agence France Presse.
Bush, Reid Trade Barbs on Immigration By DAVID ESPO, AP Special CorrespondentThu Apr 13, 10:59 PM ET President Bush accused Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid on Thursday of "single-handedly thwarting" action on immigration legislation, and got a brisk retort in return. "President Bush has as much credibility on immigration as he does on Iraq and national security," shot back the Nevada Democrat. The exchange was the latest in a series of maneuvers among party leaders trying to assign blame for Senate gridlock over comprehensive immigration legislation. A pending measure would strengthen border security, create a guest worker program and offer eventual citizenship to many of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country. Supporters claim the bill has more than enough votes to pass. It was sidetracked last week when Reid and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., could not agree on a procedure for voting on amendments. Reid insisted on sharply limiting the number of amendments by conservatives who oppose the bill. Frist wanted to ensure that GOP critics of the legislation had more opportunities to seek changes. Bush and Reid swapped charges as Republicans disclosed a Spanish-language radio advertising campaign designed to shoulder Democrats with the responsibility for legislation passed by the GOP-controlled House that would make illegal immigrants subject to felony charges. The ads are scheduled to air in New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada — states with large Hispanic populations. The Senate has not voted on the issue of penalties. In the House, Republicans drafted legislation to make illegal immigrants subject to felony charges. Democrats say they were denied a chance to eliminate criminal penalties from the bill. At another point, Republicans tried to substitute misdemeanor charges for felonies in the bill. Democrats opposed that effort, with at least some of them saying they wanted no criminal penalties at all. Republicans then passed the overall bill — including felony charges — on a largely party-line vote. With public polling showing overwhelming opposition to the felony provision, GOP leaders said this week they would make sure any bill that clears Congress is shorn of the provision. But prospects for passage are uncertain. Bush described the Senate bill as a "promising bipartisan compromise on comprehensive immigration reform," and said Reid "refused to allow senators to move forward and vote for amendments. ... It was a procedural gimmick that meant he was single-handedly thwarting the will of the American people and impeding bipartisan efforts to secure this border and make this immigration system of ours more humane and rational." Reid responded within minutes. "If the president is serious about moving forward, then he should join me in calling on Senator Frist to bring immigration reform back to the Senate floor when we return" from a two-week recess, Reid said. "Hopefully, by then, President Bush and his majority leader will have found the backbone to stop the extreme elements of the Republican Party from blocking improvements to America's security," Reid said. Frist has said he intends to bring the issue back to the floor this year, but has stopped short of a firm commitment. Attempts to pass the measure broke down last week when Reid demanded that Frist limit the number of amendments to be voted on and that the Republican leader agree to name supporters of the measure to negotiate any final compromise with the House. Democratic aides said the objective was to protect members of the rank and file from having to cast politically difficult votes in the run-up to the fall election, only to have the final bill turn out to be unsupportable. Republicans counter that Reid was trying to usurp the prerogatives of individual critics of the legislation and of Frist, as well. They also say the Nevada senator had been assured that supporters of the bill had enough votes to defeat any of the amendments Democrats opposed.