Bush Fails to Strong-Arm Senate Over Iraq Aid
Despite his recent assertions that he was in charge of his administration and specifically his foreign policy, President Bush allegedly told his staff to stop the leaks or there would be consequences.
Immediately, news of this directive was leaked to the press.
Worse yet, unlike the successful arm-twisting of House Republicans last week over their concerns about giving Iraq and Halliburton/Bechtel $20 billion of the $87 billion for reconstruction, instead of loaning it to them, Bush and Cheney are losing the support of GOP senators as they try to manhandle them with the same heavy-handed tactics.
Concerned about the appearance of disarray and feuding within his administration as well as growing resistance to his policies in Iraq, President Bush - living up to his recent declaration that he is in charge - told his top officials to "stop the leaks" to the media, or else.
News of Bush's order leaked almost immediately.
Showing how detached he was from the turmoil within his administration right under his nose and that of Condi "Two Mirrors" Rice, Bush actually asked if the infighting amongst the best foreign policy team ever rivaled that of another GOP administration:
The infighting, backstabbing and maneuvering on such major foreign-policy issues as North Korea, Syria, Iran and postwar Iraq have escalated to a level that veterans of government say they have not seen in years. At one point, the senior official said, Bush himself asked how bad it was.
"This isn't as bad as [George] Shultz vs. [Caspar] Weinberger, is it?" he asked, referring to a legendary Reagan administration rivalry between secretaries of state and defense. One top official reportedly nodded and said it was "way worse."
This raises an interesting point. Which of the current team would actually have first-hand knowledge of how bad things got between Shultz and Weinberger? Of the current combatants who would actually know how bad it was during the eighties, Rice is the only one who had no first hand knowledge.
Regardless, with an election almost a year away, Bush is being rebuffed in his attempts to steamroller the Senate, whose members are more strong-willed than the House, but just as sensitive to an angry electorate at home.
Late Tuesday, in a brief, brusque arm-twisting session with nine senators, the President made it clear that he was not there to answer questions or debate the merits of his $87 billion Iraq and Afghanistan aid package. He demanded that the aid to Iraq be in the form of grants, not loans, as some of the senators have urged.
Present at the session in the Roosevelt Room of the White House were Republicans Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania; Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins, both of Maine; Saxby Chambliss of Georgia; Sam Brownback of Kansas; Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; and John McCain of Arizona. Democrats Maria Cantwell of Washington and Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana also attended.
At one point, as he discussed the question of providing some of the money as a loan, Bush slammed his hand down on the table and said: "This is bad policy."
When Collins tried to ask a question, the President replied: "I'm not here to debate it."
One participant told The Inquirer that some of the senators, particularly those who have never been on the opposing side of an issue with Bush, were "surprised by his directness." It was clear he was not there to engage in any give-and-take, the participant said.
Nevertheless, Bush failed to sway any of the pro-loan Republicans.
Yesterday, Bush sent Vice President Cheney and Powell to the Capitol to attend a Republican senatorial lunch, but they made no apparent converts. After the lunch, a dozen GOP senators were still discussing how the reconstruction money could be turned into a loan or partial loan.
Given Bush's failing attempts to coerce the Senate on this issue, we may get to see for the first time how he reacts to failure when he can't get his way.