Thursday :: May 13, 2004

Enter The Braggin'

by pessimist

Part 2 of 'Touting the Race' above.

Bush's Poll Numbers Hitting the Danger Zone

While President Bush remains essentially even with Democratic challenger John Kerry in new opinion polls, voters are slowly sinking into the kind of pessimistic funk that doomed other presidents -- including Bush's father. Several recent polls show Bush's approval ratings slipping below 50 percent amid growing doubts among voters about his handling of the war in Iraq and of the economy.

Growing majorities believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, a traditional early indicator of the electorate's mood and a clear warning sign for an incumbent trying to persuade the public to rehire him four more years. "He is in dangerous territory now," pollster John Zogby said of Bush, although Democratic challenger John Kerry so far has failed to take much advantage of Bush's slump six months before the November election.

Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup poll, said Bush's slowly sinking job approval rating, down to 46 percent in his latest survey, was similar to the dropping trajectory of the last three incumbents to lose their elections -- George Bush, the current president's father, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. In contrast, the five most recent incumbent presidents who won their elections never dipped below 50 percent in their job approval rating at any point in the election year, he said. "The Bush campaign has to be concerned and worried at this point," Newport said. "When you look at the trend, you certainly see that Bush is beginning to track the trajectory of the three losing presidents rather than the winners."

The 46 percent who approved of Bush's handling of the job in Monday's Gallup poll was the lowest of his presidency. An NBC/Wall St. Journal poll last week put his approval rating at 47 percent, with 49 percent saying he did not deserve re-election and 50 percent saying the country was headed in the wrong direction.


Low approval and re-election numbers are particularly bad for an incumbent, who already is well known to voters. Undecided voters, who have had plenty of time to evaluate the incumbent, often break heavily for the challenger.

Polls have found growing majorities of Americans, confronted daily with depressing pictures of death in Iraq and abuse of Iraqi prisoners, disapprove of Bush's handling of Iraq and of the economy. The plummeting faith in Bush's Iraq policies threaten to turn one of his strengths -- his leadership in a time of war -- into a weakness, while voters rank the struggling economy as the nation's biggest problem but have little faith that Bush can fix it.

Despite signs of renewed job growth and economic expansion, voters are still pessimistic and worried about jobs, inflation and slumping stock markets, pollsters said. The NBC poll found 60 percent thought the economy would be in trouble in the future. "It takes some pretty sustained good news for public perceptions of the economy to pick up," said poll analyst Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute.

The silver lining for Bush is Kerry's relative inability to make major gains despite the president's troubles. While Bush's approval ratings and public confidence in the future have fallen, the head-to-head match up has stayed relatively stable, with Kerry ticking up just a few points in some polls. Pollsters said it might take time for Kerry to reap the benefits of Bush's falling stock -- or that given the uncertain nature of events and public unease about war and terrorism, the old patterns will no longer apply. "This could be a very unusual election from a public opinion perspective," Bowman said. "Some of the things we think we know may not turn out to be true."

Unusual Elections? It would be nice to have a USUAL election for a change. But first, we have to get through the conventions.

Kucinich targets national convention

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, no longer claiming he can capture his party's presidential nomination, unveiled a strategy Monday he hopes will make him a force to be reckoned with at this summer's Democratic National Convention in Boston. He is planning an ambitious schedule of activities for convention week - the last week of July - including daily issue workshops, "peoples' parties," peace vigils and an alternative "progressive" convention on the last day of the big gathering. "There are a number of ways to have an impact," he said in a phone interview. "We are going to keep in touch with all of the delegates, and we are talking about 2,000 people [supporters] coming from all over the country."

Although he was in Oregon on Monday campaigning for that state's May 18 primary, Kucinich opened the convention office, which will be headed by convention manager Tim Carpenter, and addressed supporters over a speaker phone. Kucinich has won about three dozen delegates and hopes to have 50 by the convention, where most of the 4,000-plus delegates will line up behind Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Before Boston, Kucinich's first goal is to influence the party's platform, which will be shaped at hearings throughout the country later this month and in June, and adopted at the Boston convention. The Cleveland Democrat wants a near-immediate pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq, establishment of a Cabinet-level Department of Peace, repeal of the Patriot Act, and creation of a universal, single-payer health care system. His positions are further to the left of the political spectrum than those of Kerry, the presumptive nominee. "Forget about left, right, center," Kucinich said Monday. "You have to motivate people along the lines of their practical aspirations."

Kucinich says if Kerry em braces his positions on issues such as the Iraq war, he can attract voters who otherwise might defect to independent Ralph Nader. "We are trying to have an impact on the direction of the party," he explained. "Sen. Kerry has run a very good campaign in the early primaries and he does not need me to get to 47 percent of the vote. But he needs help to get to 50 percent, or 51 percent."

Last Thursday in the House, Kucinich voted against a resolution condemning prison abuse in Iraq, saying it did not go far enough. Lawmakers should have called for a congressional investigation and the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, he said. "I hope anything he does helps unify the Democratic Party and helps put John Kerry in the White House, because we cannot afford another four years of President Bush's failure," said Ohio Democratic Chairman Denny White. "He [Kucinich] needs to get with Sen. Kerry and needs to be singing out of the same hymn book as Kerry and a majority of delegates at the convention." Kucinich has said he will support Kerry after the convention.

That may be a little late, Dennis. Some of the herd are beginning to stray down Texas way.

Democrats backing GOP comptroller

Carole Keeton Strayhorn's newest financial backers share a common link with the Republican comptroller -- opposition to the governor. Strayhorn is considered a potential candidate for governor in 2006, although she won't say whether she's seeking the state's top job. Her recent clashes with fellow Republican Gov. Rick Perry over his spending priorities and school finance proposal have fueled speculation that she will challenge him in his re-election bid. Two-thirds of the money Strayhorn raised in the first three months of this year came from traditionally Democratic trial lawyers and executives of a tax-consulting firm whose founder has said he is disappointed with Perry, The Dallas Morning News reported Sunday. Strayhorn collected nearly $300,000 from donors who have contributed to Democrat John Sharp, who lost to Perry in 1998, according to the newspaper's analysis of the latest political contributions report.

So some of the Democrats are starting to bolt. How are things on the Bush spread?

Laura Bush's Albany appearance met by demonstrators

First Lady Laura Bush told a gathering in Albany today that there's no better way to begin a new day than in "prayer and reflection." Mrs. Bush spoke at Governor Pataki's annual prayer breakfast, an event that critics dubbed "pay-to-pray" because general admission tickets went for 30 dollars a head. During the breakfast, the president's wife offered a prayer for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, saying that she hopes they live in "peace and freedom." Pataki said the event brings together New Yorkers of different backgrounds and faiths from across the state.

Demonstrators were on hand to greet the first lady's appearance. Advocates for campaign finance reform joined anti-war demonstrators calling for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation. They marched outside the Empire State Convention Center where the breakfast was held.

So what if a few of them godliss commy pinko whale-saving treehuggers got out of Ashcroft's First Amendment Zones. We can always count on Our Republican Congress to back up the Prezdent. Right?

Hastert rips White House

Caucus applauds as Speaker voices his frustrations

Republicans on the Hill are so frustrated with the White House that when Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) criticized the administration at a House GOP meeting last week, the caucus burst into applause. The meeting was only the latest sign in an accumulating body of evidence that lawmakers are unhappy with the way the administration treats them.

One GOP lawmaker at the caucus meeting said Hastert “expressed outright dismay with the White House staff for the way the transportation bill had been handled. They did not give the priority necessary to the issue in resolving it as the Speaker had wanted. It’s in absolute limbo.” A rank-and-file lawmaker said: “Hastert was frustrated and disappointed that he had not been dealt with openly and fairly and given accurate information. He was not so much speaking to the conference as he was speaking for the conference.”

The catalog of GOP complaints against the executive branch is long. A senior Republican House member said his colleagues frequently disparage the White House communications team, particularly on articulating its policy in Iraq. He said there was frustration about a lack of White House effort in pushing the FSC/ETI bill, designed to replace corporate subsidies with tax breaks. And in March, the Speaker told The Hill that the White House was doing a poor job selling its economic policies.

The are also widespread complaints among lawmakers that the administration’s message machine is out of sync. When, for example, the House passed a bill in March raising penalties for violence against pregnant woman, the White House diminished the political impact by trumping it with the announcement that it would support a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, even though key House leaders were not on board.

Behind the scenes, the White House is making it clear that it is less concerned about grumbling among members of Congress than with winning hearts and minds beyond the Beltway. It believes that by this measure, the president’s support is solid. Relations between the executive and legislative branches are always difficult. President Clinton and congressional Democrats fought bitterly over legislation in 1993 and 1994, the last time one party controlled both branches of government.

It is the transportation bill, on which the White House remains determined to hold down costs, that appears to have brought Hastert’s frustration to a boil. Earlier this month he ordered a White House legislative aide to leave his office. Efforts have been made in the past several days to mend fences. Senior White House officials met in Hastert’s office this week, and on Tuesday Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) had dinner at the White House with Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. (The main dish was spaghetti with shrimp.)

The GOP House leadership is also now publicly playing down its differences with the White House, while acknowledging that relations are not yet smooth. Deborah Pryce of Ohio, chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, said: “You’re never going to be 100 percent on everything. There are normal frustrations and there have been some fumbles, but those have been patched up.” Another senior GOP lawmaker added: “We’re doing OK and working together the best we can.”

Finally, House leaders say, Iraq and the presidential election campaign loom over everything the House does. Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) told The Hill: “It is hard to get any message through. The political clutter demands a higher level of coordination between the White House and congressional Republicans. “The campaign is overwhelming everything. The comments people are making would not be made if this were not an election year.”

Hastert’s frustrations are not only with the administration but also with the Senate. Speaking at yesterday’s GOP conference, he referred to the refusal of some Senate Republicans to remove pay-as-you-go restrictions in the budget resolution, which would make it easier to reduce taxes, and said: “We have met the enemy, and it is us.”

Wasn't it a Republican who made the point that "A House divided against itself cannot stand?" He only had a civil war to deal with. Owwer Leedur is trying to keep the Congressional Republicans from doing their Constitutional duty and ruining his most important legislation - the un-Constitutional USA Patriot Act.

Presidential push fails to quell GOP fear of Patriot Act

A group of libertarian-minded Republicans in Congress is blocking President Bush’s effort to strengthen domestic counterterrorism laws and reauthorize the USA Patriot Act, which the president has made one of his top domestic priorities this year. As a result of this opposition, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, was forced last week to cancel panel consideration of legislation that would have given law-enforcement officials more tools to pursue suspected terrorists.

As other administration policy initiatives — such as a manned mission to Mars — have languished in Congress, Bush has emphasized the importance of renewing the Patriot Act this year, even though provisions of the law don’t expire until the end of next year. Late last month, Bush launched a national tour to press Congress to reauthorize the controversial law immediately.

Many Democrats and some conservatives have criticized the law as overly broad and intrusive. Jeff Lungren, a spokesman for the Judiciary Committee, said work on the Sensenbrenner bill was canceled last week because committee Democrats had demanded more time to examine it. Lungren emphasized that it was not related to the Patriot Act. But a group of lawmakers, including some Republicans, saw it differently.

One GOP lawmaker on the panel — who asked to remain anonymous to avoid angering the chairman — said Republicans had also objected to the legislation. The lawmaker added that Sensenbrenner had informed his GOP colleagues the panel would consider the measure shortly before the scheduled markup. Sensenbrenner declined to answer questions on the subject.

Among other powers, the legislation would have given law-enforcement officials the power to compel compliance with administrative subpoenas, one of the most controversial elements of the Patriot Act that a sizeable group of Republicans on the Hill are trying to abolish. Administrative subpoenas may be issued by law-enforcement agencies without the approval of a court. The legislation would also have closed a gap in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by defining noncitizens who engage in terrorist activities but are not affiliated with an international terrorist group as agents of a foreign power and made it easier to withhold classified information from criminal defendants.

Last week’s minirebellion is symptomatic of broader opposition among Republicans in the House and Senate to provisions of the Patriot Act that the administration has deemed essential to its battle against terrorism. Fifty-eight lawmakers, including six Republicans, have co-sponsored legislation sponsored by Rep. Butch Otter (R-Idaho) in the House that would rein in aspects of the Patriot Act.

In the Senate, four Republicans have joined 12 Democrats in co-sponsoring similar legislation introduced by Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), a former head of the Republican Policy Committee and a close friend of Attorney General John Ashcroft. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), one of the co-sponsors of the Senate bill, said the administration has privately threatened to veto a bill curbing Patriot Act-expanded law-enforcement powers. The administration has made clear to them that it opposes the modifying legislation and argues that, if anything, the Patriot Act needs to be augmented.

The Craig legislation would place greater restrictions on roving wire taps, require law-enforcement officials to notify the targets of “sneak and peek” searches within seven days after a search, restrict the use of nationwide search warrants and amend the section of the Patriot Act that allow for secret searches of library and bookstore records. Craig and Ashcroft had dinner together two weeks ago, but they did not discuss their clashing views on the Patriot Act.

Both Otter and Craig emphasized in interviews that they don’t oppose the Patriot Act — they just want to eliminate the excesses that could some day be abused by investigators and prosecutors. Otter said there is likely more support among Republicans for modifying the Patriot Act than is apparent from the list of colleagues co-sponsoring his legislation. Otter noted that he had fewer co-sponsors for an amendment he offered last year to the Commerce-Justice-State appropriations bill that would have prohibited the Justice Department from spending money to conduct “sneak and peek” searches. The amendment passed with 309 votes, including 113 from the GOP side of the aisle, but was later pulled from the omnibus appropriations bill by Republican leaders and White House negotiators. “I think if you take a look at most of those 309 votes, I would say the majority of those and maybe more will surface when the time comes,” said Otter, who acknowledged that the best chance to curb the Patriot Act would arise during a House vote on reauthorization of the act.

Otter also noted that 167 members of the House voted against last year’s intelligence authorization bill after discovering that it expanded the Patriot Act by expanding the types financial institutions — including pawn shops and used-car dealerships — that must surrender records to law-enforcement agents without court-approved subpoenas. He said that colleagues informed him it was the first time more than 35 lawmakers voted against the intelligence bill.

Perhaps because of broad GOP opposition to key elements of the Patriot Act, Sensenbrenner has made it clear to colleagues that he will not consider reauthorization of the bill until next year. But by then, Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), a centrist, will have become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee if he wins his re-election race and conservatives do not attempt to block Specter’s appointment. If Specter gets the gavel, it would be more difficult for the administration to reauthorize the Patriot Act without significant changes. Specter is one of four Republicans co-sponsoring Craig’s bill seeking to rein in law enforcement powers.

I can hear the long knives being sharpened now.

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