As Conservatives And GOP Senators Whine, What Staffing Change Will Bush Make Now?
Image courtesy of MSNBC
If it’s Friday afternoon, if your poll numbers with conservatives have tanked, if your party is demoralized heading into the fall election, if key Senators of your own party are ready to finally counterpunch, then it must be time to let someone go. The AP is reporting this hour that Bush himself will make a personnel announcement at 1:45 PM Eastern time. So will it be Snow leaving Treasury, or Rove leaving in advance of an indictment?
Beyond the announcement, imagine for a moment that the Bush Administration found itself facing problems with Senate moderates and its own base at the same time. Suppose that the White House had pissed off key senators one time too many, while discouraging its conservative base to the point that the Kool-Aid drinkers would stay home unless the White House followed an agenda sure to lose independent voters this fall. A true lose-lose for the GOP.
Stop imagining; it’s true. The new AP/Ipsos poll out today has Bush down to 33%, with 45% of self-described conservatives disapproving of Bush and a majority of respondents ready to vote for Democrats this fall, including nearly a third of conservatives. Those who strongly disapprove of Bush outnumber those who strongly approve by a 3-1 margin. Furthermore, the poll found that Democrats are far more motivated for this fall’s election than conservatives are, and “strong republicans” are self-identifying at far smaller numbers than in recent elections. In other words, the base Karl has been playing to is demoralized, shrinking, and demanding votes that will further alienate the electorate.
But it isn’t just the base that will cause problems for Bush this year. I know that many of us have false hopes every time we hear that Arlen Specter is going to challenge the Bush Administration. But there is some accumulated evidence recently that years of Bush Administration trashing of congressional prerogatives, plus the changing political environment sets the stage for Specter and others in the Senate to make the rest of 2006 particularly nettlesome for the White House.
First, Specter has already put the White House on notice that he will not let the NSA spying story go away, and will keep pressing for his oversight bill that would throw the NSA program under the review of the FISA court. Second, with this week’s revelation by Charlie Savage in the Boston Globe that Bush believes the Executive Branch can pick and choose the laws it will comply with, Specter has now announced that he will hold a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the constitutional problems caused by Bush’s selective adherence to the laws. As the New York Times implied in its lead editorial today, in essence Bush is shredding his oath to uphold the Constitution when he decides through bill signing statements whether or not he will comply with the laws Congress passes. Aside from these hearings, the way to deal with this is for Congress to sue Bush on constitutional grounds and ask for an expedited review by the Supreme Court, where Sam Alito gets to road test his unitary executive theory hopefully before the fall elections.
And this leads into the next area where Specter will cause problems for Bush. In another effort to stir up the base for the fall election, Bill Frist and the White House are putting stalled appeals court nominee Brent Cavanaugh and the ethically-challenged Terrence Boyle on the path towards an up-or-down vote for the Court of Appeals. The White House and Frist think they need another fight with the Democrats on the issue of court nominees in time for November, and Frist is still dying to unleash the nuclear option. Specter has now decided against White House and Frist’s wishes, to have another hearing on Cavanaugh in June, which goes against the meaningless votes that Frist wanted to schedule for next month to stir up the base. As for the nuclear option itself, Harry Reid should call the bluff this time and make Frist blow up the filibuster, assuming he has the votes to do so. Unlike Alito, who at least had been a judge for over a decade, Cavanaugh has never been one and has been nothing but a political hack for Ken Starr and the GOP. Such service does not merit landing on third base at the DC Court of Appeals, and the Democrats should be ready to filibuster this pick if necessary if for no other reason than Cavanaugh doesn’t have any judicial experience.
Specter was reelected in 2004, isn’t running in 2008, and will outlast Bush. He has been thumbed in the eye by this White House perhaps one too many times. Frist, on the other hand, will be powerless by the fall because 1) he has made a laughingstock of himself, and 2) he will be done after November. There certainly are other key GOP senators who will come to the White House’s assistance this summer and fall when needed for diversions like Cavanaugh, Iran, flag-burning, gay bashing, immigration, and whatever else soon-to-be-indicted Karl Rove can think up. Vulnerable GOP incumbents who need Bush’s money, like Ohio’s Mike DeWine, Missouri’s Jim Talent, Ricky Santorum, and Jon Kyl will be there to help Bush any way that they can. But Chuck Hagel, Lincoln Chafee, Olympia Snowe, and Susan Collins may not go along with the White House this summer on a range of votes. As for McCain, he will do whatever is necessary to get the GOP nomination in 2008, even if it means leading the charge for war in Iran, and giving Bush a sponge bath on the White House lawn.
After years of abusing the Senate, and in a far different political climate now than we had in the fall of 2002, less than a year removed from 9/11, it is very possible that Arlen Specter and other GOP moderates will cause problems for the White House this summer. And with an angry base demanding an agenda that moderates will not accept, the White House finds itself in an environment of Karl Rove’s creation that will lead to the loss of one or both houses of Congress this year.