Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Daily Headliners--More Polls, House passes contempt citations, Gonzo lied, Thompson campaign shake-up

It appears that this has been a busy and rather bad day for the Bush administration. Let's get into the Daily Headliners here.

Polls, polls and more polls: We've got some polls here to talk about. Let's start with the July 23, 2007 ABC News/Washington Post poll, which reported that an overwhelming 78 percent of Americans say that President Bush "is not willing enough to change his stance on the war, up from 66 percent last December." In addition, 55 percent of Republicans say that Bush will not alter his Iraq policy, moving up by 16 points. Sixty-three percent of Americans say that the Iraq war is not worth fighting, 22 percent say that the "surge" is improving security while 64 percent say that the surge will not succeed in the next few months. President Bush's overall job approval rating is set at 33 percent, with 65 percent disapproving. This is an important number to reflect on, because this strong disapproval rating is surpassed only by Richard Nixon, whose highest disapproval rating was at 66 percent four days before he resigned, and Harry S. Truman, who hit 67 percent during the Korean War. In fact, the Washington Post has an interesting analysis of President Bush's low standing:

The historic depth of Bush's public standing has whipsawed his White House, sapped his clout, drained his advisers, encouraged his enemies and jeopardized his legacy. Around the White House, aides make gallows-humor jokes about how they can alienate their remaining supporters -- at least those aides not heading for the door. Outside the White House, many former aides privately express anger and bitterness at their erstwhile colleagues, Bush and the fate of his presidency.

Bush has been so down for so long that some advisers maintain it no longer bothers them much. It can even, they say, be liberating. Seeking the best interpretation for the president's predicament, they argue that Bush can do what he thinks is right without regard to political cost, pointing to decisions to send more U.S. troops to Iraq and to commute the sentence of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff.

But the president's unpopularity has left the White House to play mostly defense for the remainder of his term. With his immigration overhaul proposal dead, Bush's principal legislative hopes are to save his No Child Left Behind education program and to fend off attempts to force him to change course in Iraq. The emerging strategy is to play off a Congress that is also deeply unpopular and to look strong by vetoing spending bills.

The president's low public standing has paralleled the disenchantment with the Iraq war, but some analysts said it goes beyond that, reflecting a broader unease with Bush's policies in a variety of areas. "It isn't just the Iraq war," said Shirley Anne Warshaw, a presidential scholar at Gettysburg College. "It's everything."

The lower that President Bush continues to drop in the polls, the more defiant he becomes in attacking his critics, in stonewalling against any congressional oversight or accepting any congressional legislation that he doesn't agree to. What we have here is a president who has locked himself away in an Oval Office bunker and will lash out in anger and defiance against anything and anyone who doesn't agree with him. Such a man can be dangerous because he has nothing left to lose.

There was also a CBS News/New York Times poll, conducted on July 20-22, 2007, which reported an interesting statistic. According to the CBS News/NY Times poll, "Forty-two percent of Americans said that looking back, taking military action in Iraq was the right thing to do, while 51 percent said the United States should have stayed out of Iraq." The poll also notes that two-thirds of Americans said that the U.S. should either reduce its forces in Iraq, or to completely remove them. In addition, a two-thirds majority of Americans still continue to say that the Iraq war is going badly for the U.S. So I'm not sure if this is an uptick in the polls, or if this is the start of a trend. It is interesting to note that the Bush administration subtly used this polling information for their political spin. On July 24, 2007, President Bush visited Charleston Air Force Base to give a speech warning that al Qaeda was still a major threat against the U.S. In that 29-minute speech, President Bush mentioned al Qaeda 95 times. The Bush White House is going back to their stale PR-strategy of hyping up the evil al Qaeda threat in Iraq, and that the U.S. war in Iraq is now about stopping that evil al Qaeda threat. This administration doesn't care about protecting the U.S. against al Qaeda terrorist threats, it is all about politicizing the issue, politicizing the threat, so it can be used to further this administration's political CYA goals of keeping the war going until after President Bush leaves office in January 2009. Just keep remembering that every time this president opens his mouth to talk about al Qaeda.

House Democrats pass contempt citations: This is big news. According to TPM, the House Judiciary Committee voted contempt of Congress citations against White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and President Bush's former legal counselor, Harriet Miers for failing to comply with subpoenas in the U.S. attorney firings. The 22-17 vote, which was along party lines, now advances the citation to the full House. The House will take up the citations after Congress' August recess, according to a senior Democratic official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. No date has been set for the House vote.

Now according to MSNBC News:

If the citation passes the full House by simple majorities, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi then would transfer it to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. The man who holds that job, Jeff Taylor, is a Bush appointee. The Bush administration has made clear it would not let a contempt citation be prosecuted because the information and documents sought are protected by executive privilege.

The Justice Department reiterated that position in a letter to Conyers on Tuesday. Brian A. Benczkowski, principal deputy assistant attorney general, cited the department’s “long-standing” position, “articulated during administrations of both parties, that the criminal contempt of Congress statute does not apply to the president or presidential subordinates who assert executive privilege.”

Benczkowski said it also was the department’s view that the same position applies to Miers.

It is likely that the Justice Department will not prosecute the citations against both Bolten and Miers. The Justice Department is siding with the Bush administration in that executive privilege protects Bolten and Miers from the contempt citations. In order for the House to drag both Bolten and Miers into testifying, the House is going to have to issue inherent contempt citations against the two. In that case, the Seargent-at-Arms for the House, or Senate, can go out to arrest Bolten and Miers, and bring them back to Congress in order to testify.

Now I've noticed in the comments section of the TPM story that Taylor was a recessed appointment by President Bush, and that his term expires on September 13. The Democrats may be holding off on voting for the contempt citations until after Taylor's term expires, forcing President Bush to either reappoint him for another recessed term, or to choose a new U.S. attorney who may be open to prosecuting these citations. I've left a more extensive comment on this through Daily Kos here. In addition, by holding off on the citation vote until September, the House Democrats are also bringing this issue up at the same time that the deliberations of the progress on the Iraq war, and the September report, is also suppose to come up. This could cause even more headaches for the besieged Bush White House here.

Memo refutes Gonzales’ surveillance testimony: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has just lied to Congress. According to MSNBC News:

WASHINGTON - Documents indicate eight congressional leaders were briefed about the Bush administration’s terrorist surveillance program on the eve of its expiration in 2004, contradicting sworn Senate testimony this week by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

The documents underscore questions about Gonzales’ credibility as senators consider whether a perjury investigation should be opened into conflicting accounts about the program and a dramatic March 2004 confrontation leading up to its potentially illegal reauthorization.

At a heated Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, Gonzales repeatedly testified that the issue at hand was not about the terrorist surveillance program, which allowed the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on suspects in the United States without receiving court approval.

Instead, Gonzales said, the emergency meetings on March 10, 2004, focused on an intelligence program that he would not describe.

Gonzales, who was then serving as counsel to Bush, testified that the White House Situation Room briefing sought to inform congressional leaders about the pending expiration of the unidentified program and Justice Department objections to renew it. Those objections were led by then-Deputy Attorney General Jim Comey, who questioned the program’s legality.

“The dissent related to other intelligence activities,” Gonzales testified at Tuesday’s hearing. “The dissent was not about the terrorist surveillance program.”

“Not the TSP?” responded Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y. “Come on. If you say it’s about other, that implies not. Now say it or not.”

“It was not,” Gonzales answered. “It was about other intelligence activities.”

A four-page memo from the national intelligence director’s office says the White House briefing with the eight lawmakers on March 10, 2004, was about the terror surveillance program, or TSP.

The memo, dated May 17, 2006, and addressed to then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert, details “the classification of the dates, locations, and names of members of Congress who attended briefings on the Terrorist Surveillance Program,” wrote then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte.

It shows that the briefing in March 2004 was attended by the Republican and Democratic House and Senate leaders and leading members of both chambers’ intelligence committees, as Gonzales testified.

The big question now for the Congressional Democrats is when are they going to impeach Alberto Gonzales?

Thompson stumbles--before entering race: I found this off Carpetbagger, and it is rather interesting. Apparently the presidential campaign staff for the non-candidate, former Senator Fred Thompson, is having staffing problems even before Thompson has announced his campaign. First, Thompson's de facto campaign manager, Tom Collamore, was unexpectedly demoted on July 24. Today, the campaign's director of research, J.T. Mastranadi, resigned due to personal reasons. Carpetbagger also provides an ABC News story reporting that the changes in the campaign staff may be the result of personality conflicts involving Thompson's wife, Jeri Thompson, who is a lawyer, a media consultant, and a former Republican National Committee official. Apparently Jeri Thompson is trying to take a more active role in the campaign, and this role is causing some "consternation inside the campaign...." Something is going on within the Thompson campaign, even as the campaign is spinning this as a no big deal. What we actually may have here is a fight for control of the Thompson campaign between the political consultants, who were hired to run Thompson's campaign, and Jeri Thompson. What strikes my own curiosity here is why didn't Fred Thompson take care of this problem before the resignations of the two staffers? Is he completely ignorant of the inter-political fight taking place between his campaign staff and his wife?

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