Tuesday, March 27, 2007

George W. Bush : Alone

The CIA wiretapping abuse scandal. The Walter Reed wounded American soldiers abuse scandal. The Attorney General Gonzales sacked attorneys scandal. The Most- Americans-
Dont-Support-The-Iraq-War scandal. There is no shortage of scandals consuming President Bush's legacy, twenty months out from his final days in office. And it puts the president in an historically unique position. And it isn't a good one.

Robert Novak writes in the Washington Post that in 50 years of covering Washington DC, he has never seen a president more isolated and alone from his own party in Congress than George W. Bush. And that includes President Carter and President Nixon, at the height of the Watergate scandal :

Republicans in Congress do not trust their president to protect them. That alone is sufficient reason to withhold statements of support for (Attorney General) Gonzales, because such a gesture could be quickly followed by his resignation under pressure. Rep. Adam Putnam (Fla.), the highly regarded young chairman of the House Republican Conference, praised Donald Rumsfeld in November only to see him sacked shortly thereafter.

But not many Republican lawmakers would speak up for Gonzales even if they were sure Bush would stick with him. He is the least popular Cabinet member on Capitol Hill, even more disliked than Rumsfeld was. The word most often used by Republicans to describe the management of the Justice Department under Gonzales is "incompetent."

The saving grace that some Republicans find in the dispute over U.S. attorneys is that, at least temporarily, it draws attention away from debate over an unpopular war. But the overriding feeling in the Republican cloakroom is that the Justice Department and the White House could not have been more inept in dealing with the president's unquestioned right to appoint -- and replace -- federal prosecutors.

The I-word (incompetence) is also used by Republicans in describing the Bush administration generally. Several of them I talked to cited a trifecta of incompetence: the Walter Reed hospital scandal, the FBI's misuse of the USA Patriot Act and the U.S. attorneys firing fiasco.

"We always have claimed that we were the party of better management," one House leader told me. "How can we claim that anymore?"

A few Republicans blame incessant attacks from the new Democratic majority in Congress for that image. Many more say today's problems in the administration derive from the continuing impact of yesterday's mistakes. The answer that is not entertained by the president's most severe GOP critics, even when not speaking for quotation, is that this is just the governing style of George W. Bush and will not change while he is in the Oval Office.

Novak sees President Bush's infamous stubbornness as one of his greatest character flaws, as far as the most powerful Republican dissenters are concerned.

They want him to pardon Scooter Libby, but Bush will never do this. They want him to ask Attorney General Gonzales to resign, but Bush won't do this either.

There is no reason to expect that Bush will change his mind on either of these issues any time before his presidency expires in January, 2009. But how long will the Republican heavyweights tolerate so many refusals by Bush to do as they demand?

Bush may find out for himself as momentum for his impeachment grows in the coming months, if not weeks. Democrat firebrands like Chuck Hagel are already heavily hinting impeachment is on the cards, and he is rumoured to have some key Republican support. But the Dems won't make their move for impeachment until they know they will get the support of every Republican they need. Again, this may come sooner than President Bush may think.

Can President Bush veto his own impeachment?