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February 06, 2009

WayBack Machine Shows Bush's Attempts At Bipartisan Outreach Didn't Work Either

Sacre bleu! Could this be the horrid, divisive Shrub we've heard reviled by embittered Congressional Democrats for the past 8 years?

On Friday, Bush met with Senate Democrats who were meeting behind closed doors at the Library of Congress here. It was the first time in anyone’s memory that a president had attended such a gathering of the opposing party. And Bush apparently charmed many of his erstwhile foes just a day after they had slapped his hand by registering 42 no votes when John Ashcroft was confirmed as Bush’s attorney general.

Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), the minority leader, said after the meeting that, like Bush, he and his Democratic colleagues are intent on improving relations–even as inevitable political fights occur. “We’re going to break out of the box we’ve been in and the polarization we’ve experienced,” Daschle said.

After meeting with Senate Democrats, the president helicoptered south to Williamsburg, Va., where he dropped in on a Republican congressional retreat. On Sunday, he is expected to travel to a retreat of House Democrats in Pennsylvania.

These gestures of supercharged presidential outreach have caught some Democrats off guard. And the efforts have elated Republicans, who have craved executive leadership since they took control of Congress six years ago.

By the end of the weekend, if there are any of the 534 members of Congress–there is one vacancy in the House–who have not seen the new president up close, it won’t be for lack of effort on his part.

“I love meeting with the members,” Bush told the gathering of congressional Republicans. “For those of you who have been to our office, thanks for coming. For those of you who have not been to our office yet, you’re coming. Just don’t take any silverware!”

Some Democrats seemed almost disarmed by the president’s personal touch.

“He’s establishing both an atmosphere and a set of personal relations that will pay him dividends,” said Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), an influential centrist. At a previous session with Bush, Graham spent an hour in the Cabinet room talking about the nuts and bolts of tax policy.

In his 30-minute encounter Friday with Senate Democrats, Bush was short on specifics and long on broad talk of working together.

White House aides quoted him as acknowledging that his aim to “rid the system of rancor” might be dismissed by some as naive, but Bush insisted “that’s my intent.”

Ashcroft Saga Is Old News

Senators said that Bush recalled his working relationship with Texas Democrats during his tenure as that state’s governor. He apologized for confusing Sens. Kent Conrad and Byron L. Dorgan, both North Dakota Democrats, earlier in the week, which got a laugh. He then took a few questions.

Sen. John D. “Jay” Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) asked Bush whether he would support current efforts to provide schools with cut-rate Internet access. Bush was said to have answered in the affirmative.

The simple fact of Bush’s visit was impressive to some Senate veterans. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) said it was the first time in his 28 years in the chamber that a Republican president had addressed a gathering of Democrats. But Biden warned: “Bipartisanship doesn’t just mean we like each other. We do like each other. But how does that translate? … We’ll see.”

Of course, Mr. Bush found out that all the outreach in the world won't overcome entrenched special interests:

During the 2000 campaign, President-elect George W. Bush repeatedly promised to soothe the partisan hostilities that have raged across Washington during Bill Clinton’s tumultuous two terms. But the sudden withdrawal Tuesday of Linda Chavez, his Labor secretary nominee, and the escalating conflict over two of his other Cabinet appointees show how difficult it will be to end the political warfare simply by changing the occupant of the Oval Office.

As Chavez’s fall demonstrated, Washington’s toxic climate is shaped by forces much deeper than the president’s personality–key among them a cycle of attack and counterattack between the major parties that has made indiscretions, which once might have seemed minor, loom as disqualifying offenses.

“It has less to do with [who is] the president than the character of the American political system,” said Johns Hopkins University political scientist Benjamin Ginsberg. “It is structural, in other words, not personal.”

The stumble out of the gate has become a rite of passage for new presidents in this era of increased tension over appointments. Bush’s father was bloodied when the Senate rejected his choice of John Tower as Defense secretary; Bill Clinton’s first two attorney general prospects were forced to withdraw over charges of employing an illegal immigrant, similar to the issue that felled Chavez.

While uneasy Republicans immediately asked why Bush’s team had not unearthed Chavez’s problems themselves, her departure is unlikely to have any measurable long-term effect on Bush’s policy agenda. Still, analysts said, it could embolden liberal groups taking aim at Bush’s two other most conservative Cabinet choices: attorney general nominee John Ashcroft and Interior secretary designee Gale A. Norton.

Indeed, one stark lesson of these sharpening nomination struggles is that neither the president nor the Congress can entirely enforce a cease-fire in Washington, even if they want to do so.

Interesting in light of this week's news, no?

And even more so in light of the dominant narrative regarding the "divisive" former occupant of the Oval Office. Facts are stubborn things.

Posted by Cassandra at February 6, 2009 08:02 AM

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“It has less to do with [who is] the president than the character of the American political system,” said Johns Hopkins University political scientist Benjamin Ginsberg. “It is structural, in other words, not personal.”

That is perhaps the most disingenous thing that was said in the whole posting. Of course, it's always political, and the only "structural" aspect is when the base ideas of one party or the other is attacked.
Ashcroft was attacked and barely won approval because of his awful "pro-life" stand, as he had worked against the pro-choice viewpoint as a Senator (and all his "peers" knew it). It was a great opportunity for Senators to appear "thoughtful" and also help them raise money from interest groups opposing the dreaded Ashcroft and the pro-life viewpoint.
There is no "structure" to all this that makes any politician automatically reactionary to any appointment that requires Senate approval. They choose to be who they are, and they choose the fights that they wish to wage.
It will be interesting to see how President Obamam fares and reacts with a significant minority continuously saying "No". I get the feeling that there aren't too many times in his life where someone said "No!" to him very often.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at February 6, 2009 08:53 AM

So we have a Republican President with a Republican Congress. They can't get support of the Democrats in Congress and this is evidence of a Republican President who is 'deeply partisan and divisive'.

OK, but now that we have a Democratic President with a Democratic Congress, if they can't get support of the Republicans will it now just be evidence of a Republican Congress who are 'deeply partisan and divisive'?

But of course. Don't be silly. /sarcasm

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at February 6, 2009 01:08 PM

And all this time I thought it was just the preservation and enhancement of power coupled with absolute antipathy to term limits, the public be damned.

Posted by: vet66 at February 6, 2009 01:08 PM

-Wrote Paul Light of the left-leaning Brookings Institution at the time: "Bush gets an A on the transition into office. He survived his truncated 40-day transition with only one major mistake -- Linda Chavez, who withdrew her nomination for Labor Secretary after the flap over allowing an illegal immigrant to stay in her house...Bush also deserves an A-plus for the timely assembly of his White House team. Building around Vice President Dick Cheney, the Bush White House is an MBA's dream: efficient, predictable, well controlled, on time, under budget."-

So much for a "stumble out of the gate" for Bush. Quote above from a Malkin column.

Compare those reviews to the 3 ring circus currently going on including Leon Panetta just being forced to retract his ludicrous claim that Bush explicitly sent prisoners abroad through rendition to be tortured. I can hardly wait for someone with NO intelligence experience to be heading up our intelligence operations...feeling safer already!

Posted by: Falze at February 6, 2009 01:26 PM

I can hardly wait for someone with NO intelligence experience to be heading up our intelligence operations...feeling safer already!

Ah, yes -- Stansfield Turner *Redux*...

Posted by: BillT at February 6, 2009 01:48 PM

I can hardly wait for someone with NO intelligence experience to be heading up our intelligence operations...feeling safer already!

I don't know what your problem is. Obama doesn't have any executive experience either, and we can see that that hasn't been an issue for him.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano just how sarcastic I can be, but you might get close at February 6, 2009 01:50 PM

OT, but germane....funny - in a sad way - we are not hearing about this in the MSM....

Thomas Athans, the husband of U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow and cofounder of a liberal talk radio network, told Troy police detectives that he paid a prostitute $150 for sex at a Troy hotel in late February, according to a police report obtained Wednesday by the Free Press under the Freedom of Information Act. Athans, 46, was not arrested or charged, but agreed to fully cooperate with police in their investigation of Internet-based prostitution at hotels in the city, according to the report. Athans was pulled over by police on I-75 minutes after leaving the Residence Inn on Livernois, just east of I-75 and south of Big Beaver, the evening of Feb. 26. He was driving a Cadillac DeVille registered jointly to him and Stabenow at their address in Lansing. He was ticketed for driving on a suspended license. When questioned during the stop, he acknowledged he had been at the hotel with a woman he met on the Internet. On further questioning, he acknowledged he had paid the woman $150 for oral sex.

Liberals...better than the rest of us.

Posted by: kbob in Katy at February 6, 2009 08:50 PM

oops...actually, the above was in the freep. But as a VP of Air America.....well...fairness doctrine....

Posted by: kbob again.... at February 6, 2009 08:53 PM

Ah Cassandra, you had to confuse the narrative with facts and stuff; you're no fun anymore, just kidding

Posted by: narciso at February 6, 2009 11:26 PM

"Facts are stubborn things."

Yes, they really are, aren't they? ;-)

Posted by: camojack at February 7, 2009 03:53 AM

Almost as stubborn as I am :)

Posted by: Cassandra at February 7, 2009 07:35 AM

Yeah, but facts don't *flounce* as much.

Or fling trivets...

Posted by: BillT at February 7, 2009 07:49 AM

To compare and by contrast evaluate Bush and BO's first few weeks in office is telling.

And I'm sorry to say that my benefit of the doubt has been determined to be DOA. I am convinced that this Administration working closely with the current Congress will produce a national train wreck of a proportion that will dwarf any damage inflicted on the nation since a period beginning with LBJ and running through Carter's administration.

Or as VDH posted in this summary a couple of days ago regarding the new administration's performance.

Posted by: bthun at February 7, 2009 08:50 AM

Last week I saw a talking head praise Obama for meeting with Republican congressional leaders, "something Bush never did." I knew it was a lie when I heard it and this article confirms it.

I think it will be 100 years before we finally hear the truth about the Bush administration. It made some terrible mistakes (massive increase in government spending, keeping Rumsfeld on too long) but it did the best it could for the American people in difficult times.

Posted by: marsta at February 7, 2009 09:12 AM

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