On the Presidency


PHOTO OP: 10:37 a.m., October 1, Lafayette Park.

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The First of Many Showdowns
President Bush kicked off his autumn veto strategy with a bang last week by rejecting a bill to expand the popular State Children's Health Insurance Program, as he had promised. But he set off more of a firestorm than some of his advisers had expected. Bush said the measure would cost too much and "shift SCHIP away from its original purpose"—to help poor kids—by turning it into a middle-class entitlement for children and adults. He also opposed the bill's provision to raise tobacco taxes. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the veto showed that Bush is "detached" from real life, and Democrats bludgeoned the White House and Republicans as heartless and inflexible. The House will probably sustain Bush's veto, killing the measure for now. At that point, White House officials want to reopen negotiations on the program, but it's unclear how much each side will compromise.

What's clear is that the battle over federal priorities has morphed into the kind of sustained ideological struggle not seen since the early days of Ronald Reagan's presidency. Bush warns that he will veto other Democratic bills that he says cost too much and might lead to tax increases. Majority Democrats in Congress say they are trying to pass programs that the American people want and that have been neglected by the administration. "It's going to be a holy war all autumn and maybe right through to Christmas," says a former senior adviser to Ronald Reagan. Washington veterans say the clash will actually last until Election Day 2008.

Seeking Esteem Overseas
When presidents get into hot water at home, they often travel to foreign countries where they get more respect. With his popularity sagging badly, it's now Bush's turn to adopt the globe-trotting tradition. In April, he plans to attend the NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania. In July, he'll attend the annual G-8 summit of industrialized democracies on the Japanese island of Hokkaido. In August, he's off to the Olympics in Beijing, just as the Democrats and Republicans get ready to choose his possible successor at their conventions. In November, it's the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Lima, Peru. Bush also wants to tour Africa, the Mideast, and western Europe and has expressed interest in again visiting U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. It could be a record year for Bush's nation-hopping.

GOP Ready To Hammer Hillary Clinton With Liberal Label
There will be no respite for Hillary Clinton overseas or anywhere else, as the Democratic presidential front-runner is emerging as more of a GOP target—and fundraising foil—than ever. As soon as Clinton announced that her campaign had raised $27 million during the past three months—topping all contenders—Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan E-mailed a broadside to potential donors soliciting money to stop Clinton and her "liberal schemes." GOP strategists are realizing that Clinton will be more formidable than they thought. One example: She is widely seen as a tough, strong leader, a trait that voters have found lacking in women candidates. "Most women candidates have perception problems on the issues of competence, experience, and toughness," says a prominent GOP pollster. "She is in pretty good standing on these concerns," especially in her party. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that 67 percent of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters see Clinton as "tough," and 52 percent consider her "smart." Where she runs into trouble is over whether she is too liberal, polarizing, and unlikable.

PHOTO OP: 10:37 a.m., October 1, Lafayette Park
Ava Crawford of Falls Church, Va., marches in front of the White House during a Service Employees International Union rally to deliver to President Bush petitions, hauled in red wagons, protesting his promised veto of a bill expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program.