McCain Handles Bush With Care

Bush is trying to help John McCain by blaming congressional Democrats for the poor economy.

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George W. Bush is trying to help Republican presidential candidate John McCain by blaming congressional Democrats for the poor economy. Last week, Bush blasted the Democratic majority for failing to pass his economic proposals. Bush also said he would consider a McCain idea, endorsed by Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, to suspend gasoline and diesel taxes this summer to help motorists and truckers. Previously, the White House had been lukewarm about that voter-friendly action, arguing that it would be premature and would deprive the government of too much revenue.

But McCain, while grateful for such gestures, will continue to distance himself from the White House, his advisers say. McCain knows he must show his independence from the incumbent, whose job-approval ratings are extremely low. McCain underscored his differences late last month when he visited New Orleans and condemned the administration's handling of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster. After touring the devastated Ninth Ward, McCain said angrily, "I want to assure the people of the Ninth Ward, the people of New Orleans, the people of this country, never again, never again will a disaster of this nature be handled in the terrible and disgraceful way it was handled." This annoyed some Bush advisers, who thought McCain was too harsh, and that word was passed to the Arizona senator's staff.

Not that it will matter very much. McCain's aides say that his effort to draw a line between himself and the unpopular Bush has just begun. "On some issues, we will agree to disagree with the White House," says a senior McCain strategist, adding that McCain is a "different kind of Republican." Up soon on McCain's agenda: a speech on global warming in which he will say the government hasn't done enough to reduce climate change.

Of course, McCain is still counting on Bush to raise money for him and for the party, as well as to reassure balky social conservatives and evangelical Christians. So in some ways, McCain is trying to have it both ways—as a critic and an ally of the president.