Return of the Architect Has Washington Wondering When special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald indicated that White House aide Karl Rove was still under investigation in the CIA leak case, Rove went underground. But last week he emerged--more active than radioactive. He traveled with the president to Pennsylvania Friday for Bush's speech on terrorism, and the preceding day he spoke at a Federalist Society dinner. U.S. News has learned that Rove resumed his role as Bush's chief political architect and guru when he briefed his boss on last Tuesday's off-year elections. Rove, using an array of numbers gleaned from the results, argued that voters mostly reaffirmed the "status quo" when they handed the GOP defeats in Virginia, New Jersey, and California. And he told the president that the outcomes were based on state and local concerns and individual candidates, which, of course, was what Bush wanted to hear. Next question: Does this signal that Rove's legal troubles are over?
Meanwhile, a Train Wreck on Capitol Hill It's just what President Bush didn't need: evidence that his low job approval ratings and recent state election setbacks have real-time consequences on Capitol Hill. But the proof came in a congressional breakdown over key items on Bush's agenda--all fueled by a revolt among centrists in the House and Senate. House GOP leaders halted consideration of a $54 billion budget-cutting bill when it became clear they didn't have the votes for passage--underscoring discontent among moderates over energy policy, tax cuts, and aid to the poor. Conservative leaders had earlier removed a provision in the budget that would have opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, which Bush has favored for years. And in the Senate Finance Committee, leaders postponed a bill to extend some Bush tax cuts to dividends and capital gains. White House officials generally leave tactics on Capitol Hill to congressional leaders, but that approach obviously didn't work last week. That left unclear whether more presidential influence would--or would not--be helpful in the future.
Maybe a Teensy Troop Pullout Next Year? Call it informed speculation, but some Washington insiders believe President Bush will announce at least a symbolic drawdown of U.S. troops from Iraq, perhaps as soon as his State of the Union address in January. One theory is that Bush will bring 25,000 troops home by mid-2006, to demonstrate that the Iraq plan is working. White House officials, however, say Bush won't be rushed into any decision and will pull out U.S. troops only when the military situation allows it.
They Love Me, They Love Me Not, They... Ahmad Chalabi was back in Washington after two years of virtual exile, but not with his tail between his legs. Now Iraq's deputy prime minister, Chalabi had once fallen far from favor with the Bush administration--but here he was meeting with a slew of top administration officials. He also gave a talk at the American Enterprise Institute: Protesters gathered outside holding banners saying, "Chalabi Lied, Innocents Died," and inside he faced tough questioning on his role in feeding prewar information on Iraq's weapons programs to the United States. Chalabi denied any wrongdoing, calling it an "urban myth" that he misled the administration.