White House Week
Bush's Big Act: If He Bombs, Does the Fat Lady Sing?
Some senior Republicans are looking at the next four weeks as "make it or break it" time for the White House. In early January, the Democrats will take over Congress and signal how aggressively they will confront the administration on Iraq and a wide range of domestic issues. By mid-January, President Bush will have delivered his high-stakes speech setting forth "the way forward" in Iraq. Bush will then give his State of the Union address on January 23. "Anything the president wants to do in the last two years of his term will be contingent on the reaction to his new course in Iraq," says a senior GOP adviser. "If he bombs when he gives the Iraq speech, the fat lady sings." White House officials, however, argue that Democrats won't be able to escape responsibility for improving the situation in Iraq. "The Democrats are going to own this policy, too," a senior White House official says.
Like Bill Clinton, a Person of the People
Nancy Pelosi plans to celebrate becoming the first-ever female speaker of the House with an elaborate parade of events linking her heritage in blue-collar Baltimore and Italian-Catholic roots to her new and history-making post. As aides describe the run-up to her January 4 swearing-in, it will be similar to the weeklong trip former President Bill Clinton took to Washington. Pelosi's week will culminate with a concert and a "people's house" celebration, where plain folks can meet her and the rest of the new Democratic leadership in the Cannon House Office Building.
And So, Let the Investigations Begin
As a sign that the new Democratic majority plans to get tough, key congressional committees have begun hiring lawyer-investigators to probe the administration and its policies. The House Appropriations Committee, where Iraq war critic Rep. John Murtha will be influential, is hiring investigators to look into the administration's war policies and spending in Iraq and Afghanistan. Rep. Henry Waxman, the incoming chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, who's been dogging the vice president's energy task force, is also hiring lawyers. In the Senate, officials said similar hirings were underway in a speeded-up effort to have people in place for the start of the new Congress, especially the planned early-January hearings into the war and military spending that are set to begin January 8.
Better Be Ready to Take the Big Hit
Concerned about potential vulnerabilities to terrorist attacks, the incoming chairman of the House Science Committee, Rep. Bart Gordon of Tennessee, is pressing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to require more stringent designs in any new nuclear reactors. The NRC, he notes in a letter, has not licensed a new plant since 1978, but it has approved a design for two new plants, while many other reactors are in planning stages. The NRC, responding, says its staff is developing new rules requiring companies "to assess specific security features that could be incorporated into the facility design ... to enhance security effectiveness." But one NRC commissioner, Gregory Jaczko, says that's not enough: The commission, he says, should require that "any new plants be designed and built to successfully withstand commercial aircraft crashes and large fires and explosions."
With Kenneth T. Walsh, Paul Bedard and Edward T. Pound
This story appears in the January 8, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.