White House Week
Spring's Drizzle of Bad News Is Turning Into a Torrent
White House aides hope that President Bush made the most out of his sojourn in Crawford, Texas, last week. His strategists are bracing for a long, miserable spring because of so much bad news on so many fronts. "You just get to the point where you hate to go out to your stoop and pick up your paper in the morning and see what today's lead story is," says a Bush adviser. "The news always seems to be bad, and we can't catch a break." The hit parade hasn't let up for weeks-the conviction of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff in the CIA leak case; the Walter Reed medical center fiasco; the ongoing troubles of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; and, of course, the war in Iraq. Only improvement on the ground in Iraq will truly lift the president's fortunes, and that would take months, if it happens at all. "It's still 'our' war, and if it doesn't get better we're in big trouble," a GOP adviser says.
Avoiding a Duel Over Iraq War Funding
Some Republican strategists with close ties to Congress predict that Democrats and Bush will find a compromise on the Iraq funding standoff sooner rather than later. One possible outcome: The White House accepts some form of nonbinding "benchmarks" for success in Iraq as part of legislation to increase supplemental funding for the war, while at the same time the Democrats delete a mandatory-withdrawal timetable from the funding bill. "When the president says, 'Send me a bill to support the troops,' he has a lot more impact than the Democratic leaders do, because they have so many voices," says a GOP insider. "But in the end, there's got to be a deal." One problem: Antiwar Democrats could prove to be just as inflexible as Bush.
Memo to McCain: Time to Take On Rudy
Political strategists are starting to whisper that Arizona Republican John McCain needs to start taking GOP front-runner Rudy Giuliani down a few pegs, and soon. "He can't wait much longer," says an adviser to one of the second-tier candidates. "Otherwise, McCain will fall even further behind in the polls, and that will hurt his fundraising even more." McCain's fundraising numbers came in low last week, and Giuliani has been enjoying a double-digit lead in the polls over McCain, his nearest rival for the Republican nomination. McCain advisers are well aware of the pressure but insist they won't be pushed into a premature attack strategy. For one thing, they note that the lesser candidates want McCain to do their dirty work for them by pulling Giuliani down so everyone else can move up.
Hold the Sanctions, I Want My Junket
Officials at Treasury and State were all ready to roll out a new set of sanctions last week on Sudan for its ongoing role in the conflict in Darfur. Activists have been pushing for tougher financial restrictions for months to punish Khartoum for blocking the deployment of peacekeepers. But the announcement was suddenly delayed. At first, it appeared that officials might be heeding an appeal to hold off from United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. But the more decisive factor may have been a phone call from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's office. The problem: The Maryland Democrat was leading a congressional delegation on a tour of the region, including Sudan, last week.
PHOTO OP: 10:35 a.m., April 3, 2007, the Rose Garden
Vice President Dick Cheney stood all by himself amid the cherry blossoms to watch President Bush's press conference aimed at pressuring the Democrats to drop a timetable for withdrawal from the Iraq war funding bill. Bush pushed his case that Democrats are not supporting the troops or giving his so-called surge strategy a chance to succeed.
With Kenneth T. Walsh, Jay Tolson and Silla Brush
This story appears in the April 16, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.