Bush's Short Hot Summer

By Corn, David | The Nation, August 20, 2001 | Go to article overview

Bush's Short Hot Summer


Corn, David, The Nation


Washington has been a town of drama, action and intrigue in recent weeks. Not because this is the Summer of Chandra. It's because Congress and the President have been pondering an assortment of big-time issues--stem cell research, global warming, campaign finance, energy policy--and political forces and fortunes keep shifting. Trends have been elusive, plot lines unpredictable. As the August recess approached, the gab-show consensus was, Bush is flailing. His poll numbers were weak. He seemed to be at the mercy of House Republican moderates. His image-makers--no doubt in response to polls showing Bush widely seen as an OK fellow but one more concerned with Big Business than common folks--were contemplating an overhaul to warm-and-fuzzy him up.

Then, right before Congress let out, he negotiated a compromise on the patients' bill of rights legislation in the House and won approval of an energy package that tosses billions in tax cuts to Big Oil, permits drilling in the Alaskan wilderness and blocks upping the fuel standards for gas-guzzling SUVs. Republicans and some pundits hailed him. But was Bush up or just not so down? As he headed to his Texas ranch for one of the longest presidential vacations in modern history, the New York Times exclaimed, "Bush's back-to-back successes changed the mood in the capital overnight." The Washington Post, though, noted that "two victories hardly make a presidency."

And these victories are not yet real. The Democratic-controlled Senate is poised to do battle with the Republican-led House on the patients' bill of rights and the energy bill. These will likely play out as traditional D-versus-R wrestles. But the recent confrontations in Washington have not adhered to traditional battle lines. The President scored a win on the energy bill because organized labor--with the Teamsters leading the AFL-CIO by the nose--pushed several dozen Democrats to support the legislation. The unionists were seduced by the jobs expected to be produced by drilling in Alaska. So Mary Matalin, an adviser to Vice President Cheney, and Jimmy Hoffa, Teamsters president, strolled the Capitol hallways together in search of votes for the bill. In the end, non-green labor Democrats trumped the enviro-sensitive Republican moderates who opposed the bill. The Administration also received another boost from labor when Service Employees International Union president Andrew Stern praised Bush's plan to grant legal status to millions of undocumented Mexican workers and blasted Democrats for being "late and reactive now." And while Bush pushed his Mexico-friendly immigration plan, Democrats (and the Teamsters!) were opposing the Administration's effort to allow Mexican trucks to roam the United States--delighting GOP strategists eager to lure Hispanic-American voters away from the Dems.

Of late, pronouncing political judgments on a daily or weekly basis has been more pointless than usual. During the dust-up in the House over campaign finance reform, Bush declined to lobby those pesky GOP moderates to stick with the House leaders in opposing the main reform measure, and it looked as if Bush was withdrawing from the hand-to-hand combat on the Hill. …

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