Bush's New Mantra: No Turning Back

Dan Froomkin

The Washington Post

Friday, Jul 30, 2004; 10:55 AM

President Bush emerges from his four-day eclipse today with a new stump speech and a new mantra.

The idea, of course, is to counter "We can do better," which was the unofficial theme of the Democratic National Convention that officially designated Sen. John F. Kerry as its champion this week.

Mike Allen writes in The Washington Post: "Aides said Bush's campaign-trail mantra will be: 'We have turned the corner, and we are not turning back.' "

In his new stump speech, Allen writes, "Bush plans to announce Friday that he wants to make flextime more available to the nation's workers as part of a reelection platform built around creating jobs and increasing the financial independence of families while making the nation safer and the world more peaceful, his aides said."

Here's the battle plan for August:

"White House communications director Dan Bartlett said that in the first two weeks of August, Bush will detail his plans for 'helping workers and families succeed in a changing economy.' This will include Bush's plans for 'a new era of ownership,' a rubric that includes his plans for increasing home ownership and giving people greater control over their health insurance. . . .

"During the third week in August, Bush will turn to foreign policy and talk about his plans for 'making America safer and extending peace and liberty,' Bartlett said. After a brief sojourn at his ranch, Bush will begin a multi-state swing that will take him to the Republican convention in New York, which begins Aug. 30."

And Allen reports this interesting departure from the recent past:

"Until now, most of Bush's campaign events have been filled with his backers. His staff said that during August, he will make it a point to appear in more impromptu settings."

Richard W. Stevenson writes in the New York Times: "President Bush will begin a vigorous new phase of his re-election campaign on Friday, racing through the Midwest arguing that the nation has turned the corner in dealing with its problems and promising policy initiatives to help Americans deal with the strains of the 21st-century economy, his aides said Thursday.

"In a jab at his Democratic opponent, Senator John Kerry, Mr. Bush will call this phase of the campaign his 'Heart and Soul of America' tour. The phrase alludes to Mr. Kerry's statement at a recent New York fund-raiser that the Hollywood entertainers who appeared there, some of whom made lewd or disparaging comments about Mr. Bush, represented the country's heart and soul. . . .

"The swing is part of the next phase of the Bush campaign after months in which it has concentrated its political efforts on trying to define Mr. Kerry as a liberal flip-flopper who cannot be trusted with the nation's security or prosperity. Mr. Bush's strategists say they now plan to set out a positive vision of where Mr. Bush wants to take the country if he wins another four years in office, though there is no indication that they intend to let up on Mr. Kerry."

Nick Anderson writes in the Los Angeles Times: " 'When it comes to choosing a president, results matter,' Bush declares in an excerpt from a speech his campaign disclosed today. The sentence echoes a 2000 campaign slogan that termed Bush a 'reformer with results.' It is also an implied dig at Democratic nominee John F. Kerry's 19-year record in the Senate, which Republicans call undistinguished."

Ron Hutcheson writes in Knight Ridder Newspapers: "The burst of activity leading into the Republican convention Aug. 29-Sept. 2 signals Bush's determination to counter any boost that his opponent, John Kerry, gets from this week's Democratic convention."

No Dissenters Welcome

Vice President Cheney speaks at campaign rallies in Yakima, Wash., and Central Point, Ore., today. On Saturday, he speaks at a Disabled American Veterans convention in Reno, Nev., and then at campaign rallies in Tucson, Ariz., and Rio Rancho, N.M.

Jeff Jones writes in the Albuquerque Journal: "Some would-be spectators hoping to attend Vice President Dick Cheney's rally in Rio Rancho this weekend walked out of a Republican campaign office miffed and ticketless Thursday after getting this news:

"Unless you sign an endorsement for President George W. Bush, you're not getting any passes."

Jones writes that Republicans said they were trying to thwart Democratic operatives, but that "some who left the office . . . without tickets on Thursday said they're not affiliated with an operative group and should have a right to see their vice president without pledging their allegiance to Bush."

Today's Calendar

Scott Lindlaw writes for the Associated Press that Bush "swoops back onto the campaign trail Friday with a two-day swing through four battleground states: Missouri, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania."

His first stop is Springfield, Mo, where he will speak at Southwest Missouri State University.

Lindlaw writes that "the president is trying to exploit the fact that the state is trending Republican, says George Connor, associate professor of political science at Southwest Missouri State University. Both houses of the state legislature went Republican in 2002.

"At the same time, Bush is trying to reassure voters about his handling of the war in Iraq.

" 'Every few days in the papers somebody's son from the Ozarks dies in Iraq or Afghanistan, which has led to an undercurrent of concern among the electorate,' Connor said."

James Goodwin writes in the Springfield News-Leader that Springfield is "the conservative cornerstone of a swing state."

Bush's next stop today: Grand Rapids, Mich., for a speech at Grand Rapids Community College.

Steven Harmon writes in the Grand Rapids Press that Republicans were handing out thousands of tickets to supporters yesterday. Kerry is also expected in Grand Rapids on Monday.

After Grand Rapids, Bush is off to Cleveland, to speak at the International Children's Games and Cultural Festival at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Bush caps off his day in the Cleveland suburb of Kirtland Hills, with a $2,000-a-plate Republican fundraising dinner on the 71-acre estate of Edward Crawford, a millionaire active in the Cuyahoga County Republican Party and the chief executive at Park-Ohio Holdings Corp.

Michael Scott writes in the Cleveland Plain Dealer that Bush's visit to Kirtland Hills is the talk of that small Lake County town.

On Saturday, Bush heads off on a bus tour to Canton and Cambridge, Ohio, then Pittsburgh.

Spinning the Deficit

The White House releases its summer update on the budget today, and the spinning is already fast and furious.

Will the deficit be bigger than ever? Yes. Will it be smaller than expected? Yes.

Which is bigger news? It will be interesting to see which spin wins.

Alan Fram writes for the Associated Press: "The White House's projection of a record federal deficit that could approach $450 billion this year will further fuel a campaign-season dispute over President Bush's handling of the economy.

"Bush's budget office planned to release its latest forecast Friday. Its magnitude, described by congressional aides speaking on condition of anonymity, will easily surpass last year's $375 billion, the largest ever in dollar terms.

"Republicans are ready to argue that the number underscores the economy's upturn because it shows improvement over expectations of early this year. Democrats, meanwhile, will say it underscores the decline of the government's fiscal health under Bush, who has seen three straight years of worsening annual shortfalls following four consecutive surpluses under President Clinton."

Also look for spinning today on the GDP numbers. As Martin Crutsinger reports for the Associated Press this morning: "The U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of just 3 percent in the spring, a dramatic slowdown from the rapid pace of the past year, as consumer spending fell to the weakest rate since the last recession, the government reported Friday."

Embracing the 9/11 Commission

The White House's tepid response to the recommendations of the 9/11 commission (see last Friday's column) lasted all of one day.

By Saturday, White House aides -- and Republican congressional leaders -- had abandoned their passive resistance to the commission's recommendations and jumped on the bandwagon.

Bush called together a task force of senior aides to discuss options, and met with them by videoconference during the week.

Dana Priest and Walter Pincus write in The Washington Post today: "President Bush, at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., held another videoconference yesterday with his national security advisers to discuss a set of executive orders he plans to issue next week, his aides said. White House officials hope those steps will relieve political pressure for more radical, immediate change as a result of the Sept. 11 commission's prescription for overhauling the U.S. intelligence system. . . .

"The president, who did not favor impaneling the commission and then said he was in no rush to institute further reforms, has now decided he must do something soon, aides have said. White House and congressional officials say the president seeks to blunt criticism by Democrats that he has not done enough to address what the commission concluded was an utter failure to detect any aspect of the terrorist plot."

Here's the text of yesterday's gaggle by deputy press secretary Trent Duffy.

Dana Milbank wrote in his White House Notebook in The Washington Post on Tuesday: "While determined not to be outflanked by Democrats on terrorism with just 98 days before the election, there is one major recommendation Bush aides can't accept.

"The 'National Intelligence Director,' the commission proposes, 'should be located in the Executive Office of the President and report directly to the president, yet be confirmed by the Senate.' The director of the National Counterterrorism Center also would be 'placed in the Executive Office of the President, headed by a Senate-confirmed official.

"Ain't gonna happen.

"Since President Bush came to office, his administration has been working to build executive power and to keep Congress and the courts from meddling. . . . "

National Guard Watch

Some catching up on the last week's news:

On Saturday, as Bradley Graham wrote in The Washington Post: "The Pentagon announced yesterday that it had found payroll records related to President Bush's time in the National Guard -- records that earlier this month were reported accidentally destroyed -- but the discovery did nothing to resolve the dispute over Bush's military service in 1972 and 1973."

The Pentagon said it had inadvertently announced that the records had been inadvertently destroyed.

As blogger Kevin Drum put it: "That's a lot of inadvertent-ness."

We're still waiting for what could be the mother-lode of documents: Microfilm of all Bush's personnel records with the Texas Air National Guard. The Associated Press is suing for access.

Urban League Call and Response

Mike Allen wrote in Saturday's Washington Post about Bush's speech to the Urban League in Detroit.

"President Bush accused the Democratic Party on Friday of taking African Americans for granted and suggested they would have more political leverage if they spread their votes around. But he admitted that the Republican Party 'has got a lot of work to do' to improve its paltry support among minority voters."

Here's the text of his speech, which was politely, if not warmly, received.

And here's the text of the unofficial response: The Democratic convention speech by the Reverend Al Sharpton.

As Thomas Frank writes in today's Newsday: "With an impassioned speech Wednesday night that directly attacked President George W. Bush, the Rev. Al Sharpton crashed the sometimes Stepford Convention that Democrats have staged and won a new cadre of fans."

Gleanings from the 9/11 Report

Glenn Kessler wrote in Saturday's Washington Post on what the 9/11 commission's report said about the contrasting management styles and personalities of Clinton and Bush.

"President Bill Clinton preferred reading detailed intelligence memos, which he marked up with notes and comments in order to receive written responses. President Bush sought early-morning, face-to-face briefings from CIA Director George J. Tenet.

"Clinton tried to draw attention to the threat of terrorism by frequently mentioning it in speeches, but top aides would spend weeks or months arguing over the fine points in action memorandums -- which Clinton would tinker with before signing them. Bush was tired of 'swatting flies' and wanted dramatic results, bristling at the tedium of interagency coordination. He saw little need for formal meetings, instead communicating with top officials via national security adviser Condoleezza Rice."

David E. Sanger and Douglas Jehl wrote in Saturday's New York Times that "two back-to-back reports" into intelligence failures "describe a president who raises important questions and occasionally asks for more data, but at crucial moments failed to press for the telling details. And they raise questions about whether the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and her deputy, Stephen Hadley, were sufficiently skeptical about the intelligence flowing into the White House that the committees determined was terribly flawed.

"In retrospect, according to several officials involved in those investigations, a stronger shove back from the president or his National Security Council might have forced the government to focus more attention on an emerging plot in the sleepy summer of 2001, or compelled a more skeptical reassessment of assumptions about Iraq."

Valerie Plame Watch

Bill Gertz wrote in last Friday's Washington Times: "The identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame was compromised twice before her name appeared in a news column that triggered a federal illegal-disclosure investigation, U.S. officials say."

Gertz wrote that "the disclosure that Mrs. Plame's cover was blown before the news column undermines the prosecution of the government official who might have revealed the name, officials said."

And Frederick Cusick wrote in Tuesday's Philadelphia Inquirer: "The FBI agent in charge of investigating whether top Bush administration officials leaked the identity of an undercover CIA agent as political payback against her husband has been named to head the Philadelphia FBI office."

Bush Bikes, Sails

Scott Lindlaw wrote for the Associated Press earlier this week: "Bush offered a glimpse of his new pastime to an Associated Press reporter Monday, roaming the dirt roads and far-flung pastures of his 1,600-acre ranch. About halfway through, he sailed over the handlebars during a dangerous descent, but dusted himself off, picked up his $3,100 bicycle and kept riding."

Here's a White House photo of Bush on the bike.

Cheney Gets Tongue-Lashing

Among the torrent of Bush and Cheney criticism over the past four days, this item:

As Beth Fouhy wrote for the Associated Press, 12-year-old Ilana Wexler, founder of KidsForKerry.org, wowed the convention when she chided Cheney for using a four-letter expletive in an exchange with Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy.

"When our vice president had a disagreement with a Democratic senator, he used a really bad word," Ilana said. "If I said that word, I would be put in a timeout. I think he should be put in a timeout."

The delegates roared to their feet.

Cheney Keeps Going

David D. Kirkpatrick writes in the New York Times: "Mr. Cheney broke the tradition of lying low during the opposing party's convention by heading out on a four-day tour through the West, warming up the crowd at each stop by comparing his own balding, septuagenarian look with the youthful appearance of the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, Senator John Edwards. . . .

"Aides to the vice president said the Bush re-election campaign sent him out in part because of his role as the foremost proponent of the administration's case for invading Iraq, a signal that the president's campaign is not backing away from its arguments for the war."

After Cheney's visit to Camp Pendleton, in Southern California, Richard Simon wrote in the Los Angeles Times: "With Vice President Dick Cheney standing between two 155-millimeter howitzers and delivering a rousing pep talk to Marines on Tuesday, President Bush's reelection campaign had the image it wanted to counter Democratic attacks from Boston."

Here's an Associated Press photo of the event.

Here's the text of Cheney's speech there.

A Puff Piece

After 25 years as White House pastry chef, Roland Mesnier is hanging up his white toque today.

Bob Jamieson of ABC News filed the most recent confection on Mesnier's departure. "Slightly plump, with a round face and a ready laugh, Mesnier relishes talking about his creations and his core belief about ingredients."

You can see all that and more on the White House Web site's sugar-coated Commander in Chef Web page, which features videos of Mesnier discussing magnificent creations, favorite desserts, cooking tips, cooking disasters, and much more.

Mesnier was also on "Ask the White House" earlier this week, where he embraced apple pie as his all-time favorite.

Here's a sweet Reuters photo of Mesnier hanging on to his toque as Marine One returns to the White House yesterday.

Twins Watch

They're blogging! Yes, folks, the Bush/Cheney Web site this week published the first installment of Barbara and Jenna's Journal. They write: "It was incredible to see so many people excited about reelecting our Dad. Throughout the next few months we'll be traveling alone and with our parents, giving you more details of life on the campaign trail."