Thursday, June 15, 2006

Bush's Best Week in Awhile

If you're a political junkie and yet are not signed up for Robert Novak's Political Report, I'd suggest you consider it. It will keep you abreast of happenings in the White House, Congress and even local political races that you just won't find anywhere else. Here's an example -- Novak's take on President Bush's recent performance.

...If Republicans maintain control of Congress in November, this week will be remembered as the turning point for them and the Bush Administration.

Last week's victory in the California special election still resounds simply because of what did not happen. Democrats, eager to convince donors, the media and the public that their day is coming, still lack tangible evidence that the current anti-GOP mood will aid them at the ballot box this fall. President Bush, eager to avoid a Democratic Congress with subpoena power, lent his voice for automated calls, as did his wife. So did Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who cancelled an appearance with the Republican victor, Brian Bilbray (R), not out of pique but at the request of the National Republican Campaign Committee.

The continued failure of Howard Dean's DNC to raise money has made it a political non-entity. Although Republicans had to spend big money to save the California race from disaster, they will have the luxury of being able to overspend in several such races this fall. Democrats could enjoy a 90-10 likelihood of taking the House this year, but their incompetence has created a situation that is closer to 50-50.

White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove escaped indictment in the CIA leak case. This frees him up to do what he does best: win elections in a tough political environment. The months of swirling speculation on his status are over, and there is now one fewer negative Iraq news item surrounding the question of weapons of mass destruction.

More significant on Iraq is the killing of al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. This comes as a huge plus for the administration in several different ways. For one, it is an obvious propaganda victory all on its own, a sign that the administration is competently waging the war on terrorism.

Beyond that, the killing of Zarqawi opens up other opportunities as well. The President's surprise visit to Iraq was unquestionably made possible by Zarqawi's death. Although the White House insists the trip was planned well before our military took out Zarqawi, Bush would have appeared foolish to wade into an Iraq still in chaos, but the appearance of major progress gave him a chance to boldly appear there without advance warning. This is another victory in the public eye. Also in the wake of Zarqawi's death, congressional Republicans have opened the way for an extensive debate on the war and the administration's foreign policy. This would otherwise not have been possible.

In Iraq, success may breed success for the administration. The elimination of Zarqawi and the nearly 40 raids conducted in its wake -- thanks to the intelligence gathered in the original operation -- hobbles the insurgency, and creates still more chances for the Bush Administration and Republicans to claim success. Every speech Bush gives on Iraq suddenly has greater credibility. This success even opens to door to a gradual troop withdrawal from Iraq, which at this point would be the greatest success of all. Gen. George Casey hinted that a reduction could be in the offing, as Iraqis approach the point at which they have the insurgency under control. It is highly doubtful that he would shoot from the hip in bringing up such a possibility.

The discussion of social-conservative issues in Congress -- particularly same-sex marriage and the upcoming debate on judicial nominations -- will give Republicans greater opportunity to offer contrast on domestic issues where voters favor their point of view. The House will likely consider the marriage amendment next month.

House Democrats, meanwhile, are in the midst of a public tug-of-war. The sudden abortive campaign for the House leadership by Rep. Frank Murtha (D-Pa.) could have been very bad for them, had it continued before the election. Murtha, an ally of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), had begun a race against her rival, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), for majority leader, and has now said he will not run until after the November elections should Democrats take the House. This is more of a way to distract from the possibility, discussed by some Democrats, of Pelosi's removal at someone else's hands, possibly Hoyer's.

Also, as Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) pointed out, the public infighting signals disorder within the party and distracts from efforts to retake the House. In addition, one cannot help but think that Murtha's sudden aspirations for party office go a long way toward explaining his recent outspokenness on the Iraq War and alleged massacres in Iraq. That such a serious topic as the latter should be used for such self-promotion is rather off-putting.

Pelosi also has a rebellion on her hands from the Congressional Black Caucus as she attempts this week to remove embattled Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) from the House Ways and Means Committee...