WP: Actually, Bushies are bullies at home, too
Fri, 21 Mar 2003 10:31:37 -0800
[I may be dense, but this well-illustrated piece brought to the surface
a thought I didn't even realize was bothering me: Bush is a manichean
ass in Washington, too. He *is* treating California no differently from
France, the Democrats no differently than the UN.
As proud as I am that our war is going as well as can be expected, and
that it is ultimately a decent thing to do, I am still waiting for
another chance to vote him out of office in favor of someone more
competent. Now just wait for the Democratic field to implode and force
me to eat those words...
Also, no thanks to the Naderite anarchists shutting down SF for putting
us in the position to begin with... RK]
Bush's Strong Arm Can Club Allies Too
Lawmakers, Activists Say Tactics for Enforcing Loyalty Are Tough and
By Dana Milbank and Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 21, 2003; Page A06
Editor's note: This article was withheld from later editions of
yesterday's paper to accommodate coverage of the start of the war in
After a Newsweek cover story in 1987 titled "Bush Battles the Wimp
Factor," the label stuck to George H.W. Bush for years. Now, his son is
creating the opposite perception: the Bully Factor.
As the United States wages war this week following a pair of ultimatums
to the United Nations and Iraq, the airwaves and editorial pages of the
world have been full of accusations that President Bush and his
administration are guilty of coercive and harrying behavior. Even in
typically friendly countries, Bush and the United States have been
given such labels this week as "arrogant bully" (Britain), "bully boys"
(Australia), "big bully" (Russia), "bully Bush" (Kenya), "arrogant"
(Turkey) and "capricious" (Canada). Diplomats have accused the
administration of "hardball" tactics, "jungle justice" and acting "like
At home, where support for the war on Iraq is strong and growing, such
complaints of strong-arm tactics by the Bush administration nonetheless
have a certain resonance -- even among Bush supporters. Though the
issues are vastly different, Republican lawmakers and conservative
interest groups report similar pressure on allies at home to conform to
Bush's policy wishes.
Although all administrations use political muscle on the opposition,
GOP lawmakers and lobbyists say the tactics the Bush administration
uses on friends and allies have been uniquely fierce and vindictive.
Just as the administration used unbending tactics before the U.N.
Security Council with normally allied countries such as Mexico, Germany
and France, the Bush White House has calculated that it can overcome
domestic adversaries if it tolerates no dissent from its friends.
In recent weeks, the White House has been pushing GOP governors to oust
the leadership of the National Governors Association to make the
bipartisan group endorse Bush's views. Interest groups report pressure
from the administration -- sometimes on groups' donors -- to conform to
Bush's policy views and even to fire dissenters.
Often, companies and their K Street lobbyists endorse ideas they
privately oppose or question, according to several longtime Republican
lobbyists. The fear is that Bush will either freeze them out of key
meetings or hold a grudge that might deprive them of help in other
areas, the lobbyists said. When the Electronic Industries Alliance
declined to back Bush's dividend tax cut, the group was frozen out when
the White House called its "friends" in the industry to discuss the tax
cut, according to White House and business sources.
Under such pressure from the administration, lobbyists and lawmakers
who voiced doubts about Bush's economic policies have publicly reversed
themselves. "I think I should have kept my mouth shut," Senate Finance
Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said in one such
recantation last month.
The forms of pressure -- exclusions from White House guest lists, a
loss of access to key Bush aides, calls to dissenters' superiors,
veiled threats saying the White House has noted the transgression or
even shouted accusations -- convey the same message. Grover Norquist, a
conservative activist who enforces loyalty for the White House, puts it
this way: "If I bitch, guess what? I get coal in my socks."
The technique has served the Bush White House well by maintaining the
lockstep support among Republicans needed to pass Bush policies in a
closely divided Congress. "It's fascinating the extent to which this
administration has been able to hold troops in line for an extended
period of time," said Thomas E. Mann of the Brookings Institution.
But on the latest round of tax cuts, there are signs of a backlash
against Bush's tough tactics. In Congress, a group of moderate GOP
senators and representatives said they would only support a tax cut
much smaller than Bush's. And lawmakers suggest that resentment is
growing beneath the surface.
More than a dozen members of Congress interviewed for this article said
support for Bush's economic plan is weaker than the public might
realize because lawmakers don't want to challenge the president
publicly. "We don't want to stick it in the president's eye -- at the
moment," said Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.). He said as many as 20 House
Republicans oppose Bush's tax cuts, and an additional 40 or 50 are
uneasy about the details and timing.
The White House says its style is vigorous but not strong-armed. "The
president believes strongly in issues and he diligently pursues what he
believes in on the basis of policy, and that's why he's won so many
votes -- because members agree with him," press secretary Ari Fleischer
But GOP lawmakers have other reasons for their support. "People have
come to realize that it is better to be seen helping the administration
than pulling down parts of his plan," said Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.).
Foley knows the consequences. He opposed Bush on a free-trade vote
despite intense pressure. So when Bush senior adviser Karl Rove
recently encouraged Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel R.
Martinez to run for the Senate from Florida -- the same seat Foley is
seeking -- many on Capitol Hill suspected it was Bush's revenge on
Foley. Foley, in an interview, said he was worried he might get the
"Pawlenty" treatment, a reference to last year's Minnesota Senate race,
in which the Bush White House pushed out Tim Pawlenty, the GOP majority
leader in the Minnesota House, to clear the way for handpicked
candidate Norm Coleman.
Some of the White House's tactics have become lore. After Sen. James M.
Jeffords (I-Vt.) opposed Bush's first tax cut, White House slights and
threats to cut his pet programs drove Jeffords from the GOP. Last year,
after Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) voiced concern about Bush's
immigration policy, Rove told him to never again "darken the door" of
the White House.
But the hardball tactics are deeper and more pervasive.
Eager to send a message to the National Governors Association to
reflect a GOP majority, the White House for the first time excluded
Raymond C. Scheppach, the NGA's executive director, from the governors'
annual dinner at the White House last month. Encouraged by the
administration and its allies, a few Republican governors -- including
the president's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush -- threatened to stop
dues payments or quit the group. After a bipartisan NGA committee
drafted a statement seeking more federal money for the states, the
White House let its displeasure be known to the governors, and
Republicans arrived at the meeting last month demanding the rejection
of the "partisan" statement.
Conservative interest groups get similar pressure. When the free-market
Club for Growth sent a public letter to the White House to protest
White House intervention in GOP primaries for "liberal-leaning
Republicans," the group's president, Stephen Moore, picked up the phone
at a friend's one evening to receive a screaming tirade from Rove, who
had tracked him down. On another occasion when Moore objected to a Bush
policy, Rove called Richard Gilder, the Club for Growth's chairman and
a major contributor, to protest.
"I think this monomaniacal call for loyalty is unhealthy," Moore said.
"It's dangerous to declare anybody who crosses you an enemy for life.
It's shortsighted." Leaders of three other conservative groups report
that their objections to Bush policies have been followed by snubs and,
in at least one case, phone calls suggesting the replacement of a
critical scholar. "They want sycophants rather than allies," said the
head of one think tank.
Corporations are coming under increasing pressure not just to back
Bush, but to hire his allies to represent them in meetings with
Republicans. As part of the "K Street Project," top GOP officials,
lawmakers and lobbyists track the political affiliation and
contributions of people seeking lobbying jobs.
In a private meeting last week, chief executives from several leading
technology firms told Rep. Calvin M. Dooley (Calif.) and other moderate
Democrats that they were under heavy pressure to back the Bush tax
plan, even though many of them had reservations about it. "There is a
perception among some business interests there could be retribution if
you don't play ball on almost every issue that comes up," Dooley said.
Staff writer Dan Balz contributed to this report.