February 22, 2006
A White House Seriously Off Its Game
Over the last two
weeks I’ve been keeping one eye on politics and the other
on the Winter Olympics. Right now I can’t decide who’s
been having a worse go of it: Bode Miller or the Bush administration.
As most people know,
Miller - the brash and iconic leader of the U.S. ski team who
earned two silver medals in 2002 and is the defending World Cup
overall champion - was poised to become the most celebrated American
skier in history heading into the Games in Turin, Italy. Instead,
after a series of bad performances and mishaps, Miller is 0-4
with only one event remaining this Saturday.
Back in Washington
D.C., George W. Bush and his administration haven’t been
doing much better. Last week the administration was consumed with
trying to put out the firestorm created in the aftermath of the
Cheney shooting accident. The media frenzy was largely a petulant
and cynical overreaction by the White House press corps, but it’s
also true Cheney could have avoided much of the ordeal by instructing
his staff to place a single phone call, which he chose not to
do, and by not waiting four days to give an interview laying out
the details of the story.
Yesterday, in the
middle of a three-state tour to promote the administration’s
energy policy, President Bush had to suffer through the rather
embarrassing task of explaining why budget cuts forced the firing
of 32 employees two weeks ago at the nation’s premier renewable
energy research facility in Golden, Colorado. Energy Secretary
Samuel Bodman issued an emergency directive this weekend restoring
$5 million worth of funding to the lab, getting the employees
back to work just before the President arrived for his visit.
“Sometimes,” Bush said, “decisions made as the
result of the appropriations process, the money may not end up
where it was supposed to have gone.”
Mix-ups are bound
to happen, but after declaring that America is “addicted
to oil” and touting the value of renewable energy in his
State of the Union address, this mistake leaves the President
and his administration in the unenviable position of pleading
incompetence to avoid looking insincere.
By far the
most serious gaffe by the White House has been its handling of
the deal allowing a company based in the United Arab Emirates
to take over the operations at six major U.S. ports. Approved
last week by the obscure Committee on Foreign Investment in the
United States (CFIUS), the deal raises legitimate – though
not insurmountable – concerns over whether it is appropriate
to outsource American port operations to an Arab-based corporation.
The physical reality
of the deal is that very little would change: U.S. longshoremen
would still man the operations at the ports, and the U.S. Coast
Guard would still be responsible for security. The political reality
of the deal is a different matter altogether, and the Bush administration
made a terrible mistake by failing to recognize and to proactively
deal with the appearance and the sensitivity surrounding the transaction.
The White House should
have had the foresight to brief Governors, Senators, relevant
House members and Mayors from all the ports involved to assuage
any concerns and also to enlist their support. Instead, those
very people - both Republican and Democrat - have come out attacking
the deal, leaving the White House on its own defending what now
looks like a huge political liability. “We needed to know
before this was a done deal, given the state of where we are concerning
security,” said Robert Ehrlich, the Republican Governor
President Bush dug in his heels, reiterating support for the port
deal and vowing to veto any legislative efforts by Congress to
scuttle it. This not only continues to keep the Bush administration
on the defensive trying to justify a program to which most Americans
have a negative gut reaction, but it also sets up a showdown with
Congress that Bush may live to regret.
All in all, it’s
been a rough two weeks for the administration. The port deal blow-up
ensures the White House’s rough patch is going to last a
while longer - and possibly get much worse. Unlike Bode Miller,
who gets to pack up, come home next week, and put the whole disastrous
experience of the Winter Games behind him, the Bush administration
has to stick it out for another three years. They had better get
back on their game soon.
Bevan is the co-founder and Executive Editor of RealClearPolitics.
2000-2006 RealClearPolitics.com All Rights Reserved