And Now, From the
West Wing Peanut Gallery
President Bush has vowed repeatedly not to play pundit in chief in the race to succeed him, but he couldn't resist weighing in a bit this week anyway, pushing back against Democratic candidates on trade and housing while even taking a shot at a Republican candidate who has been particularly harsh on him.
A day after Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and several other Democratic candidates promised during an AFL-CIO-sponsored debate on MSNBC Tuesday night to "fix" the North American Free Trade Agreement, Bush slapped back, noting that it was "Bill Clinton who got it through the United States Congress" and asserting that it did not need repair. "NAFTA has worked," he told a group of reporters. "What are they suggesting we fix?"
Bush said he had not watched the debate but rejected Democrats' criticism that he had not done enough to enforce labor, environmental and health standards related to the trade agreement with Mexico and Canada. "You know, I grew up in Texas," he said. "We used to go down to the border down there. It was like a third-world country in many ways. Today, it's a prosperous part of the world on both sides of the border." He added that "it's a lot easier to be environmentally conscious when you have revenues and money."
He likewise used the interview to reject proposals by Clinton and others for a federal bailout in response to the housing crisis caused by risky mortgage loans. Clinton this week proposed a $1 billion federal fund to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. "Somebody said, 'Should we be using taxpayer money to bail out lenders?' and the answer is, 'No, we shouldn?t be,'" Bush said. "The market will work." And he dismissed proposals by Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.) and other Democrats to let Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac buy more mortgages to stem the crisis.
In a separate interview with Neil Cavuto of Fox News Channel, the president acknowledged that he has become the whipping boy of the campaign. "I'm an easy target, yes," he said. "But you can't win an election if the vision is, "I'm against somebody.' It's very important for candidates from both political parties to say what they're for. And I'm confident ... our candidate will win this election because I believe the candidate who will be the nominee will have articulated a plan to keep America safe and to keep America prosperous."
He brushed off Republican criticism in the most recent debate Sunday, when many of the candidates distanced themselves from him. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney declared that he was "not a carbon copy of President Bush" and former Arknasas governor Mike Huckabee said he would "absolutely not" share the president's vision for spreading democracy abroad.
"I didn't see any pile-on," Bush maintained. "I mean, there may be some candidates who probably won't be the nominee of the party, for example, using the immigration debate to make points. But I think on the big issues, keeping taxes low, Republican candidates understand it's the right policy." The mention of a candidate who won't win the nomination presumably refers to Rep. Tom Tancredo (Colo.), who has been among the most vocal critics of Bush among the Republican presidential candidates, particularly on immigration.
All that, of course, from the one person in Washington not running next year. Still, Bush insists he does not miss it. Asked about the early start to the presidential contest, he said flatly, "I'm just glad I'm not out there running."
-- Peter Baker
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