Morning Cheat Sheet
D.C. Democrats Try to Refocus Attention on Bush
By Peter Baker
As the Democratic presidential candidates and at least one of their spouses descend into a miasma of anger and accusation, party leaders here in Washington are watching with a growing sense of unease and even aggravation. Among those concerned is Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who is trying to turn the Democratic spears back toward their common enemy, President Bush.
With Bush about to deliver his final State of the Union address this coming Monday, the Illinois congressman and chairman of the House Democratic Caucus headed to the press gallery at the Capitol yesterday to deliver his own assessment of the nation after seven years of Bush. He produced a chart comparing various economic, security and other indicators suggesting that the country is worse off than it was when Bush took office in terms of everything from national debt and household income to military readiness and foreign oil dependency.
"The change that people want in 2008 is a change from George Bush's policies," Emanuel said. "That was clear in 2006 and it's going to be clear in 2008."
Other Democrats are trying to refocus their party's conversation as well. Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.) and Robert Menendez (N.J.) plan a news conference today to talk about "Bush's legacy of broken promises."
It's no coincidence that both Emanuel and Kennedy have spoken with former president Bill Clinton to express concern about the way he has been attacking Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) on the campaign trail. Party leaders in Washington fear that the quarreling between Obama and the Clinton camp will leave their eventual nominee weakened heading toward the general election contest in the fall.
The upcoming State of the Union will in effect fire the starting gun for both sides to use this final year of Bush's term to define his legacy both for the sake of history and for the election. Bush can be expected to use the address to hail his accomplishments of the last seven years from the biggest podium a president gets, which is why Emanuel, Kennedy and the others are trying to preempt him to an extent. Emanuel took great glee in presenting his chart of indicators yesterday, showing, among other things, that today more Americans live in poverty and don't have health care, the price of gas has nearly tripled, median household income has slipped, the cost of college has nearly doubled, consumer debt has increased substantially and so forth.
"I would say that...on the eve of the president's State of the Union, that over the last seven years, America's position -- economically, militarily and culturally -- has been weakened," Emanuel said.
Bush, of course, views it differently and even Emanuel acknowledged that he what he presented was "not the full story." Asked to name any Bush accomplishments, Emanuel volunteered three -- his current efforts to forge peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, his diplomatic work to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear program and his education accountability program, No Child Left Behind, although he said it needs some revisions.
The White House saw Emanuel's broadside as counterproductive at a moment when Bush and Democratic leaders are working closely together to produce an economic stimulus package. "I would hope that those individuals would take a step back and realize that we have an opportunity to get something done on behalf of the American people," White House press secretary Dana Perino said. "But if they want to go down that road and not work with the administration, the label of the do-nothing Congress could stick in 2008 as it did in 2007."
Emanuel scoffed at that notion. "I'd be surprised if the president of the United States will say, 'I'm not working on a stimulus because of Rahm Emanuel's press conference,'" he said. "Only my mother would think he would do that."
But the White House moved to set its own version of Bush's legacy. Vice President Cheney headed over to the Heritage Foundation yesterday to argue on behalf of legislation authorizing the government to eavesdrop on terrorism suspects without warrants and used the opportunity to present Bush as the protector of America following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"The relative safety of the six years and four months since 9/11 is not an accident," Cheney said. "It's an achievement. And the achievement is the product of some very hard work by Americans in intelligence, in law enforcement and the military -- and some wise decisions by the president of the United States."
That's what Emanuel and Kennedy and the other Washington Democrats want their candidates to be debating on the road.
Posted at 11:08 AM ET on Jan 24, 2008
Morning Cheat Sheet
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