If Bill Clinton had done it, we’d be shouting for impeachment. When President Bush ordered the sequestration of documents seized from the office of Rep. William Jefferson (D-La), he was trying to calm outraged House Speaker Dennis Hastert. Hastert sided with the Democrats in demanding the return of evidence in a criminal investigation taken pursuant to a properly issued search warrant. It is only by the courage of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that the Hastert-Bush effort to obstruct justice wasn’t immediately successful. Gonzales threatened to disobey an order to return the papers and to resign — loudly — if so ordered.
Dennis Hastert’s tantrum over the Jefferson search is unforgivable but almost understandable, given the state of relations between House leaders and the White House. In just the past few weeks, Hastert saw his long-time friend, Porter Goss, removed from the CIA directorship in apparent violation of White House promises to Goss. On Iraq and illegal immigration, the two issues House Republicans fear most this November, Hastert hasn’t gotten any help from the White House. To the contrary, with the House hanging tough against the Senate amnesty bill, President Bush sent Karl Rove to the Hill to lobby the House to give in to the Senate. Then came the search of Jefferson’s office, and when Hastert objected to it, ABC reported that Hastert was “in the mix” of the FBI’s Abramoff corruption investigation. When the Justice Department said the ABC report was fictitious, ABC stuck to it, indicating that someone in the Justice Department — taking revenge on Hastert — spoke to ABC only to smear the Speaker. When Hastert dug in, demanding return of the documents, the White House was about to surrender abjectly when Gonzales threatened to resign. Sequestering the documents for 45 days, out of reach of investigators, is the compromise reached so far. The sequestration should be lifted forthwith.
President Bush’s action is equally unforgivable and not at all understandable. His relationship with House conservatives is in tatters. House Republicans are dug in hard to defend their approach to illegal immigration, which much more closely follows the American peoples’ desire than the Senate bill. Poll after poll shows that securing the border is America’s most urgent legislative priority. It’s a problem that is not only on American’s minds, it’s a raw, exposed nerve that can’t be salved by sending a few National Guard troops to the border. And yet Karl Rove goes to lobby the House to accept the Senate’s outrageous amnesty plan.
When Hastert erupted over the Jefferson office search, Mr. Bush chose to intervene in a criminal investigation and possibly compromise its results merely to gain traction with Hastert. For that — and not for all the other things on reporter Helen Thomas’s list — the President should apologize to the American people. Among the many things the President mistook is that he won’t smooth the path of the Senate bill by interfering in a criminal investigation of a House member. The gap between Mr. Bush and the conservative base that elected him twice is growing so wide it may soon be unbridgeable. House members rightly fear that the conservative base will voice its disgust at the polls this fall. What they need from the White House is help. What they’ve been getting is the back of the President’s hand.
There are only 161 days until the November election. Congress won’t be spending many of those days in session, but it — and the President — could still do a lot. There is little reason to believe that they will.
Conservatives aren’t ready to give up on George Bush, because we understand that the alternative — Democratic control of Congress and the White House — is the surrender of immigration policy to Vicente Fox, of foreign policy to the UN, and of Supreme Court nominations to the ACLU. It means disaster on all fronts. But the president is giving us nothing to work with. And he’s about to lose the opportunity to do so.
We don’t know what happened in the Iraqi town of Haditha on November 19, 2005. The allegation is that U.S. Marines, over-reacting to the death of one of their company, killed as many as two dozen innocent Iraqis, including women and children. Coverage of this story is accelerating, and will — by week’s end — completely overshadow anything good happening in Iraq, or anywhere else for that matter. Rep. Jack “Cut and Run” Murtha is already trying to manufacture a case against Marine Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Peter Pace for covering up the incident. The events of Haditha will put the President on the defensive for the foreseeable future. Congressmen and senators will be falling all over themselves to distance themselves farther and farther from him and from the war America must still fight.
This is no longer about George Bush. It’s a useless rhetorical exercise to ask, “What would Reagan do?” because the Gipper isn’t here to do it. With the White House neutered and Congress choosing among the many paths of retreat, there won’t be much good coming out of Washington between now and November. It has to come from us.
The conservative base that elected George Bush has become the second-class citizen of Washington. We need to stand up and tell the Republican White House and Congress — long, loud, and continuously — that we want some things done (and some not done) before November 7. The things that should not be done are more important than those that should be. Two things top the list of things that should not be done: first is any illegal immigration legislation that doesn’t postpone guest worker and citizenship programs until after the borders are closed; and second is any effort to condemn the Marines or their leaders until the legal process — not the political process — reaches a conclusion justifying such condemnation.
TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004) and, with Edward Timperlake, Showdown: Why China Wants War With the United States (Regnery, May 2006 — click here to obtain a free chapter).