The supposed summit on Capitol Hill between President Bush and congressional Republicans didn’t happen on Thursday. At least not in the way congressional Republicans wanted it to happen.
President Bush traveled down to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue and met with his Republican team from the House and Senate. He was greeted by applause, but at the end of his pep talk — “That’s what it was,” says a conservative Republican House member, “a pep talk, nothing more” — the cheers seemed to die away, as the President stepped out the door and headed back to the White House without taking a single question or comment from the floor.
“I think we were surprised that he didn’t want to hear from us,” says the House member. “I’m not sure what we expected, but we I know I wanted him to hear from the folks who are going to be headed home to meet with his local supporters. We’re concerned, very concerned, about our party’s standing in the polls right now.”
It shouldn’t have been that big of a shock, according to others attending the meeting with Bush, as well as congressional staffers, since attendees knew up front that Bush wouldn’t be taking questions or comments from the peanut gallery.
“This wasn’t the time for give and take,” says a House staffer not present during the full caucus meeting. “They wanted to hear from the President, hear his thinking and get a sense of his state of mind. That’s what they got.”
But some GOPers continued to grumble that the road show and photo-op they were a part of Thursday morning indicated that the White House was playing things as business as usual, while the polls and the media spin indicate the White House political operation needs a new tack for the re-election push.
“The White House isn’t making this easy, that’s for sure,” says the House member. “I’ll go home and hit on the economy and defend our Iraq policy. But I also need to see something out of the White House that shows me those guys understand what we’re up against.”
GANGING UP ON RALPH
While presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry was meeting with presumptive independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader, Kerry campaign operatives were coordinating with friends and allies in the amorphous 527 world to stab Nader in the back.
According to a Kerry campaign adviser, the campaign has been communicating through associates with former Gephardt, Dean and Clark presidential campaign staffers to set up anti-Nader websites.
“It’s actually less anti-Nader and more pro-progressives for Kerry,” says the campaign adviser in New York. “It’s an appeal to the progressive to move away from a wasted vote for Nader and move to an empowering vote for Kerry.”
After Kerry’s Iowa caucus comeback, pins and bumper stickers that read “Dated Dean, Married Kerry” began popping up in New Hampshire and elsewhere. Now, the anti-Nader sites are using the slogan, “Slept with Nader woke up with Bush in 2000.”
This is not a low-budget operation. Already there is a budget in place for the group to run TV advertising in Wisconsin, Florida, New Mexico, and Iowa.
Legally, Kerry campaign staff is barred from having contact with 527 groups — those groups operating on unlimited, soft-money donations from organized labor and other special interest groups. But throughout the primary season, the campaigns of Democratic candidates have flouted the rules, and lately the Kerry campaign has through back channels attempted to coordinate messages with the groups, particularly in planning media spending in critical swing states around the country.