Washington DC: Post-G8 Heiligendamm & Vatican, lame duck President returns to his fascist disasters Print E-mail
 London ~~ June 12, 2007

From hero to zero, Bush comes back to earth

Tim Reid in Washington

After a hero’s welcome in Albania, President Bush returned to Washington last night faced with a slew of domestic problems and the sober reality that his influence is fading rapidly at home.

His embattled Attorney-General, Alberto Gonzales, was facing a Democrat-led vote of no confidence; his plans for immigration reform are on the verge of collapse and there is growing conservative anger over his failure to pardon Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Dick Cheney’s former Chief of Staff. Libby was sentenced to 30 months last week in connection with the CIA leak scandal.

The no-confidence motion in Mr Gonzales was expected to fail in the Senate last night, and was little more than a political stunt by Democrats. But the vote revealed how the issues of Mr Gonzales, immigration and Libby are all linked in one crucial respect: growing conservative disgust with Mr Bush who, on the domestic front at least, appears to have truly entered lame-duck status.

Despite deep antipathy among Republicans towards Mr Gonzales, viewed by many as an incompetent and politically disastrous Attorney-General, Mr Bush has made clear he has no intention of firing him.

But the reason for Mr Bush’s intransigence is not simply loyalty to an old friend. White House aides fear that getting a replacement confirmed in a Democrat-controlled Congress would be almost impossible without a formal investigation of the controversial firing of eight US government prosecutors. Democrats allege that the dismissals were politically motivated. Any inquiry would inevitably raise unwelcome questions about the role played by Karl Rove, Mr Bush’s chief adviser, in the sackings ­ hence the determination to hang on to Mr Gonzales.

Conservatives, deeply disaffected with Mr Bush over issues including soaring spending and a bungled war in Iraq, are in open revolt over the President’s push for immigration reform, his last, best hope for a major domestic political victory before he leaves office.

Last week the immigration Bill, which would give a path to citizenship for America’s 12 million illegal immigrants, failed to progress in the Senate after 38 of the chamber’s 48 Republicans ­ led by conservatives ­ voted against it.

With Mr Bush’s second-term attempts to reform the state pension system and rewrite the tax code doomed, he heads to Capitol Hill today for lunch with Republican senators, a last-ditch attempt to salvage his immigration plan. But conservative anger over the proposals is so intense that the odds are against the President prevailing.

“From his point of view, immigration is absolutely critical,” said Thomas Mann, a political analyst at the independent Brookings Institution. To lose this is to lose any chance of a real domestic accomplishment in the second term.” Meanwhile Mr Bush faces growing calls to pardon Libby. He has left the option open, but the Republican Right cannot understand why he defends Mr Gonzales and immigration reform so staunchly ­ but has said so little about Libby, who has become something of a hero among conservatives. “If the President can pardon 12 million illegal immigrants, he can pardon Scooter Libby,” said Victoria Toensing, an influen-tial Republican lawyer and former official in Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department.

Even in his weakened state, Mr Bush is still Commander-in-Chief and Democrats remain powerless ­ in the short term at least ­ to halt his Iraq “surge” strategy. But the war, which has claimed more than 3,500 US lives, continues to drain the lifeblood from his presidency. Last week the White House acknowledged that it could not renominate Peter Pace, his Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman because of opposition on Capitol Hill.

If General David Petraeus, the ground commander in Iraq, fails to deliver a sufficiently optimistic report to Congress in September, the Republican coalition on Capitol Hill that is sustaining Mr Bush’s war strategy will start to crumble.