Politics & Policy

Approaching the Finish Line

A bold and energized President Bush.

The president strode out on stage, clamped his hands on either side of the podium and declared, “My spirits are high, my energy level is good and I’m sprinting to the finish line.” The crowd leapt to its feet, and commenced with thundering applause though Bush had uttered merely one sentence.

Though movement conservatism has suffered some notable setbacks in Bush’s second term, the crowd assembled for the commander-iIn-chief’s speech at the Heritage Foundation still seems to have a great deal of confidence in the ppresident. And he says he has a great deal of confidence in the Heritage Foundation, which he says has “taken the conservative movement from one that used to meet in a phone booth in Washington to a robust group of folks that are shaping policy.”

At the Heritage Foundation, Bush doesn’t have to defend his record; he merely has to state it. Garnering more applause, he said:

Over the past six years, we have captured or killed hundreds of terrorists. We have disrupted their finances. We have prevented new attacks before they could be carried out. We removed regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq that had supported terrorists and threatened our citizens, and in so doing, liberated 50 million people from the clutches of tyranny,

It is no wonder that Bush chose such a supportive environment to go on the attack against the Democratic Congress. Bush takes the Congress to task on a number of issues, starting with the confirmation process for attorney-general nominee, Michael Mukasey.

Judge Mukasey provided nearly six hours of testimony. He patiently answered more than 200 questions at the hearing. He has responded to nearly 500 written questions less than a week after his hearing. Yet the Senate Judiciary Committee has been holding up his nomination.

Muskasey’s hearing has been held up, largely due to concern that he might be supportive of a controversial interrogation technique known as “waterboarding.” Bush brushed aside such concerns as being irrelevant to Mukasey’s nomination.

As a price of his confirmation, some on that committee want Judge Mukasey to take a legal position on specific techniques allegedly used to interrogate captured terrorists. As Judge Mukasey explained in a letter to committee members, he cannot do so for several reasons: First, he does not know whether certain methods of questioning are in fact used, because the program is classified — and therefore he is in no position to provide an informed opinion. He has not been read into the program, and won’t be until he is confirmed and sworn in as the Attorney General. Second, he does not want an uninformed opinion to be taken by our professional interrogators in the field as placing them in legal jeopardy.

Bush also noted that Mukasey opposed the question because “he does not want any statement of his to give the terrorists a window into which techniques we may use, and which ones we may not use. That could help them train their operatives to resist questioning.”

A committee vote on Mukasey’s nomination is scheduled for Tuesday, and Bush urged the Senate to confirm him.

The president also took Congress to task for not promptly passing important legislation. The Protect America Act, an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, authorizes the NSA to use wiretapping and electronic surveillance on foreign communications without a warrant. It was passed in August but is set to expire after six months.

If Congress doesn’t act soon, the law will expire — and the gap in our intelligence will reopen, and the United States of America will be at risk,” Bush said. “We must ensure that the protections intended for the American people are not extended to terrorists overseas who are plotting to harm us.

Bush also expressed displeasure that Congress had stalled on approving the Emergency War Supplemental, which funds such basics for soldiers as bullets and body armor.

Congress should be able to move the supplemental quickly. There’s no reason why they’re not moving the supplemental — after all, it had more than eight months to study most of its provisions. In fact, nearly 75 percent of the funding request in the supplemental was submitted along with my annual budget in February of this year.

Congress is dragging its feet on bills that fund the Defense Department, as well as programs that support veterans. In his speech, Bush suggested that the Congress may have ulterior motives in doing so; Democratic leaders are considering combining the Defense and Military Construction-Veterans Affairs spending bills, with a Labor-Health and Human Services spending bill that Bush says is bloated. “It’s hard to imagine a more cynical ploy than holding funding for our troops and our wounded warriors hostage in order to extract $11 billion in wasteful Washington spending. If the reports of this strategy are true, I will veto such a three-bill pileup,” Bush said. He asked the Congress to send him “clean” spending bills by Veteran’s Day, November 11.

Bush earned perhaps his biggest applause of the speech when he outright attacked the Democratic congressional leadership.

When it comes to funding our troops, some in Washington should spend more time responding to the warnings of terrorists like Osama bin Laden and the requests of our commanders on the ground, and less time responding to the demands of MoveOn.org bloggers and Code Pink protesters.

Code Pink members had protested with a loud bullhorn outside the Heritage Foundation entrance, disruptive to all who had tried to enter the building.

The summation of his speech again seemed to suggest that the president has little to fear by taking on Congress directly.

Here’s the bottom line: This is no time for Congress to weaken the Department of Justice by denying it a strong and effective leader. It’s no time for Congress to weaken our ability to gather vital intelligence from captured terrorists. It’s no time for Congress to weaken our ability to intercept information from terrorists about potential attacks on the United States of America. And this is no time for Congress to hold back vital funding for our troops as they fight al Qaeda terrorists and radicals in Afghanistan and Iraq.

While conventional wisdom holds that Bush is a beleaguered lame duck championing an unpopular war, recent success in Iraq, along with the repeated blunders and the extraordinarily low approval rating of the Democratic Congress, seem to have emboldened the president.

Whether he’ll be able to sprint to the finish line remains to be seen, but winning a showdown with Congress over Mukasey’s nomination and defense spending could prove to be a good head start.

—Mark Hemingway is an NRO staff reporter.

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