Karl Rove has very few regrets. At an intense Q&A yesterday, the senior adviser to President George W. Bush defended the Administration on everything from the Iraq war, to rough campaign tactics, to its response to Hurricane Katrina. Rather than expressing regrets about the Iraq invasion, Rove said he only wished he had responded faster to Democrats who first supported the war but then turned on Bush when it became clear that there were no weapons of mass destruction.
"You've got to either hold everybody accountable, or you've got to drop this myth," said Rove. "This pernicious, corrosive, hypocritical lie that Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction."
The event, which took place at 92Y in Manhattan in connection with the release of Rove's new memoir, Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight, was hosted by CNN's Gloria Borger and covered a broad range of topics.
For every tough question Borger threw at him, Rove was quick with a justification. The spreading of nasty rumors about John McCain in the 2000 South Carolina primary? It was all coordinated by an individual who Rove had nothing to do with, and McCain should have seized the moment, not played victim. Swift-boating John Kerry? It was all coordinated by a group that Rove had nothing to do with, and their most effective ad was just using Kerry's own words, from his testimony about the Vietnam War, against him. When Borger suggested that was still a low blow, Rove retorted: "I guess using John Kerry's own words against him was kind of a low blow."
He questioned the assertion that Bush "cherry picked" intelligence in the run up to the Iraq war, saying that Congress had access to the same intelligence the administration did. When asked about Katrina, Rove cited the inaccurate information the administration was receiving from local authorities. The financial collapse? "It wasn't the banks that brought this on; what brought this on primarily were the excesses of two government-sponsored enterprises: Fannie and Freddie," he said.
Rove got off a number of zingers (when asked by an audience member about Vice President "Darth Cheney" he corrected, "No, no, no, no, no. You've got it all wrong--I'm Darth Vader, Cheney is [Emperor] Palpatine"). When Borger asked him jokingly, "now that the [2000 election] is over, where are the Florida ballots?" Rove answered, "In my garage," to laughs from the audience. He described Al Gore as "one angry dude."
But not everyone was a fan. At one point a protester interrupted the event unfolding a sign and shouting "war criminal" before being escorted out, and throughout the event members of the audience lobbed comments as Rove spoke.
When asked about whom he would have chosen as his vice presidential nominee in 2008, Rove said it would not have been Sarah Palin but would have likely gone with Mitt Romney. Though he joked that the McCain campaign didn't call him too much for advice.
Rove expressed disappointment in the way President Barack Obama had emphasized his centrist credentials while campaigning, but tacked left once entering office. When Borger suggested that Bush had done the same thing, but legislated from the right, Rove disagreed, saying that "No Child Left Behind" and Social Security reform were centrist efforts.
Asked about Liz Cheney's "Al Qaeda 7" commercial about the loyalties of Justice Department lawyers, Rove avoided taking a firm stance, but said, "How comfortable as a country would we be if we said, 'the lawyers from Enron...let's put them on the SEC and have them help determine policy regarding these same kinds of frauds'?"
On health care reform, Rove said he hoped it would be defeated and that Obama would go back to the drawing board to start from scratch with Republican involvement. He predicted that if it passed with only Democratic support, the House would go Republican in the midterm election and, "whatever method they use in the Senate to pass it, we will use to repeal it."
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