Dick Cheney wasn't the only Republican taking shots at his friends this weekend.
President Bush and the White House have suddenly found themselves getting "peppered" with a fusillade of friendly fire on a wide range of issues, including NSA wiretaps, Iraq, Katrina, Plamegate leaks, the budget, the Abramoff scandal, and immigration.
Let's CSI the internecine firefights:
Warrantless Wiretapping. First came Arlen Specter's reaction to Alberto Gonzales' "very strained and unrealistic" defense of the program. Then Rep. Heather Wilson turned on the president, and her "serious concerns" about the warrantless wiretaps immediately emboldened other Republican lawmakers to speak out. According to the New York Times, "a growing number of Republicans say the program appears to violate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act" and are "openly skeptical about Mr. Bush's assertion that he has the authority to order the wiretaps." Among those Republicans breaking rank with the White House over the issue are Sen. Susan Collins, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, and Sen. Lindsay Graham, who described Bush's claims of presidential authority "very dangerous."
And it looks like Bush's internal bleeding on this issue is only going to get worse. Newsweek says that three Senate Republicans -- Chuck Hagel, Olymia Snowe, and Mike DeWine -- are going to side with Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee and vote to launch its own investigation into the secret eavesdropping program.
Katrina. A new 600-plus page report put together by an 11-member all-GOP committee is unexpectedly critical of the Bush administration's handling of the response to Katrina. The report, due Wednesday, is described by the Washington Post as "an unusual compendium of criticism by the House GOP, which generally has not been aggressive in its oversight of the administration." According to the paper, "Regarding Bush, the report found that 'earlier presidential involvement could have speeded the response' because he alone could have cut through all bureaucratic resistance." The Republican-penned report specifically chides the president's infamous "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees" remark since, more than two days before Katrina hit, the National Hurricane Center had warned there was an "extremely high probability" that New Orleans would be flooded, leading to catastrophic loss of life.
Iraq. Chuck Hagel, appearing on CNN's Late Edition Sunday, opened fire on Bush's contention that things are going well in Iraq: "In my opinion, three years in Iraq, things haven't gone the way the administration said and others said it was going to go. In fact, I think we're in more trouble today than we've ever been in Iraq." And Bill Frist, as chronicled in Bob Novak's latest column, is doing his best to distance himself from Bush, including claiming, "I would have probably put more troops in [Iraq] if the decision had been up to me." At the state level, Joseph Bruno, the majority leader of the New York State Senate, called on Bush to "get the troops out of [Iraq] and bring them home". Bruno, usually a party loyalist, joins a growing chorus of Republican voices speaking out against the White House's Iraq strategy, including Rep. Walter Jones, Brent Scowcroft, Richard Mellon Scaife, and Colin Powel's former chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson.
Classified Leaks. GOP Senator George Allen appeared on Fox News Sunday yesterday and called for a full investigation into whether Cheney and other Bush administration officials authorized Scooter Libby to leak classified information to reporters to try to justify the invasion of Iraq. "I don't think anybody," said Allen, "should be releasing classified information -- period -- whether in the Congress, executive branch, or some underling in the bureaucracy."
Immigration. Speakers at last week's Conservative Political Action conference repeatedly went after the president on this hotter-than-hot button issue. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, wielding the issue like a cudgel, drew a link between immigration and national security: "How can we fight this war on foreign fronts while leaving the front door to our nation vulnerable?" Phyllis Schlafly called Bush's immigration stance "a bad mistake." And Rep. Tom Tancredo slammed Bush as "out of step with his party."
Budget. A number of Republicans have offered pointed reactions to Bush's proposed budget. Sen. Charles Grassley, in fact, put Bush squarely in his cross-hairs: "I can't see how ending a pittance for widows and widowers, and modest benefits for kids who have lost a parent would be good policy decisions." Specter called the proposed cuts to healthcare and education "scandalous." Snowe said she was "disappointed and even surprised" by the budget. Frist said: "We are spending too much in Washington, D.C." And Jonah Goldberg wrote that Bush "is spending money like a pimp with a week to live."
Even punchline figures Michael Brown and Jack Abramoff have seen fit to go after the president. Brown opened up with both barrels during his Senate testimony on Friday, lambasting the White House's woeful response to Katrina (claiming the administration didn't react quickly because the hurricane wasn't a terrorist act) and saying bitterly of Bush, "He called me Brownie at the wrong time. Thanks a lot, sir." For his part, Abramoff, facing a very stiff prison sentence, has none-the-less seen fit to directly contradict the president's emphatic "I don't know him" stance -- in effect, branding Bush a liar.
When you've got Republican lackeys like Brownie and true-believers-truly-in-trouble like Abramoff taking shots at you, you know things are not going well.
Indeed, with so many Republicans trying to distance themselves from the president, it's clear the wheels are coming off the White House wagon. Just in time for 2006.
If the GOP barrage keeps up, the president will soon find himself in the political ICU.
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