Beleaguered Bush Hosts Queen, Wins French Ally
ALEX COHEN, host:
Today at the White House, the president is getting ready to don a white tie and tails. He's hosting Queen Elizabeth. The visit will culminate in a state dinner tonight. Hanging out with the queen may make a nice distraction for the president, who hasn't had much else to enjoy in the news of late.
Joining us to talk about the White House situation, beyond all pomp and circumstance, is NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Hi, Ron.
RON ELVING: Hi, Alex.
COHEN: First off, there are some new poll numbers for the president, and they are kind of grim. Can you tell us a bit more about those numbers?
ELVING: Yes, the grabber over the weekend came from the Newsweek poll, which has the president all the way down to 28 percent approval, with 64 percent disapproval. And if that sounds low, it is indeed. It's the lowest anyone has had in that poll since Jimmy Carter in 1979.
Now, some of the other polls that are out have been out in the last couple, three weeks are a little better for the president. Some have been up around 35 percent, even a little bit better on approval. Now, these are low numbers, of course, historically for any president, but they look a lot better than being in the 20s.
And right now, the RealClearPolitics Web site overall average for national polls on the president is at 34 percent approval. But the leading edge appears to be this Newsweek poll, and the president seems to be on the down slump again.
Tomorrow, we're going to release the results of the National Public Radio latest poll. And I think we'll be pretty much in line with the national average of the last couple of weeks.
COHEN: Ron, what are some of the factors behind those low numbers?
ELVING: Well, Iraq is number one, of course. The war continues to be a discouragement to pretty much all Americans. There are many people who still support the president's surge policy in Iraq. But even among people who support that, there is a sense that things have gone seriously awry in the number one foreign policy challenge of our time. But let's look at a couple of other things. One of them is the price of oil and gasoline. It always has an effect when gasoline prices pass another notional milestone like three dollars. And the national survey just out today shows that the average gallon of regular in the country is $3.07, so that's very, very high by any standard. Certainly it compares to the way - it begins to reach the way Americans were paying for gasoline back in 1979 when Jimmy Carter hit that low number in a Newsweek poll.
COHEN: Of course, President Bush isn't the only guy who's not faring too well in D.C. right now. There's Alberto Gonzales, Paul Wolfowitz. Over the weekend, those two were compared to contestants on the reality show "Survivor." So, Ron, at what point do you think one of them might get voted off of the island, so to speak?
ELVING: That may be coming up fairly soon, Alex. The president tends to be loyal to a fault, and that has its virtues. But at the same time, it just keeps the negative stories coming as the process of disciplinary removal goes forward with both the Gonzales case and the Wolfowitz case.
For example, today, we have the resignation of one of the top deputies of Paul Wolfowitz at the World Bank, a man by the name of Kevin Kellems. And just about every day, there's a bad news story out of that process, where a report is also being finished today that could possibly spell the end of Mr. Wolfowitz's career there.
And later on this week, we'll have Al Gonzales back on Capitol Hill for another grilling, and this time it'll be on the House side where people tend to be less polite.
COHEN: So what might President Bush need to do to, kind of, turn all this around?
ELVING: What he needs is some good news. He needs - if at all possible - some good news from Iraq. This isn't the kind of war that produces a sudden turn-around battle or even a clear victory kind of a battle, but what George Bush needs right now is something like what Abraham Lincoln needed in his reelection year of 1864. He needed some battlefield news that was good and encouraging to people. Even FDR in 1944 was looking for that kind of news from the front.
And in both cases, they got it, but in this case, it's not clear it's the kind of war that can give up that kind of news.
COHEN: Well, at least President Bush got a bit of good news this weekend. The French elected the very pro-American conservative candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy.
ELVING: Yes, and who would have thought that the best news story for the Bush administration this year would come from France? It's nice for the president to have a break from all the criticism he's gotten from the continent over the course of his presidency, and he's getting that right now with Sarkozy and also with Angela Merkel in Germany.
COHEN: Days of freedom fly so far behind us now. What about - of course, you know, Sarkozy beat Segolene Royal, the female candidate. Any omens there for Hillary Clinton here in the U.S.?
ELVING: Some might read it that way: a woman of the left loses to a man of the right. But it might have been worse for Hillary in some respects if Royal had won and then struggled over the next 12 to 18 months. And, at any rate, I think we have to say there's a world of difference between French politics and American politics, and maybe what Hillary ought to be saying right now is just vive le difference.
COHEN: NPR's senior Washington editor, Ron Elving. Thanks so much, Ron.
COHEN: Thank you, Alex.
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