Looking for a week to sum up the second-term woes of George W. Bush? Look no further. From Iraq to immigration to the myriad legal struggles of the White House, this was the week when the wheels came off.
The president's rewrite of the nation's immigration laws collapsed in the Senate when three-fourths of the president's own party turned against it (37 Republicans opposed, only 12 in favor). This was the president's top domestic priority, yet even his own GOP Senate leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, voted against having a final vote on it. The rebuff could not have been more pointed if the vote had been held on the White House lawn.
A new immigration regime was the means by which Mr. Bush hoped to shape his legacy and validate his claim of compassionate conservatism. His first term was about tax cuts and school standards and responding to terrorism. In his second, he wanted to redefine Social Security and Medicare, make his tax cuts permanent and shape up the immigration system.
Now each of these goals is gone.
But perhaps even more shocking than this was a key defection from the ranks of presidential supporters on Iraq. Sen.Richard Lugar, the senior Republican on Foreign Relations and a leading voice of reason on international issues for three decades, gave a long floor speech declaring the current surge strategy in Iraq a failure and urging an immediate rethinking of U.S. plans for redeployment.
Losing Lugar on this is tantamount to a levee break in the midst of a flood. Within a day, other Republicans were emerging to say the six-term veteran from Indiana was right. White House attempts to minimize the change in Lugar's official position were embarrassing and had to be rescinded. And no one could accuse this man of bending to political pressure back home: He won re-election last year with 87 percent of the vote.
In this same week, the White House received a fresh set of subpoenas from Congress regarding that no-warrant domestic eavesdropping program it began just after the terrorist attacks of September 2001. The next day, the White House announced it was asserting executive privilege so as to ignore a previous set of subpoenas relating to the firing of U.S. attorneys last year. Congressional committees believe the firings were directed by the White House and carried out by political operatives in the Justice Department. Continued action on both these issues will now move to courts.
These skirmishes over documents and testimony are part of a larger struggle with Congress over secrecy and secret policymaking in the White House. Democrats have pursued a vigorous — some would say obsessive — investigation of the processes within the administration, especially as they relate to domestic spying, voter fraud and the relationships between the White House and certain lobbyists.
Much of the confrontation over secrecy has centered on Vice President Dick Cheney, a man who yields to no one as a defender of executive privilege in all its forms. Cheney has been back on page one this week, especially in the Washington Post, which published a four-part series on his six-and-a-half years in office. Devoting thousands of words to the subject each day, the Post detailed how Cheney has prefigured the important decisions of his boss on foreign and domestic policy from the beginning of their tenure in office.
The point of the series was that Cheney's involvement went well beyond mere influence, all but pre-determining the major decisions the president has made.
As if that were not enough, the Bush week comes to a close with an awkwardly timed visit from Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom the U.S. president has had troubled relations of late. Putin chose this week to announce his navy has successfully tested a new sea-based ballistic missile.
And speaking of troubled relations, the visit takes place in Kennebunkport, Maine, at the summer compound of the first President Bush. All father-and-son relationships are complicated, of course, but it hardly helps when the son revisits and reverses Dad's foreign policy decisions. And let's not forget that, between his two parents, the current president gets along better with Dad.
Bright side? Sure, you could find a glimpse of that too in the week that was. The president was able to announce that the bald eagle had been removed from the Endangered Species list.
And on the more consequential side, the Supreme Court issued a series of rulings generally pleasing to conservatives. In each case, the vote on the court was 5 to 4, with the majority relying on the votes of Mr. Bush's two appointees: Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito. It now seems apparent that these two appointments have solidified a more conservative court majority than the first George Bush, or Ronald Reagan, or Richard M. Nixon was able to achieve.
Given everything else that happened this week, this new court majority looks more and more like the signal achievement of the current president's second term — or indeed of his presidency.