Political Wrap: Bush Promotes Oil Alternatives

President Bush begins a three-state tour promoting technologies meant to decrease America's dependence on oil. He'll travel to Wisconsin, Michigan and Colorado. Renee Montagne talks to NPR's Cokie Roberts about how events in Washington are making it difficult for President Bush to push his agenda.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News, I'm Renee Montagne. President Bush is on the road this holiday Monday, President's Day, touting his energy policy. He's trying to focus national attention on sources of energy and new technologies. But events in Washington and around the world are making it difficult for the President to push his agenda.

Joining me now for some analysis is NPR's Cokie Roberts. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS reporting:

Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: We learned over the weekend that President Bush was involved in convincing the vice president to answer questions about his shooting accident. To what extent has this incident gotten in the way of the president's agenda?

ROBERTS: Oh, I think that probably a good bit. And it was fascinating reporting by Time magazine that said the president actually had to call the vice president in and talk to him very heart-to-heart, telling him that he understood that Mr. Cheney had had a very serious moment, and that it was very upsetting to him, but that he really needed to come clean.

It tells you something about the power of the vice president, that the only person who could have that conversation with him was the president. But that seemed to be the reason that the vice president did go on Fox News and tell the story of the hunting accident. And if Time magazine's other question was a poll question, other reporting, and their majority says, they're now satisfied with the vice president's handling of this whole incident.

But, a crucial week in an election year is gone, and in this period coming out of the state of the union, when the president has set a new agenda, and when the Republicans are tying to try to get some traction going into the November election, to lose a week like that makes it very, very difficult.

MONTAGNE: And Cokie, even as President Bush tries to move forward, members of his own party are forcing him to deal with the past, particularly the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

ROBERTS: Well, and Renee, when you and I talked about this last week, they were just releasing the report in the House of Representatives. Now, this is a report that is all Republicans; a Republican report. And as the week went on, the criticism that was voiced in the report just grew and grew. The administration decided that the answer to this was to send Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff out on all the Sunday talk shows yesterday to defend the handling of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath. And the criticism just continued, even after the secretary went forward, and, again, the criticism coming from Republicans.

Democrats, of course, were in there as well, but Republicans saying they're totally unsatisfied with the handling, and of Katrina, and with other Homeland Security aspects. And the whole question of whether FEMA should be under homeland security, or whether FEMA should continue to exist in its current incarnation. All of that is up in the air, and the conversation and the criticism is coming from Republicans, as well as Democrats.

MONTAGNE: And added to that, Secretary Chertoff finds himself having to answer fresh criticisms over an Arab company's takeover of operations at U.S. ports.

ROBERTS: This is because a British company sold itself to a Dubai company, which is now in charge of handling operations at major ports. Now, you'd expect Democrat Chuck Schumer to come forward with families from September 11th to criticize this at the port of New York. But you also see the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Peter King, saying terrorist infiltration is possible, and other Republicans saying it's politically tone deaf.

What you're seeing here, Renee, is Republicans really worried that they could lose the House of Representatives this year. There was worry that the war in Iraq could go even more sour, and that the lobbying scandal could be a problem for them, and they don't know quite how to fix it.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, thanks very much, NPR Political Analyst Cokie Roberts.

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