Bush Voices Support for Rumsfeld, Cheney

While out on the campaign trail, President Bush has publicly said he intends to keep Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney in their posts through the end of his term. It was just one more move by the president to shore up support for Republican policies ahead of midterm congressional elections.

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Despite renewed pressure about his Iraq policy, President Bush is sticking with two of the architects of that policy - Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney. This is part of his midterm election strategy: standing fast, campaigning among his most loyal supporters who must turn out to vote if the White House is to minimize the predicted Democratic Party gains this year.

NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA: First, the news regarding Cheney and Rumsfeld. It's not unusual for the president to say what a great job each is doing. But yesterday he went even further, saying yes when asked directly whether he expects them to remain in their jobs until January of 2009. The subject came up during an interview with Newswire reporters at the White House on a day when the president worked hard to reinforce his basic message in this election.

There is risk in voicing such unequivocal support for the two men seen as most responsible for driving the current strategy in Iraq. The vice president stands lower in the polls than his boss, and many former generals and current members of Congress have called for Rumsfeld's removal, even Republicans. But the strong endorsement was in keeping with what seems to be the president's guiding principle as the midterms draw near: stick to your guns and dance with those who brung you.

To that end, the White House has also been reaching out through the airwaves. Yesterday, the president sat down with CBN, the Christian Broadcasting Network founded by evangelist Pat Robertson, and with the archconservative Rush Limbaugh. There's a brief interruption in this tape, attributable to a technical glitch.

(Soundbite of radio broadcast)

Mr. RUSH LIMBAUGH (Talk Show Host): Mr. President.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Hey, Rush. How are you?

Mr. LIMBAUGH: I'm never better. It's a thrill to have you on the program today. Many thanks for making time for us.

Pres. BUSH: Thank you, sir, for giving me the chance to visit with you.

GONYEA: Limbaugh asked about the president's optimism regarding the outcome of next week's voting. The talk show host described the news media as, quote, "the opposition press," and spoke of how they were not reporting quote "tremendous successes that have taken place in Iraq." Limbaugh also brought up the controversy involving Senator John Kerry, who, on Monday, said that students who don't get an education may get stuck in Iraq. Kerry says it was a botched joke about President Bush's academic record, and yesterday he apologized to anyone who was offended by his remarks. Here's the Limbaugh program.

(Soundbite of radio broadcast)

Mr. LIMBAUGH: And, frankly, Mr. President, the American people are outraged by this because John Kerry's just the latest. This is not the first.

Pres. BUSH: Anybody who is in a position to serve this country ought to understand the consequences of words. And our troops deserve the full support of people in government.

GONYEA: The Kerry dust-up has given the president a chance to go on offense this week, even though he did it in states he carried in 2004, most of them by wide margins. So far this week he's been to Georgia twice and Texas. Today, more of the same in Montana and Nevada. Then tomorrow, more states the president carried in 2004 - Missouri and Iowa. And on the weekend, Colorado and perhaps other stops on the Plains.

Whit Ayers is a Republican pollster. He describes his party's strategy in football terms.

Mr. WHIT AYERS (Republican Pollster): Republicans are preparing a goal line stand and President Bush is the toughest linebacker we've got. He's doing everything he possibly can to chin up the Republican base. The Democratic base is already energized. They're already excited, more so than they have been in many years. So what the president's doing is trying to energize the Republican base to be the equal of the Democrats.

GONYEA: Which also explains why the president is not campaigning in places like New Jersey or Maryland, where Republicans are competitive in statewide races but less than eager for a presidential visit that might be too energizing to their opponents.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

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