White House Suffers Blows on Key Issues The Senate killed President Bush's main domestic policy issue — overhauling immigration laws — as Republican support collapsed. News from Iraq was grim. And the White House invoked executive privilege in response to subpoenas from Congress.
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White House Suffers Blows on Key Issues

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White House Suffers Blows on Key Issues

White House Suffers Blows on Key Issues

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

President Bush's second term has been largely about Iraq on the foreign front and immigration at home. This week, his Republican support on the war eroded significantly in the Senate. And today, the Senate killed his immigration bill outright with the Republicans voting 3-1 against proceeding to a vote on the measure.

Also today, the White House escalated another battle with Congress. It is claiming executive privilege to protect documents in the investigation of firings at the Justice Department.

NPR's David Greene has been following all these from the White House, and he begins our coverage.

DAVID GREENE: Officially, the big event on the president's schedule was a speech on Iraq at the Naval War College in Rhodes Island. Even on a day when a car bomb killed 20 people in Baghdad, Mr. Bush argued that car bombs and suicide attacks are on the decline. He said he is shaping his war strategy with constant advice from the military.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: That's what you expect from your commander in chief - to consult closely with the United States military in times of war.

GREENE: At one time, Mr. Bush could escape his doubters by coming before a military audience such as this. But today even at the Naval War College, his audience asked questions like this.

Unidentified Woman: My question is, at the beginning of your speech that you said that you consult with the military. With all due respect, sir, how much do you really listen and follow them?

Pres. BUSH: You know, a lot. You know, I don't say you can be the commander in chief of a well-motivated military without listening carefully to the advice of your commanders. I talk to General Petraeus all the time - when I say all the time, weekly. That's all the time.

GREENE: The president was also spending time today making calls to senators he hoped would vote for his immigration bill. And there the news was not good.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): The ayes are 46. The nays are 53.

GREENE: By rejecting a cutoff of debate on the bill, the Senate in effect ended a process Mr. Bush had been pushing for several years. After finishing his war speech, the president gave reporters traveling with him a brief statement on the vote.

Pres. BUSH: A lot of us worked hard to see if we could find a common ground. It didn't work. Congress really needs to prove to the American people that it can come together on hard issues.

GREENE: But as he spoke of coming together, his White House was rejecting a request from lawmakers for documents. Aides said Mr. Bush was invoking executive privilege, a phrase the White House does not like to use but a concept that's been central to the philosophy of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney since they took office.

Here is the vice president in 2002.

Vice President DICK CHENEY: Can you imagine an FDR or a Teddy Roosevelt - in midst of a great nation crisis dealing with the problems we're having to deal with now? Over here on the side as a matter of political expediency trading away - a very important fundamental principle of the presidency.

GREENE: Mr. Bush invoked the principle today in an investigation into last year's firing of some U.S. attorneys. Democrats say the White House handpicked federal prosecutors to be removed for political reasons and two congressional committees issued subpoenas for documents to see if they could prove that.

The White House counsel, Fred Fielding, argued in a letter today that if internal deliberations were made public, White House advisers might be reluctant to communicate openly and honestly while they're giving advice.

Fielding has some experience with executive privilege from his days as a lawyer in the Nixon White House. Perhaps Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont had that in mind when he blasted the Bush White House today.

Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont): The committees' subpoena has been met not with compliance but with a Nixonian stonewall.

GREENE: With all these swirling, President Bush has found time to give a few interviews in recent days. One was with Hannah Storm of CBS. She brought her children along and said in her report that her kids spoke to the president. They asked if it was fun being president. And he replied saying, sometimes. Sometimes it's very, very hard.

David Greene, NPR News, The White House.

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