President Bush came under fire from angry
Republicans Friday for his failed policies on Irag, health care,
immigration and other hot-button issues in a closed meeting meant to
rally shell-shocked party members for this year’s congressional
Some went so far as to call Bush an “embarrassment”
to the party and the nation and grumbled that the party would stand a
better chance in the November mid-term elections if he were not
President, although none went so far as to suggest he be impeached…at
least not yet.
“It became evident in the meeting that a growing
number of Republican members of Congress feel the President is no
longer an asset to the party,” says one GOP congressman who asked not
to be identified.
Republicans in the House of Representatives claimed publicly Bush drew
an ovation when he defended his program to eavesdrop without court
warrants on Americans with suspected terrorist ties, a program that has
been questioned by both Democrats and some Republicans.
But sources in the meeting, who asked
not to be named as the meeting was formally closed, said lawmakers,
anxious over polls showing waning faith in them and the president,
called the President to task for his growing list of failures.
Many members of the president’s party
have voiced concerns about the $2.77 trillion federal budget that Bush
proposed this week, which would boost defense spending but bring cuts
in 141 domestic programs, from veterans health care to housing.
Others raised questions about Bush’s
domestic-spying program, saying his refusal to follow the law on
allowing the National Security Agency to wiretap Americans will hurt
the party in the upcoming mid-term elections.
While some Republicans tried to put a
brave face on what was often a contentious meeting with the leader of
their party, many admitted privately that most in the room showed
displeasure with Bush and openly questioned both his commitment to the
party and the American people.
In brief opening remarks, which were
public, Bush cited what he said had been major House accomplishments in
2006, including passage of bills on energy, bankruptcy, immigration and
the anti-terrorism USA Patriot Act.
“And we’re ready to lead again,” Bush
told the second day of a three-day meeting of House Republicans in
Cambridge, Md., a two-hour bus ride from Washington. “We don’t fear the
future because we’re going to shape the future.”
Many senior lawmakers have been drawn
into an investigation of powerful Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff,
who last month pleaded guilty to fraud and agreed to cooperate with
One Republican said Bush defended the
new Medicare prescription drug program, whose introduction has drawn
enormous criticism, saying, “When you enroll 26 million people into
program in 30 days, there are going to be some glitches.”
Many political analysts say public
dissatisfaction over the ethics scandal, the Iraq war and other issues
including health care, threatens the party’s control of the House,
which it has held since 1995.
Bush shrugged off the importance of
opinion polls. One attendee at the meeting said he drew laughter by
joking: “If I watched the poll numbers every day, I’d be lying in the
fetal position. It wouldn’t be a pretty sight.” Bush said he acted on
the basis of what he believes is right, not polls.
Bush again asserted that the domestic
surveillance program was legal, and he drew support from House Speaker
Dennis Hastert, who told reporters, “There are adequate protections.”
“If somebody in this country, whether he
is a foreign national or a citizen, is talking to al Qaeda somebody
ought to know about it and know why it is happening,” Hastert said.
House Republicans described their
retreat as a chance to regroup and discuss their emerging legislative
agenda, which they say will include lobbying and ethics reform.
The retreat was to end on Saturday after
members and staff attend a seminar on the House’s ethics rules. “I
think it’ll help ensure that members and staff live up to those rules,”
said House Majority Leader John Boehner of Ohio.
Boehner was elected House majority
leader last week, replacing Rep. Tom DeLay, who was forced to step down
from the leadership post last year after being indicted in his home
state of Texas on campaign-related felony charges.