While die-hard Republicans try to present a unified front in support of President George W. Bush’s evasion of the law and Constitution in ordering nonstop spying on Americans, splits are showing in the GOP ranks.
“What’s wrong with it is several-fold,” former GOP Congressman Bob Barr says of the domestic spying. “One, it is bad policy for our government to be spying on American citizens through the National Security Agency. Secondly, it’s bad to be spying on Americans without court oversight. And thirdly, it’s bad to be spying on Americans apparently in violation of federal laws against doing it without a court order.”
Barr, one of the most conservative members of Congress when he served in the House, leads an increasing group of disenchanted Republicans who have had enough of Bush’s misuse of the law and encroachment of civil liberties that are supposed to be protected by the Constitution. He has joined with fellow conservative firebrand Phyllis Schlafly and the ultra-liberal American Civil Liberties Union to fight renewal of many of the rights-robbing provisions of the USA Patriot Act.
And he’s not alone. Republican Senators Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Larry Craig of Idaho and Olympia Snowe of Maine question Bush’s actions along with Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter, chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee.
“I have grave doubts as to its applicability,” says Specter. “The President’s actions raise very fundamental questions about privacy and the Bill of Rights.”
Republican strategists tell me House Speaker Dennis J. Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist are fighting to hold GOP dissension over the President’s policies in check but they may not be able to keep the anger from spilling over into public view.
Frist, hampered by questions over his insider stock sale of Hospital Corporation of America holdings, couldn’t keep GOP anger from helping derail Bush’s push to make the USA Patriot Act a permanent law of the land.
“The White House is particularly pissed at Frist,” says one longtime GOP consultant. “They want him out as majority leader and a more hardball leader in the style of Tom DeLay in his place.”
Bush is also angry with Craig, a conservative who joined with Democrats in a filibuster to defeat permanent renewal of the Patriot Act. As a meeting recently, Bush referred to Craig as “a goddamned traitor” and told the National Republican Senatorial Committee to start recruiting someone to run against the Idaho Senator in the GOP primary in 2008.
Such anger against those who dare oppose him is typical for a President who all too often launches into obscene tirades when his policies are questioned. Bush, on many occasions, has called political opponents “traitors’ and, in private, refers to Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter as a “lily-livered bastard.”
Craig, however, is unfazed by all this and says the Patriot Act “doesn’t do enough to protect the civil liberties of innocent Americans.”
And while Criag, Hagel, Snowe and Specter are willing to speak out publicly about the illegal actions of a President who is a member of their own party, other Republicans stick to grumbling in private – not surprising given the President’s reputation for waging wars of revenge against those who oppose him.
Another political scientist, the University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato, says Bush has problems and knows it.
“Things are bad,” Sabato says of Bush’s situation. “Really bad.” Sabato says you can tell that Bush knows this because it is “written all over” Bush’s face when he appears in public.
So he has a message for the President.
“The lesson is obvious, Mr. President: You’re a lot closer to Nixon than you are to Eisenhower, Reagan, and Clinton. And that’s not where you want to be. Nixon’s second term ended rather badly, as you will recall.”