WASHINGTON—President Bush made nice with the Democrats for the television cameras after they won control of Congress, complete with pictures filled with handshakes, smiles and vows of working together. He even tossed Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld over the side, making many people think that maybe he was going to move more toward the center and reach out for bipartisan openings.
But the agenda he's sent to Congress since then is full of Republican proposals that have no chance of winning bipartisan approval, enrage Democrats, rally his conservative base and appear to be intended to paint Democrats as obstructionist.
Bush has resubmitted several judicial nominations that had been blocked even before last week's elections. He's asked again that the Senate confirm John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations. And he's urged approval of warrantless eavesdropping on suspected terrorists without any accommodation to Democrats' demands that a court sign off on the spying.
None of these proposals is expected to win approval in the lame-duck session of the Republican Congress, and all are assured of defeat when the Democrats take over in January.
Bush's proposals could be simply his opening bid in what would be a tough round of negotiations with the Democrats. Or they could be a political gambit designed to frame the Democrats early on as obstructionists while rallying a conservative base dispirited by last week's election losses.
Either way, they contradict the initial post-election image that indicated that Bush was ready to reach out to Democrats.
"I intend to work with the new Congress in a bipartisan way," he said the day after the election. "The message yesterday was clear: The American people want their leaders in Washington to set aside partisan differences, conduct ourselves in an ethical manner and work together to address the challenges facing our nation."
Then this week Bush sent to the Senate four appellate-court nominations that waved a red flag before Democratic bulls. They included:
_U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle of North Carolina, who's been blocked for years by Democrats who accuse him of being hostile to civil rights and often overruled by higher courts.
_William G. Haynes, a former Pentagon general counsel to Rumsfeld, who's been assailed by Democrats for his role in crafting Bush administration policies on detentions and treatment of suspected enemy combatants.
_Michael B. Wallace, a private-practice attorney from Mississippi who was rated unqualified by the American Bar Association and who's been criticized by Democrats as being hostile to civil rights and to the poor.
_William G. Myers, a mining lobbyist from Idaho who's opposed by environmentalists.
"Barely a week after the president promised to change course by working in a bipartisan and cooperative way with Congress, it is disappointing that he has decided to stay the course on judicial nominees," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who'll chair the Senate Judiciary Committee when the Democrats take over in January.
"These are nominees who failed to win confirmation under a Republican-controlled Senate and they were returned to the president. . . . This is exactly the kind of political game-playing that prompted Americans to demand change and a new direction in Washington."
Democrats also chafed at the re-nomination of Bolton. Bolton has served temporarily since Senate Democrats blocked his confirmation in summer 2005 with the help of Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio.
If Democrats think Bush's in-your-face moves will anger voters, at least one Republican strategist countered that they'll be applauded as overdue by conservatives.
"To the party's detriment, we did not run on the issue of judges as much as we should have. It's a winning issue for us," said strategist Keith Appell, who added that Bolton also is popular with conservatives.
"There is a real question as to how enthusiastic the Republican leadership was last year on these nominations. Now there is an opportunity for the Republican leadership in the Senate to re-establish itself with the conservative grassroots by fighting for these nominees."
Even if Bush loses, he wouldn't only rally the party base, Appell said, but a loss would also allow him to argue that Democrats were obstructionists.
"It forces the Democrats to violate their promise of bipartisanship," he said.
Bush also is pushing Congress to ratify his warrantless eavesdropping without any hint of accommodation to Democrats, who want the spying to continue but with court oversight.
White House spokesman Tony Snow defined bipartisanship in that case as the Democrats supporting the president's plan because both parties now share power—and the responsibility to protect the country against terrorists. On Bush's terms.
Bruce Buchanan, a political scientist at the University of Texas who's watched Bush since he was governor, saw Bush's proposals as the opening bid of a high-stakes poker game.
"He's testing the resolve of the Democrats," Buchanan said. "He's operating from his usual habit. He starts with his preferred position and then moves back from there only when he has to. Maybe he thinks he can exploit the Democrats."
Bruce Buchanan, a political scientist at the University of Texas, said he doubts that either side would be successfully or permanently scarred as obstructionist or face a backlash from voters at this early stage, still two years from the next election. Thus, he said, "Bush probably thinks it's too soon to sing Kumbaya with the Democrats."
MORE ON THE JUDICIAL NOMINEES:
_William G. Haynes, nominated to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., was assailed by Democrats during his hearings for his role in crafting Bush administration policies on enemy detentions and treatment. He served as general counsel for Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld.
_Michael B. Wallace is an accomplished private-practice attorney from Mississippi and a nominee to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. He was rated unqualified, though, by the American Bar Association—in part because the organization found that he lacked a "commitment to equal justice." Democrats seized on the report as proof that Wallace would be hostile to civil rights and to the poor.
_Federal District Judge Terrence Boyle of North Carolina technically has been waiting more than 15 years to get a seat on the 4th Circuit bench in Richmond. He was nominated by the first President Bush, but never got a hearing. He was re-nominated by the current President Bush in 2001 but was initially blocked by North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who thought the bench needed more African-Americans.
Boyle has been accused of being hostile to civil rights, and Democrats have vowed to filibuster him. The closest he's come to confirmation was a committee vote a year ago. His nomination expired before a floor vote, so he'd need another nod from the committee before a confirmation vote could take place.
_William G. Myers is a mining lobbyist from Idaho, nominated to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Democrats have portrayed him as hostile to environmental interests, a key issue in the Western states covered by the court to which he's nominated. He hasn't gotten a committee vote yet.
_Norman Randy Smith, nominated to the 9th Circuit, and Peter D. Keisler, nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, have been opposed for less partisan reasons, but they'll still likely face opposition.
Smith, a federal district judge from Idaho, was nominated to a seat on the appeals court that Californians traditionally have held. Democrats have opposed him for that reason.
Keisler, a former clerk for Judge Robert Bork and Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, is opposed by Democrats who complain that his resume offers few clues as to what kind of judge he'd be. Some activist groups also criticize his nomination to the D.C. Circuit because he'd occupy a controversial new seat—one that Senate Republicans denied to Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan during the Clinton years.
(McClatchy correspondent Stephen Henderson contributed to this report.)
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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