WASHINGTON - There may be moments during
their summit at his family's compound in
Kennebunkport, Maine, when President George W Bush
may look with envy on his Russian counterpart,
Vladimir Putin, whose popularity at home
guarantees him vast influence even as he prepares
to leave office just nine months from now.
Not so for Bush, whose public approval
ratings, according to polls released in just the
past week, have reached all-time lows and
influence - even over his own party - appears to
be declining at warp speed.
phenomenon was demonstrated to devastating effect
last week when 37 of the Senate's 49 Republicans
deserted the president on a critical procedural
vote that appears to have doomed Bush's hopes for
comprehensive immigration reform through the
remaining 18 months of his term in office.
The vote marked the defeat of the most
important and probably the easiest of his second
term's four top domestic priorities that also
included changing the social security system,
easing taxes, and legislation designed to
discourage tort litigation and class action suits.
"He is now almost zero-for four," noted the
But the immigration
bill's defeat was just one of a whole series of
events last week that appeared to diminish
whatever residual political strength Bush enjoyed
going into the summer months.
compounded on Monday when Bush intervening to
prevent vice presidential aide I Lewis "Scooter"
Libby from going to jail. The president, in a
statement, said the two-and-a-half year jail
sentence imposed last month on Libby, who was
found guilty of perjury in a case linked to the
Iraq war, was "excessive". Libby still faces a
US$250,000 fine. Pollster.com reported this month
that "a Rasmussen automated poll (which if
anything may over-represent the opinions of well
informed Americans) shows Libby's favorable rating
[for a pardon] at just 19% overall (and 34% among
With regard to Iraq, the
week began with a declaration of independence -
and total frustration - by two key Republican
senators, ranking member of the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee Richard Lugar and George
Voinovich, over Bush's determination to maintain
his "surge" strategy beyond next autumn.
floor speech by Lugar, which was also hailed by
former Senate Armed Services Committee chairman
John Warner, appeared to confirm that Bush, his
military commanders and diplomatic officers in
Baghdad have no more than 75 days - or until
mid-September - to produce a dramatic turnaround
in Iraq or face irresistible political pressure in
Congress to begin withdrawing combat troops by
early 2008 at the very latest.
subsequent interview, Lugar compared his speech to
his break with Ronald Reagan over the latter's
veto of anti-apartheid legislation in the
mid-1980s. Lugar played a key role in getting
Congress to override the veto, the only time
Congress did so during Reagan's eight years in
The week ended with the expiration
on Friday of Bush's five-year-old "fast-track"
authority to negotiate new trade agreements and a
vow by the Democratic leadership in the House of
Representatives to oppose a pending trade deal
with South Korea and another with Colombia.
Renewing fast-track authority, which
permits the president to submit new trade accords
to Congress for an up-or-down vote without the
possibility of any amendments, was another top
administration priority that now appears to have
fallen by the wayside.
If those setbacks
were not enough, the Post ran an unprecedented
investigative series during the week on the role
of Dick Cheney which depicted the president as
essentially the young dauphin to the vice
president's Cardinal Richelieu - something that
has long been understood by Washington insiders,
but whose operational specifics were until now
What the series
disclosed, according to the Post's veteran, if
endlessly forgiving, political columnist, David
Broder, was "a vice president who used the broad
authority given him by a complaisant chief
executive to bend the decision-making process to
his own ends and purposes, often overriding
cabinet officers and other executive branch
officials along the way".
which provided new grist for the mills of
talk-show hosts and comedians who dominate
late-night television, served only to further
diminish Bush. His approval ratings in successive
public opinion polls have now dropped to their
lowest level ever and are approaching those of
Richard Nixon just before his resignation from
office in the wake of the Watergate scandal and
his impeachment in 1974.
That the series
coincided with Cheney's unprecedented and widely
mocked insistence that he did not have to abide by
certain secrecy rules because, as president of the
Senate, he was not part of the executive branch,
only added to the derision leveled against the
Indeed, Cheney's own
approval ratings, like Bush's, have dropped to
historical lows. Just 28% said they approved of
his handling of his job in a CBS News poll taken
late last week, down from 35% in early 2006, and a
high of 56% in August 2002, the same month that he
launched the administration's own campaign to
rally support for invading Iraq.
CBS poll found Bush at a record low of 27%, just
one percentage point higher than the all-time,
all-poll low recorded by Newsweek the previous
week. Fox News, whose surveys have generally shown
higher approval rates than other polls, also
reported its all-time low last week at 31%.
Bush's public approval rating fell below
50% in most polls between his re-election in
November 2004 and his second-term inauguration two
months later and has not recovered since, giving
him the record for the "longest sustained
rejection by the American public" in modern US
history, according to the Post.
vehement right-wing Republican opposition to the
immigration bill helped explain the Bush's latest
plunge in the polls, Iraq remains the single-most
important factor to the president's unpopularity.
In last week's CBS poll, 23% of
respondents said they approved of his handling of
the war, while 70%, including one-third of all
self-identified Republicans, said they
disapproved. Moreover, a whopping 77% of
respondents said the war was going either
"somewhat" (30%) or "very badly" (47%).
record 40% said all troops should be withdrawn,
while another 26% said they favored a decreasing
the number of troops there now. A CNN poll taken a
few days before showed similar numbers.
With elections 16 months away, Republican
incumbents are increasingly aware that Bush/Cheney
has become a serious drag on their political
aspirations. And, as the election draws near, the
pressure to break with the White House - absent a
major change of course, at least in Iraq - will
become irresistible, just as it did last week on
the immigration bill.