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Bush struggles to turn it around
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — Some Republican strategists say they are concerned about whether President Bush can reverse a political nosedive that has defined much of his second term.
With his approval ratings stuck at all-time lows, Bush finds himself increasingly powerless to influence events in Congress, where rebellious Republicans and opportunistic Democrats have combined to stall some of his most important initiatives.
Several of Bush's key legislative priorities stalled last week while his credibility took a hit with the disclosure that he authorized the release of sensitive intelligence to counter critics of the invasion of Iraq.
Heading into a two-week recess, senators could not agree on a plan to revamp immigration policy, while negotiations over the president's budget and efforts to extend tax cuts collapsed in the House late last week.
Meanwhile, the Iraq war continues to be the biggest political issue confronting Bush, as that country remains racked by sectarian violence even as Bush stepped up the pressure for leaders there to break a deadlock over forming a unity government.
The confluence of events, coupled with the continued fallout from previous missteps from the bungled response to Hurricane Katrina to the debacle over the deal to transfer control of six U.S. ports to an Arab firm, has some Republican strategists worried that Bush may be running out of time to re-establish his leadership.
"In politics, bad gets worse, and we've had about a six-month run of bad getting worse," said Ed Rogers, a Republican with close ties to the White House. "How do you stop it? You get sure-footed and you quit having bad luck. This president can now measure in a relatively few number of months his window for effective governance."
Bush has worked hard in recent months to reverse his political fortunes, with little apparent success. He has opened himself up to questioning in his public appearances, which formerly were limited mostly to carefully choreographed events before friendly audiences.
He has taken pains to lay out in detail his administration's strategy in Iraq and invited reporters for off-the-record discussions in the White House.
Bush also replaced departing chief of staff Andrew Card with former budget director Joshua Bolten, the first step in what some officials say will be a shake-up of the White House staff.
While Bush's approval ratings are low, his predicament is hardly unique: Every president since Lyndon Johnson has suffered through similar periods of unpopularity.
"History suggests that all presidents go through times like this," said Whit Ayres, a Republican consultant. "For presidents, it is not a matter of if you will run into a period like this. It is how you react to them."
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company