The New York Times reports:
Three times a year for 23 years, a little-known club of a few hundred of the most powerful conservatives in the country have met behind closed doors at undisclosed locations for a confidential conference, the Council for National Policy, to strategize about how to turn the country to the right.
Details are closely guarded.
''The media should not know when or where we meet or who takes part in our programs, before of after a meeting,'' a list of rules obtained by The New York Times advises the attendees.
The membership list is ''strictly confidential.'' Guests may attend ''only with the unanimous approval of the executive committee.'' In e-mail messages to one another, members are instructed not to refer to the organization by name, to protect against leaks.
This week, before the Republican convention, the members quietly convened in New York, holding their latest meeting almost in plain sight, at the Plaza Hotel, for what a participant called ''a pep rally'' to re-elect President Bush.
Mr. Bush addressed the group in fall 1999 to solicit support for his campaign, stirring a dispute when news of his speech leaked and Democrats demanded he release a tape recording. He did not.
Not long after the Iraq invasion, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld attended a council meeting.
This week, as the Bush campaign seeks to rally Christian conservative leaders to send Republican voters to the polls, several Bush administration and campaign officials were on hand, according to an agenda obtained by The New York Times.
''The destiny of our nation is on the shoulders of the conservative movement,'' the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee, told the gathering as he accepted its Thomas Jefferson award on Thursday, according to an attendee's notes.
The secrecy that surrounds the meeting and attendees like the Rev. Jerry Falwell, Phyllis Schlafly and the head of the National Rifle Association, among others, makes it a subject of suspicion, at least in the minds of the few liberals aware of it.
''The real crux of this is that these are the genuine leaders of the Republican Party, but they certainly aren't going to be visible on television next week,'' Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said.
Mr. Lynn was referring to the list of moderate speakers like Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York who are scheduled to speak at the convention.
''The C.N.P. members are not going to be visible next week,'' he said. ''But they are very much on the minds of George W. Bush and Karl Rove every week of the year, because these are the real powers in the party.''
A spokesman for the White House, Trent Duffy, said: ''The American people are quite clear and know what the president's agenda is. He talks about it every day in public forums, not to any secret group of conservatives or liberals. And he will be talking about his agenda on national television in less than a week.''
The administration and re-election effort were major focuses of the group's meeting on Thursday and yesterday. Under Secretary of State John Bolton spoke about plans for Iran, a spokesman for the State Department said.
Likewise, a spokesman for Assistant Attorney General R. Alexander Acosta confirmed that Mr. Acosta had addressed efforts to stop ''human trafficking,'' a major issue among Christian conservatives.
Dr. Frist spoke about supporting Mr. Bush and limiting embryonic stem cell research, two attendees said. Dan Senor, who recently returned from Iraq after working as a spokesman for L. Paul Bremer III, the top American civilian administrator, was scheduled to provide an update on the situation there.
Among presentations on the elections, an adviser to Mr. Bush's campaign, Ralph Reed, spoke on ''The 2004 Elections: Who Will Win in November?,'' attendees said.
The council was founded in 1981, just as the modern conservative movement began its ascendance. The Rev. Tim LaHaye, an early Christian conservative organizer and the best-selling author of the ''Left Behind'' novels about an apocalyptic Second Coming, was a founder. His partners included Paul Weyrich, another Christian conservative political organizer who also helped found the Heritage Foundation.
They said at the time that they were seeking to create a Christian conservative alternative to what they believed was the liberalism of the Council on Foreign Relations.
A statement of its mission distributed this week said the council's purposes included ''to acquaint our membership with those in positions of leadership in our nation in order that mutual respect be fostered'' and ''to encourage the exchange of information concerning the methodology of working within the system to promote the values and ends sought by individual members.''
Membership costs several thousand dollars a year, a participant said. Its executive director, Steve Baldwin, did not return a phone call.
Over the years, the council has become a staging ground for conservative efforts to make the Republican Party more socially conservative. Ms. Schlafly, who helped build a grass-roots network to fight for socially conservative positions in the party, is a longstanding member.
At times, the council has also seen the party as part of the problem. In 1998, Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family spoke at the council to argue that Republicans were taking conservatives for granted. He said he voted for a third-party candidate in 1996.
Opposition to same-sex marriage was a major conference theme. Although conservatives and Bush campaign officials have denied seeking to use state ballot initiatives that oppose same-sex marriage as a tool to bring out conservative voters, the agenda includes a speech on ''Using Conservative Issues in Swing States,'' said Phil Burress, leader of an initiative drive in Ohio, a battleground state.
The membership list this year was a who's who of evangelical Protestant conservatives and their allies, including Dr. Dobson, Mr. Weyrich, Holland H. Coors of the beer dynasty; Wayne LaPierre of the National Riffle Association, Richard A. Viguerie of American Target Advertising, Mark Mix of the National Right to Work Committee and Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform.
Not everyone present was a Bush supporter, however. This year, the council included speeches by Michael Badnarik of the Libertarian Party and Michael A. Peroutka of the ultraconservative Constitution Party. About a quarter of the members attended their speeches, an attendee said.
Nor was the gathering all business. On Wednesday, members had a dinner in the Rainbow Room, where William F. Buckley Jr. of the National Review was a special guest. At 10 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, members had ''prayer sessions'' in the Rose Room at the hotel.
Saturday, August 28, 2004
The New York Times reports:
Friday, August 6, 2004
The Washington Post reports:
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) rushed to John F. Kerry's defense Thursday, condemning a new ad claiming the Democratic presidential nominee lied about his military record and betrayed his Vietnam comrades by protesting the war.
McCain, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, called on President Bush to condemn the ad, which was financed in part by a major Republican Party donor in Texas.
As McCain defended the Democratic nominee, Kerry for the first time criticized Bush for indecisiveness in the moments after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, underscoring how personal issues of war, terrorism and military service have become.
At a morning appearance before minority journalists in Washington, Kerry faulted Bush for spending seven minutes reading to Florida schoolchildren after learning the World Trade Center had been attacked. "Had I been reading to children and had my top aide whispered in my ear that America is under attack, I would have told those kids very nicely and politely that the president of the United States has something that he needs to attend to," Kerry said.
Rudolph W. Giuliani, the Republican mayor of New York on Sept. 11, was tapped by the Bush campaign to fire back. "John Kerry must be frustrated in his campaign if he is armchair-quarterbacking based on cues from Michael Moore," he said. Moore's film "Fahrenheit 9/11" ridicules Bush for continuing to read to youngsters once he learned of the attacks. Giuliani said Kerry is the "indecisive" candidate because he has "demonstrated an inconsistent position on the war on terror."
Still, it was McCain who again came to Kerry's defense at an opportune time for Democrats. McCain, who challenged Bush for the GOP nomination in 2000, has become a central, if sometimes reluctant, figure in the campaign -- for both sides. Kerry courted him as a potential running mate after McCain defended Kerry's war record on national television. At rallies, Kerry frequently cites his relationship with McCain as evidence of bipartisanship.
Bush has turned to McCain for political cover, too. The day Kerry announced Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) as his running mate, Bush released a TV ad in which McCain praised the president's wartime leadership. McCain, who is to deliver a keynote speech at the Republican National Convention this month, has made it clear he is backing Bush and plans to campaign for the Republican ticket with one big condition: He will not criticize Kerry.
On Thursday, McCain addressed the tussle over a new 60-second ad produced by a group calling itself Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The group includes dozens of Vietnam veterans and claims Kerry exaggerated his wounds to win war medals and betrayed soldiers with his antiwar protesting after he returned from Vietnam. The group is organized as a Section 527 organization, which allows it to raise and spend unlimited "soft" money that federal candidates are prohibited from using.
A GOP firm based in Alexandria -- Stevens Reed Curcio & Potholm -- produced the spot, which began airing Thursday in Ohio, West Virginia and Wisconsin. The ad is part of a broader effort to discredit Kerry's war service that includes a new book, "Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry." While the book will not be released until later this month, it was ranked first in sales Thursday on Amazon.com.
The general counsel for the Kerry campaign and the Democratic National Committee sent television stations a letter asking them not to run the ad because it is "an inflammatory, outrageous lie" by people purporting to have served with Kerry.
In an interview with the Associated Press, McCain called the ad "dishonest and dishonorable." Asked if the White House was behind it, McCain said: "I hope not, but I don't know. But I think the Bush campaign should specifically condemn the ad."
Soon after, White House spokesman Scott McClellan declined to do so and instead criticized the financing of the ad, saying the president "deplores all the unregulated soft-money activity." McClellan said the Bush campaign had nothing to do with the ad or the group behind it. "We have not and we will not question Kerry's service in Vietnam," he said. McClellan used the opportunity to call on Kerry to join Bush in demanding that all soft-money groups quit running ads. The overwhelming majority of such ads have targeted Bush, often harshly. Kerry campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said Kerry will not ask the groups to stop their advertising.
The back-and-forth over war and service came as Kerry reunited with Edwards to begin a campaign by train, as Missourian Harry S. Truman did six decades ago. Aboard the train pulling the same car, No. 403, used by Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, the Democratic ticket will weave through Missouri, Colorado and New Mexico en route to Arizona. The candidates will stop in several Republican strongholds as part of what they are calling the "believe in America tour."
In Kansas City, Mo., on Friday, Kerry is to propose new energy policies, including a $20 billion trust fund to develop new fuels and technologies. With oil and gasoline prices rising, Kerry will also call for new incentives and mandates to make automobiles more efficient and engineer them to run on alternative fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel.
At St. Louis's Union Station, Edwards played the optimist, leading the crowd in repeated chants of "Hope is on the way," while Kerry played a more muscular role, leading repeated chants of "Help is on the way." A policy book put out by the campaign captures the new dynamic: Edwards is shown with a sunny smile, and Kerry with his arm bent as if he is flexing his bicep.
"I can fight a more effective, smarter and better war on terror that actually makes America safer in the future," Kerry said to thousands of people gathered for the early-afternoon rally.
Kerry ignored the biggest political issue of the week here: the fight to outlaw same-sex marriage. Around 1.5 million Missourians turned out Tuesday to vote heavily in favor of a state ban on same-sex unions, a rousing endorsement that some contend could affect voting in this battleground state on Nov. 2.
At the St Louis rally, however, many voters were skeptical about claims that the issue may influence the presidential race. Instead, people talked of the economy and how the loss of manufacturing jobs has left the state scarred and struggling, with its economic recovery lagging far behind some states.
"I don't think gay marriage is going to be a big issue in Missouri -- people realize there are far more important issues at stake that affect everybody's lives, not just a few," said Joan McCarthy, 45, a database administrator here.
Rochelle Webber-Williams, 45, a Gulf War veteran, recited the mantra that jobs and the economy matter in Missouri above all else. "Personally I really don't care what people do behind closed doors. What I do care about is the economy and the war," she said. "People want a change from Bush more than anything else -- that's why I'm voting for Kerry."