Tuesday, June 12, 2007

President's Dinner Tonight Proves Bush Is No Money Magnet

The Hill reports:

Financial projections for the President’s Dinner tonight confirm that Republican confidence in the president is in a state of collapse.

The National Republican Congressional Committee’s (NRCC) fundraising goal is $7.5 million, which is half what was raised last year. But to reach this lesser goal, each individual lawmaker has been asked to raise the same amount as 12 months ago. In other words, the NRCC is assuming lawmakers won’t be either willing or able to hit the targets they managed last year.

A source close to the NRCC said it expects to meet its target.

Senior GOP members of the Ways and Means Committee have been asked to raise $100,000 each for the dinner, the same as in 2006, according to a memo distributed by House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), the dinner’s organizers.

Blunt acknowledged that Bush’s relationship with congressional Republicans is rocky. “Every president in his second term has difficulty working with the legislature, and President Bush is no different,” Blunt said, but disputed that the lowered financial goals reflected disenchantment with Bush.

Instead, Blunt said, it was due to donor fatigue after the midterm elections. (In 2005, the last non-election year, House Republicans set a $14 million goal for the dinner.)

Bush visited the Senate Republicans’ weekly luncheon yesterday for the first time since September to build support for immigration reform. Lingering concerns about the president’s stubbornness and his stance on the controversial issue may undermine his outreach effort.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) said she thinks her former GOP colleagues Sens. Mike DeWine (Ohio) and Lincoln Chafee (R.I.) lost reelection because of Bush’s unpopularity.

“It’s definitely because of the president and his policies, more from the standpoint of immovability and not being willing to adjust policies in response to real-time circumstances,” she said. “It wasn’t just the fact that things weren’t working well in Iraq, it was the president wasn’t willing to adjust his policy to recognize and acknowledge that.”

Last year’s losses at the polls have shaped her Republican colleagues’ view of the president in 2007, she said, adding, “All of that had manifested itself in ways this year, leading to concerns about the president’s policies.”

Snowe said that during yesterday’s meeting, her thought was that Republicans would still be the majority if not for Bush’s failures.

“What’s disconcerting is that Republicans shouldn’t be in the position of having lost the majority,” she said, adding that because of the president Republicans had an “uphill battle” running for reelection in New England last year.

In the fundraising talking points he distributed to Republican lawmakers for tonight’s dinner, Blunt said Republican candidates face difficulties in 2008.

“The odds are against Republicans as we take up the fight to strengthen and rebuild our majority,” he said.

In the same memo, Blunt focuses only on Bush’s commitment to helping Republicans and does not mention any presidential accomplishments.

Republicans, even one from New England, where Bush is highly unpopular, said they have only themselves to blame for last year’s losses. “We’ve done it to ourselves,” said Rep. Christopher Shays (Conn.), the only House Republican representing a district in New England. “We were blind to our spending, we were infatuated with our power.”

Republican confidence in Bush is mixed. Lawmakers who oppose his policies in Iraq and on immigration are much more critical.

Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), an outspoken opponent of the war, criticized the president’s efforts to work with congressional Republicans.

“We had better relationships with the [White House] legislative affairs shop when Clinton was the president — even after we impeached him,” said Jones.

Jones then told an anecdote of the time “a year or two years ago” when his chief of staff printed out a picture of Candida Wolff, the assistant to the president for legislative affairs, and asked his boss about her identity. After confessing his ignorance, Jones tested five Republican colleagues in similar fashion. Only one of them, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), knew who Wolff was.

White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore defended Bush’s record of working with Congress.

“From immigration to energy to Iraq, the president and the White House Office of Legislative Affairs work around the clock with members of Congress to address important issues facing our country,” she said. “Not a day goes by when representatives from our office of legislative affairs aren’t in contact with members of Congress in some way, and they consistently strive to be responsive to their concerns.”

A White House official questioned the usefulness of Jones’s quiz, saying, “We would hope that a member of Congress would have better things to do with his time than to walk around with a picture just to make a point. If they wanted to speak to [Wolff] they could just call her.”

Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), former chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, gave Bush a mixed review. “I think there’s great admiration for the president’s leadership on foreign policy and social issues but much less confidence on spending and immigration,” said Pence, who played a leading role opposing the House Republican leadership on spending bills in the last Congress.

Pence, who has become more outspoken on immigration reform, recommended that Bush keep a low profile on the issue.

“I think the president is out of step with his party on immigration,” Pence said. “I think his credibility among most Americans and members of his party [on immigration] is so low that those who would like to see an immigration bill would like to see [Bush’s] role to be muted.”