Delicate Dance for Bush in Depicting Spy Program as Asset
By ADAM NAGOURNEY
Published: January 23, 2006
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Mr. Rove's speech on Friday to the Republican National Committee was a classic example. "Let me be as clear as I can be: President Bush believes if Al Qaeda is calling somebody in America, it is in our national security interest to know who they're calling and why," Mr. Rove said. "Some important Democrats clearly disagree." . . .
"A lot of Democrats?" said one prominent Republican supporter of Mr. Bush, who did not want to be identified while being critical of a White House that famously does not brook criticism. "Democrats, Karl? Republicans, too."
David A. Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, said: "A lot of conservatives are very skeptical about it. It is not as clean-cut a political win as the administration thinks that it is."
Senator Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, is planning hearings on the surveillance program. And in an interview on Fox News on Sunday, Senator John McCain of Arizona said he did not think the president had the legal authority for this operation, adding that the White House should seek Congressional approval to alter the 1978 provisions if it thinks they are not working now.
Mr. McCain also came to the defense of Democrats in response to Mr. Rove's suggestion that they were not committed to the nation's security. "Do I think that the president's leadership has been worthy of support of our party and our leadership?" he said. "Yes. But there's too many good Democrats over there who are as concerned about national security and work just as hard as I do."
Beyond that, one Republican analyst who is skeptical about the White House strategy said Mr. Bush's position was hardly helped by the fact that his credibility numbers have dropped along with his popularity since his re-election.
Mr. Bush may find that, as some Democrats have suggested, the invocations of Sept. 11 do not have the force they once had.