- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2001

One hundred days ago, a Texan came to Washington bent on changing the toxic tone in the nations capital and vowing to curb federal spending, rewrite the countrys tax code and overhaul the education system.
With 1,360 days left in his term, President Bush is well on his way to achieving his goals.
Congress is rapidly moving toward passage of at least a $1.3 trillion tax cut, as well as the core principles of the new presidents education package; his federal budget that holds spending increases to 4 percent was passed by the House and is now in a conference committee; and the partisan flames that raged on Capitol Hill for much of the last eight years are but smoldering embers.
"Were making progress toward changing the tone in Washington," Mr. Bush said Saturday. "Theres less name-calling and finger-pointing. Were sharing credit. We are learning we can make our points without making enemies."
In the process, the presidential candidate who pundits said lacked the skills and knowledge necessary to run the country has deftly handled an international crisis, increased his approval rating to 63 percent — eight points higher than former President Bill Clinton enjoyed after his first 100 days — and returned dignity to a White House stained by his predecessor.
"It turns out that he knows an awful lot about being president," said Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar with the Brookings Institution. "Maybe its genetic."
Mr. Bushs easy charm — the back-slapping, the winks, the nicknames — has so far taken the bat out of Democrats hands. None wants to launch the first strike, preferring to wait quietly until Mr. Bush showed his true partisan colors.
Theyre still waiting.

Out of the gate

Mr. Bush fired out of the starting blocks on Day 1. Minutes after he was sworn in on the Capitol steps — his vanquished foe, Vice President Al Gore, just a few feet away — the new president suspended a batch of 11th-hour orders approved by Mr. Clinton.
Hours later, he submitted his Cabinet nominations to the Senate and ordered a temporary freeze on hiring any new federal employees until the Cabinet was in place. In a rare Saturday session that day, the Senate quickly confirmed half of the presidents Cabinet on unanimous voice votes.
His first day in office was a study in irony: The oath of office was administered by Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who presided over Mr. Clintons impeachment trial in the Senate and the decision in the Bush v. Gore case that ended the Florida recount battle.
And Mr. Bushs short speech — in which he called on Americans to "build a nation of character" that values "conscience and personal responsibility" — followed by mere hours Mr. Clintons last-minute pardons of 176 felons, an action that would lead even liberal newspapers to question his ethics.
As he traveled across the country later in his term, he brought cheering supporters to their feet when he repeated his campaign pledge to restore the White Houses dignity.
Yet he never mentioned Mr. Clinton by name, or brought up his predecessors sexual affair with an intern half his age. He never said a disparaging word about a senator or a congressman, preferring to highlight his own agenda.
And he steadfastly refused to get into a faceoff with the press, which was used to a diet of red meat stories since 1993.
In sharp contrast to the Clinton administrations scorched-earth method of operation, Mr. Bush and his staff refused to comment on the pardons and other activities by the ex-president, preferring, as Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said dozens of times over the early weeks, to "look forward, not back."
But to assess Mr. Bushs achievements in his first 100 days is impossible without keeping one eye on his predecessors behavior over much of the same period.

The lingering cloud

Perhaps Mr. Bushs single greatest advantage in his young presidency was the fact that he was not Bill Clinton. Throughout his campaign, Mr. Bush had vowed to return "honor and dignity" to the White House, a pledge the national media all but dismissed even though Americans overwhelmingly believed the White Hose had been sullied.
But that same media eased Mr. Bushs first weeks in office by continuing to cover the man who had never failed to supply an array of controversy.
Before questions arose about the presidential pardon of Marc Rich, a fugitive financier whose ex-wife contributed more than $1.5 million to the Clinton-Gore campaign and other Democrats, stories of vandalism and theft by departing staffers spilled out of the White House.
What began as a simple story of "pranks" — the theft of "W" keys off White House computers — blossomed into tales of slashed telephone lines, trashed offices, lewd graffiti on walls and pornographic images hidden in printers.
And as the media fed on dozens of questionable pardons granted by Mr. Clinton on his final day in office — many that had never been reviewed by the Justice Department, as had been the established procedure — new stories pushed the former president to the front page again.
The newly unemployed Mr. Clinton wanted the federal government to pay the $850,000 annual lease for space in a swank Manhattan office building. In addition, the Clintons had removed dozens of donated items from the White House that contributors said were meant to stay there.
For Mr. Bush, the lingering cloud of Mr. Clinton was an unexpected stroke of luck.
"The nation is lucky if it has a lucky president," Mr. Hess said. "If you want to come in and be well-received by the press, its awful lucky that the guy going out does it in the tackiest way possible."
Mr. Bush refused to comment on any of the scandals. Instead, he worked under the radar: reinstating the so-called "Mexico City" restrictions on federal funding for overseas groups that advocate abortion, creating a White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, forming a task force on national energy strategy, sending Congress a prescription drugs proposal, and moving forward with his top priorities — tax cuts, education, health care and national security.
His daily activities got obligatory coverage, but often under the fold or late in network newscasts. On some days — as when a man armed with a handgun fired several shots and threatened to commit suicide outside the White House or when Vice President Richard B. Cheney was rushed to the hospital for a heart procedure — the president fell off the front page altogether.
But Mr. Bush went about his business just the same, submitting his tax-cut and education plans to Congress, inviting more than 100 Democrats to the White House for lunches and meetings, even having the Kennedy clan over to watch a screening of "13 Days," a movie about the Cuban missile crisis.
The early foundation work would pay off when the media could wring no more out of Mr. Clinton and turned its focus back toward Mr. Bush.

Democrats defanged

Less than 24 hours into his term, Mr. Bush received the kind of gift money cant buy. Even before the new president sat down at 7:28 a.m. Monday for his first day in the Oval Office, a Democratic senator announced he would co-sponsor a bill for Mr. Bushs 10-year, $1.6 trillion tax cut.
Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat, had campaigned on a platform of bipartisanship and defeated his opponent with nearly 60 percent of the vote. Now he was making good on his pledge.
Then, on his first day, Mr. Bush made good on his own campaign promise of bipartisanship when he hosted a group of respected Democratic elders at the White House. By months end, he had met with dozens of House Democratic freshmen and leaders. Democrats, who hadnt faced Republican control of the White House and Congress for half a century, were knocked off stride and slightly cowed.
"Theres a desire to be cooperative," Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat, said on Mr. Bushs second day in office.
By the end of his first week, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan delivered another priceless gift. He testified before Congress that a tax cut was the only prudent use of a $5.6 trillion surplus, which, he said, Congress would surely spend if the cash stayed in Washington.
Democrats gained some traction in the media with charges that Mr. Bush was neglecting the environment — mainly because he abandoned an 85-country global warming treaty signed by only one nation, Romania, and refused to enact a measure left by Mr. Clinton that called for reducing arsenic levels in water to a percentage lower than occurs naturally in some parts of the country. But they soon ended their opposition to the tax cut and faith-based initiative. As it turned out, both ideas were wildly popular, finding support with three-fourths of Americans polled.
Over the coming weeks, Mr. Bush waded in where few Democrats expected: with the Congressional Black Caucus. The president, who appointed blacks to the highests ranks any had ever held in the federal government, invited all 38 members to the White House for coffee. (Some refused to attend, citing bitterness over the presidential election.) Mr. Fleischer later said the "cordial" meeting included "a lot of laughter."
At the meeting, caucus members voiced dissatisfaction over Mr. Bushs choice for Attorney General, former Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft. While the president sought to placate their anger, he refused to back off his support for the conservative nominee. The next day, eight Democratic senators joined all Republicans to confirm the nomination.
While he sought dialogue with Democrats, Mr. Bush didnt forget his conservative base in his first 100 days. He ended the American Bar Associations influential 54-year advisory role in choosing Supreme Court justices and other federal judges, issued executive orders limiting organized labors control over workplaces and overturned workplace ergonomics rules that took effect four days before Mr. Clinton left office.
But his focus was on reaching across the aisle, and Mr. Bush achieved another first when he attended the congressional Democrats annual retreat, again vowing to "rid the system of rancor." After the meeting, Democrats were effusive in their praise.
"The tone has changed, theres no question about," Mr. Hess said. "There is a new civility in Washington."
Mr. Bush has also wielded a hammer forged from support across the country when necessary. Over his first 100 days, he visited half the nations states, attending rallies and delivering speeches on his top priorities.
Mr. Cheney divulged part of the presidents strategy for winning approval of his initiatives when he told The Washington Times that Mr. Bush sought to put pressure on congressional members "who come from states where maybe theres a split delegation and the Republican has already signed on and committed, or where we ran especially strong."
In Billings, Mont., Mr. Bush attended a rally with 12,000 supporters, including Republican Sen. Conrad Burns and Democratic Sen. Max Baucus. The president, seeking Mr. Baucus support for his tax cut and education plans, didnt even have to ask him for it.
As Mr. Bush recited his priorities, drawing cheers with each one, he said simply: "I hope Senator Baucus supports me." In the second of silence that followed, a booming voice rang out: "How bout it, senator?" Mr. Baucus smiled sheepishly as Mr. Bush grinned broadly.

Im not from here, I just live here

No president since Ronald Reagan has distanced himself from Washington as much as Mr. Bush. He ran as an outsider against the consummate insider — the vice president — but the campaign tactic was more than just words: his dislike of the inside-the-Beltway mentality was visceral.
"Sometimes the word coming out of Washington gets filtered," Mr. Bush said in Billings. "Sometimes its hard to get a direct message to the people. So I found the best way to get the message out is to travel the country."
As he sold his education plan in Columbus, Ohio, Mr. Bush said: "Washington is not the fount of all knowledge. In Washington, people deal with trillions of dollars and sometimes can forget that every bit of it is someones earnings."
Everywhere he has traveled, he has delivered a honed message on tax cuts, education, the military. But unlike his predecessor, he has also preached about the value of religion, the importance of character, the responsibility of parenthood.
Each practiced passage is greeted with cheers: The surplus is not the governments money, its your money; Im against a national education test and for local control of schools; you are being overcharged and Im asking for a refund.
Democrats had harangued Mr. Bush for his tax plan, saying it was too large and would "blow a hole in the budget." But they soon gave up the fight.
"There were some last summer who said theres no way anyone could possibly get a tax relief plan through the Congress," Mr. Bush said Saturday. "Yet the House and Senate have now both endorsed significant tax relief and are headed toward a final vote."
By the beginning of March, with public support for tax cuts growing, congressional Democrats introduced a nearly $1 trillion tax reduction plan, double the amount suggested by their failed presidential candidate. Mr. Miller said his party did so because other Democrats were signaling they would soon join him in support of Mr. Bushs plan.
A few days later, Mr. Cheney told The Washington Times that while he would "really enjoy casting the tie-breaking vote in the Senate" on tax cuts, "Ill bet most of them vote for it on final passage."
In an adept move, House Republican leaders on March 15 announced they were seeking a $500 billion increase to Mr. Bushs $1.6 trillion tax cut plan, giving the president the chance to slap back changes to his proposal — even if it came from his own party. Since then, he has said his plan is "the right size."

Front and center

Mr. Bush was thrust onto the world stage on April 1, when China detained 24 Navy crew members after their surveillance plane, damaged in a mid-air collision, was forced to make an emergency landing on Hainan island. Over the next 11 days, the president took a skillfully diplomatic line against the Chinese, letting Secretary of State Colin Powell handle delicate negotiations in order to get the crew back.
Despite Chinas demand that the United States apologize, Mr. Bush and Cabinet secretaries offered only "regrets" over the incident. Near the end of the standoff, Mr. Bush began warning China about "damage" to their relationship.
As Easter neared, the Chinese capitulated and released the crew. Less than two weeks later, Mr. Bush approved the largest package of arms ever for the Chinese breakaway province of Taiwan.
The move angered China — where he is scheduled to visit in October — but not nearly as much as what he did next. On Wednesday, the president said U.S. military force is "certainly an option" if China invades Taiwan.
At the 100-day mark, U.S.-Sino relations are in flux. Many conservatives praise Mr. Bush for taking a hard line against China, which has used increasingly aggressive rhetoric over the past year.
He also played hardball with Russia and North Korea. When FBI agent Robert Hanssen was charged with for spying for Russia, Mr. Bush expelled 56 Russian diplomats for suspected spying. He demanded "complete verification" that North Korea had stopped developing and spreading weapons of mass destruction before resumption of missile talks.
Mr. Bush also made good on his pledge to work closely with U.S. "neighbors," traveling to Quebec City for the Summit of the Americas meeting of 33 North and South American countries.
The countries committed to a free-trade zone across the Americas by 2005, an achievement that eclipsed sporadic protests at the summit.
Mr. Bush then turned his attention to rising turmoil in the Middle East.
Unlike his predecessor, Mr. Bush in early March told Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon he would "not try to force peace" in the Middle East until both sides end the violence and show a willingness to talk.
At the end of the month, he sternly warned Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to stop the violence, but also counseled Israel not to overreact to increased violence and instead use restraint.
It was a directive he meant. In mid-April, Mr. Powell lashed out at the Israelis, calling their response to Palestinian shelling "excessive and disproportionate." Mr. Bush delivered the same message a day later. Israel and Palestine, having received the message loud and clear, began secret talks last week.

The Charm Factor

Early in his term, the media swooned over the earthy, plain-spoken Texan. What emerged was a spate of stories that catalogued what they dubbed "the Charm Factor."
The new president proved equally at home with the Republican Ladies Club as with the U.S. Armys 3rd Infantry Division. At an education event at a North Carolina elementary school earlier this month, Mr. Bush winked at a woman in mid-speech, prompting an explosion of giggling. On a three-day swing to military bases in February, Mr. Bush snapped off perfect salutes as he shouted "Hooah!" to soldiers, drawing a hearty "Hooah!" in return.
As part of his outreach to Democrats, he even charmed the most liberal, those who had harangued Republicans and defended Mr. Clinton throughout his impeachment. At a White House ceremony that included members of the Massachusetts delegation, Mr. Bush named a U.S. courthouse in Boston for ailing Democratic Rep. Joe Moakley. Guests included fierce Clinton defenders Reps. Martin T. Meehan, Barney Frank, Bill Delahunt and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
"I think the president was being gracious and thats a powerful factor and a force," the Massachusetts senator said. "And I think he deserves credit for it. And we were very grateful. Im delighted."
In contrast to his predecessor, Mr. Bush prefers to keep a lower media profile, allowing his press secretary to handle most commentary.
Mr. Bush held his first press conference in the cramped White House briefing room instead of the more ornate East Room where Mr. Clinton preferred to speak.
Mr. Bush gave reporters just an hours notice.
He then bantered with the aggressive flock, at one point chastising NBCs David Gregory — "Its not your turn, but go ahead" — and interrupting Helen Thomass interuption with, "I didnt get to finish my answer, with all due respect."
He has exhibited a healthy ability to make fun of himself. At the Radio and Television Correspondents dinner at the Washington Hilton last month, he lampooned his infamous mangled syntax and grammatical misdemeanors.
"There is my most famous statement: 'Rarely is the question asked, is our children learning.
"Let us analyze that sentence for a moment. If youre a stickler, you probably think the singular verb 'is should have been the plural 'are. But if you read it closely, youll see Im using the intransitive plural subjunctive tense.
"So the word 'is are correct," he said to laughter.
Two nights ago, at the White House Correspondents Dinner, Mr. Bush again displayed his self-deprecating humor.

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