Presidential malaise

Most of official Washington is on break. But President Bush can't catch one.

President Bush was not on hand Monday to throw out the season's first baseball pitch, which has been a tradition since President Taft threw out the first ball in 1910.

Last Saturday night, the president departed from another tradition. He did not appear at the annual Gridiron dinner – since 1885, it's the occasion where officials and reporters make fun of each other and themselves. Mr. Bush was at Camp David, playing host to the president of Brazil and his wife.

The White House finds little to celebrate these days. It is locked in an executive privilege dispute with congressional Democrats. They want to question White House officials about the firing of eight US attorneys on terms so far unacceptable to the administration. That issue may eventually be resolved since the White House holds the trump cards on executive privilege.

More serious is a threatening deadlock over the enactment of a $122 billion spending bill that includes funds for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. There, Congress holds the trump card, with its control over appropriations, and is brandishing it by demanding some commitment on the withdrawal of US troops within a specified period.

In an effort to win US public opinion, the administration has taken the unusual step of sending a GOP congressional delegation to lobby from Baghdad, spreading word of improving conditions. Last weekend, Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, and Reps Mike Pence and Rick Renzi visited Baghdad and gave a news conference from deep inside the well-protected Green Zone.

Senator McCain talked of a "very cautious optimism," but when he said that there were areas of Baghdad where one can walk freely, one Iraqi journalist asked, "Yeah, and which area would that be?" Later, it came out that extraordinary security measures had been taken while the Americans were there. There were helicopters flying overhead and the delegation wore bulletproof vests.

When Bush grows weary of the continuing crisis, he can always ask Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for the latest from her Middle East trip last week. She got Israelis and Palestinians to agree to meet every fortnight. Not much, but there isn't much better to show for US peacekeeping efforts in the Middle East.

Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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