A Monitor luncheon with Karl Rove

Excerpts from a Monitor event on the possibility of new federal restrictions on abortion.

Karl Rove is President Bush's senior policy adviser, and one of the most influential and powerful people in Washington. He was the guest at a late afternoon Monitor-sponsored event in Washington for newspaper and magazine reporters.

On what will be in the president's State of the Union address next week:

"I think you will see the president in the State of the Union address attempt to both highlight the important international points that face the country and at the same time lay out a pretty robust domestic agenda because he believes the country has a necessity of confronting great challenges abroad at the same time it confronts different but none the less big challenges at home.

You have heard him talk about some of the domestic challenges so far - growing the economy, he talked about part of the health initiative, you will see a larger part of that. I don't think you will see this be a definitive speech on Iraq."

On how he would describe his "unique" service to the president:

"I am not sure I provide a unique service to the president. I am one voice among many around the senior staff table in the morning and one voice among a number that he hears from. I am not certain there is any uniqueness at all to it.

I do think that most of what passes for coverage of my role tends to exaggerate it. I think the town can only operate successfully through myth and one of the great myths is that there has to be some Svengali-like person sitting in the White House.... I repeat, this town operates in an odd fashion, and I think it operates on the basis of things that have to be, though they really aren't."

On what he thinks the administration has to deliver to the anti-abortion constituency:

"I think the practical and the possible is a ban on a particularly gruesome procedure, partial-birth abortion, and I think there is a strong desire certainly among House Republicans, and I think among many in the Senate, to deal with cloning. I think those are the immediate tasks at hand and we would do well to achieve them."

On whether he is concerned about how that abortion stance positions the president for reelection:

"I think in this country whether you are pro-life or pro-choice that there is a desire to find common ground. And I think people on all sides of the issue can find common ground on things like outlawing late-term abortions, particularly partial-birth abortions, involving parents in decisions of teenage daughters, and helping fund alternatives to abortion, such as better adoption services and child-care services. I think that is where we ought to look for progress; in finding things that people, regardless of their feelings on this issue, find common ground.

"The president obviously feels strongly about encouraging and building a culture of life and recognizes that that must be done slowly and steadily and these are important steps along that way."

On how badly the controversy surrounding Trent Lott's resignation hurt the Republican Party:

"I think the party has emerged from this stronger. People have a sense of who this president is and what this party stands for and I think there is a higher comfort level."

On what makes the 2004 election look close to him:

"I think it is natural caution, perhaps. In the aftermath of war, sometimes public attitudes change and people who have successfully prosecuted wars are no longer in office. I think that happened recently in our experience.

"I think the country is narrowly divided... big change in American politics is not a lot of [percentage] points. [Between 1996 and 2000,] the Republican share of the presidential vote went up 7 points. The Democrat share dropped less than a point. The latter was a minor change; the former was a big change in politics.

So, little changes in presidential politics can have big reverberations. But it is going to be a closely fought election."

On his relationship with the president:

"Adviser, senior adviser. We have known each other a long time. Like others, I have his confidence. My job is to give him my advice as best I feel it on subjects that fall inside my area."

On how often the president takes his advice:

"Not as often as you seem to think. His batting average is 1000 percent. Look, I get to have my say like others. Sometimes I am on the side that prevails, sometimes I am not."

On the tax-free dividend proposal being for the little guy:

"Forty-five percent of all the dividend income goes to people with $50,000 or less family incomes. Nearly three quarters of it goes to families with $100,000 or less family income. And nearly half of the income goes to people over the age of 65.

"Not only that, but we want more people to own the country....look, wealth is too important to be left to the wealthy. We want all kinds of people to be able to own America."

On what surprised him about Washington:

"The thing that has surprised me a lot is how much people in this town, the political actors in this town, the policy actors in this town, are governed by past behavior. And how things got sort of in a routine of happening in a certain way and it takes a lot to change that way. That is fine if things are being done in a constructive fashion but it is not very helpful if they are being done in an unconstructive fashion."

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