Sunday, July 24, 2005

McCain on "This Week": Notes and Review

"This Week" began this morning with some reports on the Egypt bombings; Stephanopoulos asked McCain how we can stop similar attacks. The senator took almost the same tack I did yesterday, admitting that he doesn't know how to stop them. But, he said, part of it was "going where they're bred."

Steph asked if that meant we should pressure Pakistan more, and McCain said that would "probably be a good thing to do," but added that Musharaff is "probably doing about as well as he can." He made the obvious (and rather frightening) point that should Musharaff's government fall, its replacement might be very much worse, and concluded by saying that because we have to take on the terrorists "where they're bred," "that's why our failing in Iraq now is not an option." I was surprised to hear the next sentence, which was "You could argue that Iraq under Saddam Hussein was not a hotbed for terrorists, but we know they're there now" and we have to deal with them.

As for domestic security, McCain said he thought the success at stopping another attack here has been through a "combination of hard work and good luck." He mentioned several areas (rail, port security) where work remains to be done, but added "we have done alot of good things." He expressed support for Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and his efforts.

Steph then turned to the Roberts nomination, and asked if the nominee should have to answer specific questions from senators regarding his views on abortion and other issues. McCain took the "I don't think so" line, saying that would be "not proper" for Roberts to answer specific questions that would seem to pre-judge cases coming before the Court in the future. He offered as precedents the Ginsburg and Breyer nominations from the early 1990s, but noted that this question over questions "is going to be the next big argument."

Another upcoming argument, as Steph asked about, is the question of whether the White House should turn over all documents from Roberts' tenure as deputy solicitor general under the first Bush administration. McCain said that he thought there were "certain documents relating to Roberts' work" that would be out of bounds because their release would violate attorney-client privilege and have a "chilling effect" on discussions within an Administration. I'm not at all sure what the precedent is on this (and will be doing some checking on that front), but McCain differentiated between these documents and those demanded of former appeals court nominee Miguel Estrada and John Bolton. More on this to come, no doubt.

McCain was asked if he thought Bush should nominate a woman to the Court if another vacancy occurs: he said it's "clear that we need women on the Supreme Court ... yes, I'd like to see a woman appointed."

Steph then turned to the Rove mess for the rest of the interview, asking McCain the same questions that are being asked by just about everybody these days. McCain started right off by saying that he wasn't going to pre-judge the investigation, and that "I think everyone has the presumption of innocence until proven guilty." He said there was much that he doesn't understand about what's going on in this case, including why Judy Miller is in jail and where exactly the prosecutor is headed ... the same things that all of the rest of us don't understand.

After a question over whether Bush has "moved the goalposts" by not firing Rove already, McCain said something that will probably inflame many on the left (I can already hear their arguments, saying McCain is being a toady for the Bush Administration and so forth). He spoke of his "trust" for Bush, and noted that the "highest quotient he [Bush] has with the American people right now is his trust and honesty," and that he will "do the right thing."

On its face, this seems like a typical GOP-talking-points-style statement. But I think what he's saying here is implicitly very bad for the White House. Yes it's true, we don't normally have to read between the lines with McCain, and I'm not entirely sure (just yet) what purpose his coyness here serves. But he is clearly drawing a line by noting that Bush's "trust and honesty" with the American people are on the line here. As I commented on another site yesterday, if Bush wants to keep Rove around and let the press harp on poor Scott McClellan about it day after day, that's his prerogative. If the Administration wants to continue having its agenda moved off the front page every day with new information about the leak investigation, that's their choice. I think what McCain is saying here, albeit without his usual level of forthrightness - for reasons that are not clear - is that this is Bush's choice to make, and that his reputation and legacy are on the line and he needs to act very carefully (i.e. keeping Rove around may be doing immense amounts of damage ... hint hint).

As regular readers know, I haven't written about the Rove matter in a week (since here). Just as I don't agree that everyone should pre-judge Roberts before the hearings, I don't believe we know enough of the facts about Rove to pre-judge that case either. While McCain is going to take massive amounts of flak from the left for his statements on the matter, I can't personally find anything wrong with them. It's easy to say Rove acted improperly, if not quite illegally, based on the news reports we've seen ... but I also think there's a great deal more to this story that we don't know about yet, and I am going to hold off on making any concrete judgments until all the facts come out, as I wish everyone would do.

One thing is clear: this story is sucking the oxygen out of other very important matters. I'm not sure exactly how much of McCain's interview was taken up with Rove, but it had to be something on the order of a quarter or a third of the discussion. I was really looking forward to hearing McCain discuss the measures he's planning to propose this week to govern treatment and interrogation of detainees (posts on that here and here). It would have been interesting to see how he responded to the "arm-twisting" he got from Dick Cheney last week trying to get him (and Warner and Graham) to drop their proposed amendments. But that didn't get discussed today. And that's unfortunate.


At 10:41 AM, Anonymous PerryStevens said...

I believe McCain is setting himself up for a scenery-chewing fit of outrage when indictments come down (or if it becomes clear Bush knew that Rove and Libby were the source of the leaks all along). McCain can only benefit from being loyal now. That way, when it explodes in a big way, he can be the wounded, betrayed good soldier and pick up the pieces for the Republicans.

At 10:43 AM, Blogger JBD said...

Bingo :-)

At 11:09 AM, Anonymous Charles Amico said...

I too was waiting for the question on the Cheney arm-twisting and was disgusted when it wasn't asked. Leave it to Bloggers to be focused because the media surely isn't. I wrote a piece yesterday on the betrayal of the media and how they have soft ball questioning of this Administations maybe because they fear their reach. and just maybe that's one not mentioned reason why Miller is in jail and not revealing her source. What if it was Cheney directly?


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