Monday, May 02, 2005

On Meet The Press, Russert Was No Match for Andrew Card's Spin

Give credit to Bush Administration Chief of Staff Andrew Card.

Speaking to Tim Russert on the May 1 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, Card was asked about an apparent disagreement between President Bush and Vice President Cheney as to whether the administration would support the Senate employing the "nuclear option" to change filibuster rules.

What was Card to do? Support the President or the vice president?

With a series of vague non-answers, he out-witted Russert, while making the administration's point -- that Bush's judicial nominees deserve and "up-and-down vote" from the full Senate -- an impressive eight times in just six answers! Considering Meet the Press is supposed to be a news show, that's an incredible amount of spin.

Card's answers were the equivalent of being asked what the temperature is, and responding with a brief history of the invention of the thermometer. Sadly, Russert proved unable to get Card to admit anything other than the Bush administration's basic spin points.

Let's break the transcript down:

PART ONE: THE APPARENT CONFLICT BETWEEN BUSH AND CHENEY

RUSSERT: Let me turn to filibuster for judicial nominations, the so-called nuclear option, where there would only be 51 votes necessary to stop a filibuster, rather than 60, which has been the history of our country. Vice President Cheney weighed in on this on April 22nd. Let's listen.

(Videotape, April 22, 2005):

CHENEY: If the Senate majority decides to move forward and if the issue is presented to me in my elected office as president of the Senate and presiding officer, I will support bringing those nominations to the floor for an up-or-down vote.

(End videotape)

RUSSERT: Now, Harry Reid, the leader of the Democrats, had this to say. He said that--"Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-NV) suggested that Cheney's comments amounted to a broken promise from Bush. `Last week, I met with the president and was encouraged when he told me he would not become involved in Republican efforts to break the Senate rules,' Reid said in a statement. `Now it appears he was not being honest, and that the White House is encouraging this raw abuse of power.' Reid said his exchange with Bush took place at a regularly scheduled breakfast with congressional leaders."

Did the president promise Harry Reid the White House not be involved in changing the rules on filibusters in the Senate?

RESPONSE ONE: THE NON-ANSWER

CARD: The president said this was a matter for the Senate, and he would like to see all of his nominees have an up-or-down vote on the floor of the Senate. His nominees, like Priscilla Owen, for example, have got a great track record on the bench. They've had outstanding recommendations from the American Bar Association. They deserve to have an up-or-down vote on the floor of the Senate, and that's what the president said he wants to see happen.
You know, for the vast majority of our nation's history, judicial nominees have been able to get an up-or- down vote on the floor of the Senate, and they have not been pushed aside through frivolous filibusters. Now, is the time for the Senate to recognize that these outstanding people that the president has said should be serving on our courts should have an up-or-down vote, and that's all the president's asking for.

***

I bolded the first line because it may be the most telling. Decipher Card's answer and one could conclude that while Bush is against the "nuclear option," he won't do anything to stop it from being implemented. It's similar to how Bush was against the lapsing of the assault weapons ban last year, but didn't do anything to stop it from occurring.

Bush can officially be against the "nuclear option" -- as Reid said, "not become involved" -- then sit back as the Senate Republicans make it happen, and Cheney approves it in his role as president of the Senate. Bush doesn't break his promise to Reid, but he nonetheless gets what he wants.

Russert, the self-described "bulldog" journalist, didn't ask Card whether the above was true, even though -- short of calling Reid a liar -- it's the only logical conclusion that can be drawn.

Instead, the bulldog responded to Card's non-answer with a variation of the first question, as if asking again would lead to a different answer.

PART TWO: RE-STATING THE PROBLEM

RUSSERT: But the vice president was encouraging changing the rules on filibuster. Isn't that breaking the president's word to Harry Reid?

RESPONSE TWO: THE VAGUE, CONFUSED ANSWER

Card, rather than answering the re-stated question -- big surprise -- provided viewers with a lesson from Government 101:

CARD: The vice president is also the president of the Senate. He's the only individual in our great democracy that is part of the legislative branch and the executive branch. He's part of Article I of the United States Senate, and he's part of Article II as vice president of the United States.

RUSSERT: So he wasn't speaking for the president?

CARD: He was speaking as the president of the Senate, and he said if it were presented to him as the president of the Senate, he would rule in such a way to make sure that our nominees had a chance to have an up-or-down vote.

RUSSERT: So the president's against invoking the so-called nuclear option?

CARD: The president is in favor of having judicial nominees be considered by the full floor of the Senate with an up-or-down vote.

***

Card spun brilliantly. By this point in the interview, it would be difficult for viewers to know whether Bush and Cheney disagreed, or whether either was in favor of the "nuclear option." All viewers were hearing from Card was that Bush and Cheney each wanted the various judicial nominees to be considered by the full Senate. Bravo!

Russert, perhaps tiring from his inability to get Card to answer a question, threw a "Hail Mary" ...

PART THREE: THE HYPOCRISY QUESTION

RUSSERT: It was wrong for the Republicans to bottle up President Clinton's nominees in committee and not report them out?

But Card doesn't answer that question, either. In fact, he doesn't even mention Clinton by name or the Democrats by name. It's a whole new level of spin ...

RESPONSE THREE: CHANGE THE SUBJECT

CARD: It is right that nominees that the president submits to the Senate be considered openly and that they should have, I think in all fairness, an up or down vote.

RUSSERT: Whether it's a Democratic president or a Republican president?

CARD: I happen to feel that a president deserves to have his nominees considered in an open floor on the merits and get an up or down vote.

***

The Democrats would learn much by studying this transcript.

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