CNN "surpris[ed]" at Dem reaction to Bush's "conciliatory" tone, effort to "press the reset button"

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

On CNN's The Situation Room, Wolf Blitzer noted that Harry Reid took "a new jab at President Bush on Iraq, despite [Bush's] talk of bipartisanship," while Suzanne Malveaux uncritically reported that Bush "vow[ed] several times not only to work with Republicans, but Democrats as well" and John King asserted that the Democratic reaction to Bush' press conference was "surprising." These statements ignored reports -- including those by King and Jeff Greenfield on the same edition of The Situation Room -- that undermine the credibility of Bush's pledge of bipartisanship.

On the December 20 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer said that incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) took "a new jab at President Bush on Iraq, despite [Bush's] talk of bipartisanship" at Bush's December 20 press conference. Similarly, chief national correspondent John King asserted that the Democratic reaction to the press conference was "surprising" shortly after reporting that "[w]ith Democrats poised to take control of Congress, the president sounds more conciliatory and promises bipartisanship," and White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux uncritically reported that Bush "vow[ed] several times not only to work with Republicans, but Democrats as well, to come up with some sort of Iraq policy that is successful" and characterized the press conference as "a chance for the president to press the reset button."

Reporting that Bush "vow[ed]" to "work with Republicans [and] Democrats," Malveaux left out the fact, as reported by King moments later, that Bush "rejects Democratic calls for a timeline to bring troops home." As Media Matters noted, Blitzer also asserted that that Bush is "weighing the options" for achieving stability in Iraq and that "Democrats are welcome to weigh in as well" despite King's reporting.

As Media Matters also noted, Blitzer later said that Bush "offered an olive branch to Democrats" because Bush "said he supports a minimum wage hike, and he's open to compromise over Social Security and immigration reform." However, Bush's minimum wage plan linked a $2.10 increase to proposed tax cuts, which as a December 21 Washington Post article noted, Democrats do not support.

On the same edition of The Situation Room, CNN senior political analyst Jeff Greenfield gave an additional reason for skepticism at Bush's "olive branch" to Democrats. Greenfield reported that President Bush has been far more partisan than his father: While Congress under President George H.W. Bush was "solidly in Democratic hands ... [t]his George Bush had Republican majorities, narrow though they were, for most of his first six years. So on key bills like the prescription drug plan, he prevailed because of strong party discipline. And, particularly in the House of Representatives, bipartisan cooperation was rarely a factor."

Bush similarly talked about bipartisanship and conciliation shortly after the 2006 congressional election in November, but as Media Matters noted, he was simultaneously taking action characterized by a New York Times article as "provocative." A November 16 New York Times article noted that four of the six judicial nominees Bush renominated after the election drew opposition from congressional Democrats.

Furthermore, according to a December 21 Washington Post article on Bush's December 20 press conference, an unnamed Bush aide has essentially acknowledged that Bush's consistent statements that he deferred to the generals in setting troop levels in Iraq were lies. A recent example of Bush saying that the generals set troop levels occurred on October 25 when Bush told reporters, "I will send more troops to Iraq if General Casey says, 'I need more troops in Iraq to achieve victory.' " However, according to the Post article, although "Bush has traditionally paid public deference to the generals, saying any decisions on moving U.S. forces in the region would depend on their views," an unnamed Bush aide said that Bush has "never left the decision to commanders." In essence, CNN journalists characterized Bush's press conference as a chance to wipe the slate clean -- "press the reset button," in Malveaux's words -- and questioned the Democrats' reaction to Bush's claims to welcome their input on Iraq on the same day that an administration official acknowledged that Bush's claims over the past 3 1/2 years to defer to his generals were false. Given that Bush has apparently been misrepresenting the degree to which he considered the generals' input on troop levels, will those same CNN journalists cast a more skeptical light on Bush's claims to welcoming input from Democrats -- or that of anyone who has criticized his policy on Iraq?

From the 4 p.m. ET segment of the December 20 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

MALVEAUX: Well, Wolf, really, the final news conference is a chance for the president to press the reset button, to give his New Year's resolution, if you will. The president vowing several times not only to work with Republicans but Democrats as well to come up with some sort of Iraq policy that is successful, but also one that the American people can get behind. Now, we heard the president earlier today saying all options are still on the table, including sending more U.S. troops. That is an unpopular prospect among the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But apparently, he is already laying the groundwork -- the president calling to expand the armed forces overall. And that is a move -- very significant, here -- that flies in the face of his departing secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, who had advocated for a leaner fighting force.

[...]

BLITZER: Meantime, the top Senate Democrat is taking a new jab at President Bush on Iraq, despite his talk of bipartisanship during his news conference.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid issued a statement saying: "It's heartening to see that President Bush has reversed his position, rejected the failed Rumsfeld doctrine, and heeded Democratic calls to increase the size of the military." Reid goes on to say, quote, "Unfortunately, it is troubling to see that he still does not understand the need for urgent change in Iraq."

[...]

KING: With Democrats poised to take control of Congress, the president sounds more conciliatory and promises bipartisanship. But he rejects Democratic calls for a timeline to bring troops home. And as he considers sending even more troops into Iraq, Mr. Bush seems mindful of the legacy debate.

BUSH: The true history of any administration is not going to be written until long after the person is gone. And it's just impossible for short-term history to accurately reflect what has taken place.

KING: Not so impossible, though, to reflect on this year.

BUSH: 2006 was a difficult year for our troops and the Iraqi people.

KING: A difficult year for President Bush as well, Wolf. And one of the surprising things today was that you saw the Democratic statements after the news conference. The president's not ready to say yet what he's going to do in Iraq. And, so, until then, the Democrats are going to continue to say his policy is a failure and that this president is not getting the message of the elections.

[...]

GREENFIELD: Of course, the first George Bush didn't have much choice. Congress was solidly in Democratic hands for his entire four years. By contrast, Ronald Reagan had a Republican Senate for six years and enough conservative Democrats in the House to let him form an ideological majority.

This George Bush had Republican majorities, narrow though they were, for most of his first six years. So on key bills like the prescription drug plan, he prevailed because of strong party discipline. And, particularly in the House of Representatives, bipartisan cooperation was rarely a factor.

Network/Outlet
CNN
Person
John King, Suzanne Malveaux, Wolf Blitzer
Show/Publication
The Situation Room
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