For one thing, Gonzales' exit signals a witch hunt victory for hardline leftists and the Democratic Party (see Memeorandum's Monday blog round up here). In addition, the administration faces a remaining term on the defense, with little recent legislative momentum and an upcoming presidential election season likely to pull attention away from the White House.
This morning's Wall Street Journal has an analysis of the prospects for the Bush administration's remaining lame-duck agenda:
President Bush's loss of another close, longtime aide closes one particularly messy stage of his second term, but suggests a new one may be opening: the lame-duck phase.
That hardly means Mr. Bush is irrelevant, but it does suggest his means for exerting influence are going to be different -- and perhaps clumsier -- from hereon. Increasingly, it appears he will be preoccupied with three objectives: managing the Iraq war; using presidential vetoes to thwart Democratic plans and spending impulses; and advancing a Republican agenda as best he can through regulatory moves and executive actions that skirt congressional inputOver the past several months, the controversy over Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and his firing of eight U.S. attorneys has impeded parts of Mr. Bush's agenda, notably the effort to expand wiretaps of terror suspects. The attorney general chose to use Congress's August recess period to put a stop to such distractions by ending his embattled term.
Over the past several months, the controversy over Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and his firing of eight U.S. attorneys has impeded parts of Mr. Bush's agenda, notably the effort to expand wiretaps of terror suspects. The attorney general chose to use Congress's August recess period to put a stop to such distractions by ending his embattled term.
his August break, though, marks a broader turning point for the Bush presidency. Since Republicans lost control of Congress in last fall's elections, it has been an uphill struggle for Mr. Bush to move big items on his domestic agenda past an uncooperative legislature, or to shake the shadow of the war in Iraq. By his aides' own admission, those tasks will get even more difficult when Congress returns this fall.
Read the whole thing. The White House discounts the notion of declining influence in the remaining months of office:
A White House spokesman, Tony Fratto, rejected the notion that the administration is losing momentum. "The term 'lame duck' is for dime-store political scientists," he said. "It demonstrates a misunderstanding of the power of the presidency, and a miscalculation of the energy and intentions of this president."
He said the White House has an "aggressive" agenda that will address an overhaul of surveillance laws, the Iraq war, spending, education and free trade, and he pointed to solid support among Republicans in Congress for blocking bad legislation, if necessary through upholding vetoes.
Whether the term "lame duck" has much meaning or not, the administration is certainly a far cry from the early-2005, post-reelection era of robust political capital.
Yet, I do think that given the nature of Congress' slim Democratic majority, and the central role the Iraq war will play over the next 15 months, the president is in a good position to set the debate, thwart the Democrats' big spending agenda, and help position GOP candidates for victories at all levels in November 2008.
Public opinion polls show Congress sustaining less public support than the administration. With additional victories in Iraq (and a reasonably good assessment on the war's progress by General Petraeus in September), the Democrats will be desperate to portray the war as a failure, and Bush can hammer their liberal lawmaking agenda with the veto. The appearance of gridlock will consolidate a "do-nothing" image for the "Pelos-tinians" in Congress, and the administration can shift attention to international diplomacy, and can develop an agenda to rebuild America's moral capital in global politics.