WASHINGTON -- When the final draft of his Monday speech about global warming on the eve of his presidential visit to Europe was presented to George W. Bush, he could barely believe his eyes. It contained specific -- and huge -- commitments of U.S. money. At the eleventh hour, the president had all reference to dollars stricken.
That was only the final step in the toning down of President Bush's message to the Europeans about climate change. According to administration sources, the text was changed considerably, in substance as well as money, over the span of a week.
The good news for Bush's core constituency is that he had the wit and courage to correct a policy running out of control. The bad news, said one high-ranking official, is "the president is not being well served when he is forced to correct the final decision."
Intense secrecy inside the Bush administration and blanket denials that there are no disagreements cannot hide the truth. For weeks, a contingent of greens inside the administration has been pressing the president to look more and more like Al Gore. Bush has been forced to fight his own advisers in order to maintain his rejection of the Kyoto treaty and his call for more science to determine the true causes of climate change.
The last such encounter was over substantial government spending to combat global warming, proposed in his Monday speech. According to administration sources, Deputy National Security Adviser Gary Edson inserted the money figures on his own initiative. A veteran of the Reagan and first Bush administrations, Edson, under the new president, has established himself as a formidable bureaucratic infighter and a leading proponent of a forward position on global warming.
His ally has been John Bridgeland, deputy domestic policy adviser in the White House, who has coordinated the task force on global warming. In private meetings, Bridgeland has argued that giant industrial concerns are enthusiastic about plans to voluntarily reduce carbon dioxide emissions in tacit fulfillment of the Kyoto accord.
Edson and Bridgeland are not alone as middle-level staffers confronting solid opposition from on high. Environmental Protection Administrator Christie Whitman has pressed for control of CO2 emissions from her first day in office, and she is supported by Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill (called "Mr. Global Warming" by dismissive congressional conservatives) and Bridgeland's boss, domestic policy chief Josh Bolten.
Behind closed doors of the task force, they urged Bush to embrace the global warmers and come out for caps on CO2 emissions. An e-mail floating around the capital last week listed a proposed schedule that would finally eliminate these emissions by the year 2050. White House aides, with some passion, denounced this report as a fantasy. However, other administration officials contend that at one point, a draft of the president's speech did call for voluntary CO2 emission controls as the message he would carry to Europe.
The Bush greens ultimately failed. In task force meetings so restricted that the senior staffers of Cabinet members were not permitted to attend, the CO2 caps were removed after considerable debate. That retained the president's renouncing of the Kyoto accord, contending that its emission targets are "arbitrary and not based on science."
Such was the set policy when Bush discovered the generous expenditures of money that had been slipped into the speech and called for help from top adviser Karen Hughes to make a quick rewrite. Thus, just as the conventional wisdom in Washington had the president turning tail on climate change, he kept to his longtime position that more scientific inquiry is needed.
It was not easy. The nearly leak-proof Bush White House has kept the internal debate secret. But it also has limited the contributions from congressional specialists on climate change such as Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho, chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee.
In his 21st year as a member of Congress, Craig has some procedural advice for the new president. "I do not know why they don't have a designated official who could help form a clear policy (on climate change)," Craig told me. That might save the president the burden of editing major policy speeches at the eleventh hour.