Robert Novak

To demonstrate their irritation and signify they have no fear of retaliation by Bush, House Republicans last week defied the president on two heavily lobbied issues. At the same time the White House was indicating the president would sign any Medicare bill, his supporters took the anti-Bush side on two popular questions.

The veto threat and leaks that Michael Powell might resign as FCC chairman if he is overruled by Congress reflected failure to perceive genuine grass roots opposition to further concentration of radio and television stations. The White House never had a chance to win, but slender support on the House floor astounded veteran Congress-watchers. The rejection of their president and the possible loss of the highly esteemed Powell did not seem to bother House Republicans.

The drug re-importation issue provided another indication of a politically tone-deaf White House. After this column reported how emotional hostility to the drug makers pointed to their defeat in the House, pharmaceutical lobbyists assured me they had votes to spare and Bush operatives predicted victory. "I was not sent here by drug companies," Republican Rep. Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri, a sponsor of re-importation, told the House. But Emerson, normally a regular Republican, was bucking the White House as well as the pharmaceutical interests.

With the quiet days of August preceding the early start of the presidential campaign, this might be a good time for the president's team to engage in a little self-analysis and even self-criticism. On the contrary, indications from the White House suggest that last week's defeats were considered relatively unimportant and of no great concern. Arrogance is a difficult trait to correct.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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