Bush's big passion

Robert Novak
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Posted: Jan 30, 2005 12:00 AM

 WASHINGTON -- In contrast to the blase attitude among many Republican movers and shakers, George W. Bush is described by political associates as energized about Social Security reform to a degree not matched on any other domestic issue.

 President Bush sometimes backs away from issues under fire, but adding personal accounts to the Social Security system is not one of them. He was on record in support for personal accounts preceding his tenure as governor of Texas.

 In contrast, politically influential Republican lobbyists could hardly care less about Social Security -- an issue that does not benefit their clients. The lobbyists are vastly more enthusiastic about tort reform on the Bush second-term agenda.

FRETTING OVER FRIST

 Irritation by the House Republican leadership with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist was heightened when he decided to skip the beginning of the joint Senate-House Republican retreat at The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., late this past week in order to attend the annual World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland.

 House Speaker Dennis Hastert had hoped that he and Frist could confer on legislative strategy at Greenbrier and was stunned when the Senate leader said that instead, he was off to Switzerland. The Davos diversion prevented a three-way meeting at The Greenbrier between Hastert, Frist and President Bush. Frist arrived at the resort hours after Bush finished his speech.

 Three weeks ago, House Republicans were vexed with Frist because he was not around for the disputed vote affirming the 2004 presidential electoral vote, instead going to the Indian Ocean on a medical mission to care for tsunami victims.

LESS MODERATE BAYH

 Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, feared by Republicans as a dangerously moderate presidential candidate for the Democrats in 2008, surprised colleagues by joining 12 left-of-center senators in voting against confirmation of Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state.

 In declaring his opposition to Rice's confirmation, Bayh told the Senate Tuesday: "I believe she has been a principal architect of policy errors that have tragically undermined our prospects for success in this endeavor [the military operation in Iraq]." Bayh's statement follows support for Bush's Iraq policy during his re-election campaign last year.

 While President Bush easily carried Indiana and the state returned to Republican control of its government, Bayh won his second Senate term in a landslide. His appeal to Republican voters, however, makes him suspect to the Left. Bayh's vote against Rice could help with the liberal Democrats, whose support is needed for the party's presidential nomination.

AFFIRMING RUMSFELD

 Any chance for real bipartisan pressure to force out Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense vanished when Sen. Richard Lugar, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that a change could be "disruptive."

 Earlier, Chairman John Warner of the Armed Services Committee took the same position. Support from chairmen of the Senate's two national security committees outweighs senatorial calls for Rumsfeld's departure. Their backing is particularly important because both Lugar and Warner in private have expressed irritation with Rumsfeld's style.

 A footnote: At last Saturday's annual dinner of The Alfalfa Club, Lugar probably ended all speculation about whether he will run for re-election in Indiana next year. His guest at the dinner was Cincinnati investment banker Mercer Reynolds, President Bush's chief fund-raiser who is raising money to elect Lugar to a sixth term.

OSCAR POLITICS

 The conservative CitizensUnited.org plans to greet Hollywood celebrities entering the Academy Awards Feb. 27 with posters saying: "W. still president. Thank you Hollywood."

 The Hollywood figures the conservatives are "thanking" are headed by Michael Moore, the left-wing filmmaker who produced the anti-Bush "Fahrenheit 9/11." His photo is included on the poster along with pictures of Sean Penn, Chevy Chase, Barbra Streisand, Ben Affleck and Whoopi Goldberg -- all supporters of John Kerry for president.

 Many Republicans believe George W. Bush was really helped by opposition from Hollywood stars and Moore.