Robert Novak

One Republican who did not watch her words last Wednesday was Washington lawyer Victoria Toensing: "If the president can pardon 12 million illegal immigrants, he can pardon Scooter Libby." Toensing is joining the procession supporting the still unannounced run for president by Fred Thompson, who is unequivocal in his outrage over Libby's fate and asserts he would pardon him. Republican insiders who complain about Bush filling mid-level government vacancies with "children" cite a classic case. The president in September 2005 named Julie L. Myers, then 36 years old, to head U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She has never been confirmed, amid bipartisan agreement that she lacks the five years of management experience required by statute.

Myers is serving on a recess appointment. But 175 Bush nominees for federal offices (including 85 executive positions) were in unconfirmed limbo, until Henry Bonilla -- a seven-term Republican congressman from Texas defeated for re-election in 2006 -- bowed out last week. After two and a half months of inaction by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he figured he never would be confirmed for the important post of U.S. representative to the Organization of American States. The White House, working hard to save Gonzales, did nothing for Bonilla.

The White House is not a happy place for the people working there. Scott Jennings, deputy political director, had expected these final tough years at least would be crowned by his getting the top job. But his minor role in the U.S. attorneys controversy has ruled that out, while he instead has to worry about paying legal bills. Indeed, the need to hire expensive Washington lawyers is an impediment in attracting bright young newcomers to the administration.

What can a lame-duck president fighting an unpopular war -- the fate also of Harry Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson in their closing months -- do about this? Not much, but two possibilities are talked about in Republican circles: let Gonzales go, and pardon Libby. That might drop Bush's approval ratings even lower, but it sure would hearten his base.

Robert Novak

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

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