President Bush came under fire from angry Republicans Friday for his failed policies on Irag, health care, immigration and other hot-button issues in a closed meeting meant to rally party shell-shocked members for this year’s congressional elections.
Some went so far as to call Bush an "embarrassment" to the party and the nation and grumbled that the party would stand a better chance in the November mid-term elections if he were not President, although none went so far as to suggest he be impeached…at least not yet.
"It became evident in the meeting that a growing number of Republican members of Congress feel the President is no longer an asset to the party," says one GOP congressman who asked not to be identified.
Scandal-rocked Republicans in the House of Representatives claimed publicly Bush drew an ovation when he defended his program to eavesdrop without court warrants on Americans with suspected terrorist ties, a program that has been questioned by both Democrats and some Republicans.
But sources in the meeting, who asked not to be named as the meeting was formally closed, said lawmakers, anxious over polls showing waning faith in them and the president, called the President to task for his growing list of failures.
Many members of the president’s party have voiced concerns about the $2.77 trillion federal budget that Bush proposed this week, which would boost defense spending but bring cuts in 141 domestic programs, from veterans health care to housing.
Others raised questions about Bush’s domestic-spying program, saying his refusal to follow the law on allowing the National Security Agency to wiretap Americans will hurt the party in the upcoming mid-term elections.
While some Republicans tried to put a brave face on what was often a contentious meeting with the leader of their party, many admitted privately that most in the room showed displeasure with Bush and openly questioned both his commitment to the party and the American people.
In brief opening remarks, which were public, Bush cited what he said had been major House accomplishments in 2006, including passage of bills on energy, bankruptcy, immigration and the anti-terrorism USA Patriot Act.
"And we’re ready to lead again," Bush told the second day of a three-day meeting of House Republicans in Cambridge, Md., a two-hour bus ride from Washington. "We don’t fear the future because we’re going to shape the future."
Many senior lawmakers have been drawn into an investigation of powerful Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who last month pleaded guilty to fraud and agreed to cooperate with investigators.
One Republican said Bush defended the new Medicare prescription drug program, whose introduction has drawn enormous criticism, saying, "When you enroll 26 million people into program in 30 days, there are going to be some glitches."
Many political analysts say public dissatisfaction over the ethics scandal, the Iraq war and other issues including health care, threatens the party’s control of the House, which it has held since 1995.
Bush shrugged off the importance of opinion polls. One attendee at the meeting said he drew laughter by joking: "If I watched the poll numbers every day, I’d be lying in the fetal position. It wouldn’t be a pretty sight." Bush said he acted on the basis of what he believes is right, not polls.
Bush again asserted that the domestic surveillance program was legal, and he drew support from House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who told reporters, "There are adequate protections."
"If somebody in this country, whether he is a foreign national or a citizen, is talking to al Qaeda somebody ought to know about it and know why it is happening," Hastert said.
House Republicans described their retreat as a chance to regroup and discuss their emerging legislative agenda, which they say will include lobbying and ethics reform.
The retreat was to end on Saturday after members and staff attend a seminar on the House’s ethics rules. "I think it’ll help ensure that members and staff live up to those rules," said House Majority Leader John Boehner of Ohio.
Boehner was elected House majority leader last week, replacing Rep. Tom DeLay, who was forced to step down from the leadership post last year after being indicted in his home state of Texas on campaign-related felony charges.