With dissent over the Iraq war accelerating, Bush has started to make room for critics. In Beijing on Sunday, he eased his administration's sharp language of recent days, which included Vice President Dick Cheney's labeling of war critics as "reprehensible" and White House ripostes to the New York Times and Washington Post editorial pages. Cheney's remark prompted response from within the increasingly restive Republican Party. "People should feel comfortable about expressing their opinions about Iraq," Bush told White House reporters in Beijing. "I heard somebody say, 'Well, maybe so-and-so is not patriotic because they disagree with my position. I totally reject that thought. This is not an issue of who's [a] patriot and who's not patriotic. It's an issue of an honest, open debate about the way forward in Iraq."
The way forward might become less murky after Dec. 15, when Iraqis are scheduled to elect their first full parliament. If the vote proceeds honestly and peacefully, the Bush Administration can claim Iraq has taken a giant step toward political self-sufficiencya precondition, White House officials have said, for battling the increasingly lethal insurrection. The success of elections will have a direct effect on last week's debate: How many U.S. troops should be in Iraq and for how long? Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Fox News Sunday that after the elections, the U.S. hopes to drop troop levels from 160,000 to about 138,000, with a target of 100,000 by the end of 2006. Elsewhere, NBC News' Tim Russert grilled Rep. John Murthathe Pennsylvania Democrat and decorated Vietnam War veteran whose impassioned speech on Iraq sparked Friday's meltdown in the Houseon Rumsfeld's future and whether Bush should find a new Pentagon chief.
Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito nearly slid into Thanksgiving week unnoticed. Hearings, set for Jan. 7, will now draw increased Democratic scrutinyand possibly a confirmation-halting filibusterafter the discovery of a 20-year-old Reagan White House job application documenting his specific political opinions. Colorado Democratic Senator Ken Salazar said Alito's objection to a constitutionally recognized right to abortion could force Democrats to block him. Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) lambasted Alito's position on a landmark 1962 Supreme Court case that made states judicially accountable for drawing accurate voting districts.
The Plame Game
Last week Bob Woodward of the Washington Post shook up the investigation into who compromised the identity of former CIA officer Valerie (Plame) Wilson. Woodward drew attention for withholding from his editor a conversation about Plame he had with an administration official in June 2003, and for publicly marginalizing the investigation's importance as recently as late October. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald empanelled a new grand jury to either revisit charges on former Cheney chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby or perhaps seek new indictments. Karl Rove remains under investigation.
In other Washington legal news, Michael Scanlona partner of former uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and onetime aide to former Republican Majority Leader Rep. Tom DeLaywas indicted on a conspiracy charge. Scanlon is expected to plead guilty and cooperate with prosecutors investigating possible corruption among lobbyists, congressmen and staffers. A legal team for DeLay, himself under indictment in Texas, may try to subpoena former grand jury members to show the Texas prosecutor mishandled his case against DeLay.