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Bush facing a swarm of challenges [of his own making]
Hurricane joins war protesters, gas prices, others on headaches list
12:00 AM CDT on Wednesday, August 31, 2005
By DAVID JACKSON / The Dallas Morning News
CRAWFORD, Texas – This hasn't been the most restful August for President Bush, and the rest of the year doesn't figure to be a political picnic either.
The damage from Hurricane Katrina is the latest problem facing the president, whose working vacation featured war protesters camped outside his ranch.
Other challenges awaiting Mr. Bush include Social Security, taxes, stem cells, immigration and a grand jury investigation into the news leak of a CIA operative's name.
All this at a time when Mr. Bush's approval ratings are at a low point, hovering around 40 percent.
"My guess is a lot of it is Iraq and some of it is gasoline prices," said Charles Cook, publisher of a Washington-based political report.
With Congress scheduled to return to Washington next week, political analysts said John Roberts' nomination to the Supreme Court could give the Bush team some political momentum. Mr. Roberts' Senate confirmation hearings start Tuesday.
They also said an effective hurricane response could help, or at least push down Iraq on daily newscasts.
The war dominated coverage of Mr. Bush's recess. Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier slain in Iraq, led the protest vigil, demanding a meeting with Mr. Bush.
The president declined, noting he has spoken with Ms. Sheehan and adding that they disagree about the war.
August also saw the development of a new proposed constitution in Iraq, though government leaders missed their deadline by almost two weeks and many Arab Sunnis opposed the final product.
But Bush aides still described it as progress toward a stable democracy.
An Iraqi referendum on the constitution is set for Oct. 15, though Mr. Bush and aides warned that insurgents might step up their attacks to disrupt the vote.
During a speech Tuesday in San Diego, Mr. Bush repeated his contention than an insurgent victory would mean a terrorist-run Iraq. He then added a new argument: "They'd seize oil fields to fund their ambitions."
The anti-war movement, claiming momentum from its August vigil, plans to follow Mr. Bush to Washington, D.C. It is planning a major march and rally for Sept. 24.
Mr. Bush also faces the prospect of his first presidential veto this fall, over stem cell research.
A number of Senate Republicans have expressed support for an expansion of federally funded research into embryonic stem cells; Mr. Bush has vowed to veto any bill that permits the destruction of human embryos.
Some Republicans have also balked at other Bush initiatives, including a revamping of Social Security and an immigration bill that includes guest worker provisions.
There is also GOP nervousness about the U.S. death toll in Iraq.
The administration and its critics also await the outcome of a grand jury investigation. It focuses on the publication of the name of a former undercover CIA agent, the wife of a Bush critic. White House officials deny wrongdoing over the disclosure.
Karlyn Bowman, who analyzes polling data for the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, said "the numbers certainly don't look good right now" for Mr. Bush, but he can reverse course if progress can be seen in the Middle East.
"Iraq is the story," Ms. Bowman said. "All the other issues are secondary."