Thu, May 11, 2006 - Page 9 News List

Bush loses trust of Rebublicans on Capitol Hill

By Tom Raum  /  AP , WASHINGTON

Once again, US President George W. Bush may have misjudged the extent of Republican resistance to one of his decisions. His nomination of a four-star general to serve as CIA director has drawn complaints from Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike.

The administration's shake-up, under way since late March, was expected to improve White House dealings with Congress. Yet Bush's selection of Air Force General Michael Hayden to head the troubled spy agency, three days after he announced the resignation of Porter Goss, seems to have caught some top Republicans by surprise.

That includes Representative Pete Hoekstra, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who said Hayden "is the wrong person at the wrong place at the wrong time."

"We need intelligence reform but I think this is such a fundamental step, where we're going to have every single major intelligence agency under the control of the military, I felt I have to stand up and say I can't go that way," Hoekstra said on Tuesday. "We need a balanced perspective in the intelligence community to drive military intelligence and drive civilian intelligence."

Grumbles

Bush defended his choice against such criticism, saying Hayden was "the right man to lead the CIA at this critical moment in our nation's history." And most top Republicans voiced support for the nomination.

But grumbling in some Republican quarters seemed likely to persist, fueled in part by their concern over Bush's declining approval ratings.

Those ratings -- at 33 percent in a recent AP-Ipsos poll, the lowest of his presidency -- have emboldened Republicans to speak out when they don't agree with the president, something that didn't happen during Bush's first term.

Congressional Republicans have been battered by a string of White House woes.

These include the fumbled handling of Hurricane Katrina; unhappiness about Iraq; opposition to the now-abandoned Dubai ports deal; the failed nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court; Bush's inability to achieve the centerpiece of his domestic agenda, an overhaul of Social Security, and the uproar over a secret eavesdropping program in the war on terrorism.

The fact that Hayden oversaw the surveillance program as director of the National Security Agency (NSA) only keeps the controversy alive, with questions over it likely to figure prominently at his Senate confirmation hearings. He headed the NSA from 1999 to last year.

"If he interprets the law as he appears to be interpreting it, I think it's bad for the country to have the chief of intelligence having telephones in the United States monitored without somebody else approving it," said retired Admiral Stansfield Turner, who was CIA chief during the Carter administration.

Otherwise, Turner characterized Hayden as "very qualified and very capable" and said he personally has no problems with giving the civilian job to an active military officer.

Turner was an admiral when he headed the CIA, a fact administration officials pointed to on Monday in defense of Bush's choice.

Still, with public support for the war in Iraq eroding and the Pentagon under Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld moving more and more into intelligence-gathering activities, the naming of an active four-star general raised concerns in Congress and with civil-liberties groups.

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