Wed, Oct 25, 2006 - Page 9 News List

The Bush administration is bracing for loss of Congress

The White House traditionally loses seats in midterm congressional races, but the loss of either house next month could hasten Bush's descent into a lame-duck presidency


The White House is bracing for guerrilla warfare on the homefront politically if Republicans in upcoming elections lose control of the US Congress -- and with it, the president's ability to shape and dominate the national agenda.

Republicans are battling to keep their majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

But polls and analysts in both parties increasingly suggest Democrats will capture the House and possibly the Senate on Election Day Nov. 7.

Democrats need a 15-seat pickup to regain the House and a gain of six seats to claim the Senate.

Everything could change overnight for President George W. Bush, who has governed for most of the past six years with a Republican Congress and with little support from Democrats.

"Every session you change the way you do business with the Congress. And you test the mood of the Congress, find out what their appetite will be. But it doesn't change your priorities," the president told ABC News.

Former president Bill Clinton had to deal with the Democrats' loss of control of Congress in 1994. But Clinton had something Bush does not: six more years to regain his footing.

Bush has barely over two years left. The loss of either house in voting next month could hasten Bush's descent into a lame-duck presidency.

"If he loses one house here, President Bush will enter the last two years very wounded," said David Gergen, a former White House adviser who served in the administrations of presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and Clinton.

"He will have the capacity to say no to Democratic legislation, but he won't have the capacity to say yes to his own legislation," said Gergen, who teaches at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

Democratic victories essentially could block Bush's remaining agenda and usher in a period of intense partisan bickering over nearly every measure to come before Congress.

Loss of either chamber also could subject his administration to endless congressional inquiries and investigations.

The president and his chief political strategist, Karl Rove, last week expressed renewed confidence of retaining both House and Senate; others are not so upbeat.

"All of our numbers look pretty bad and there's no question that there's a jet stream in our face," said House Majority Leader John Boehner, a Republican.

Furthermore, some of Bush's fighting in the trenches is likely to be with fellow Republicans as they seek to find a new standard bearer for 2008 -- and distance themselves from an unpopular war, the unpopular president who waged it, and congressional scandals that include former Republican representative Mark Foley's inappropriate e-mails to teenage assistants in the House.

"There's no question that the Republican coalition is stressed over the way Washington has been handling fiscal matters, the Foley affair, the Iraq war," Republican consultant Scott Reed said. "All of these are coming together at the same time."

Already, Republicans are showing divisions on Iraq policy.

Fresh skepticism has come from Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner; Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, from Bush's state of Texas; and former secretary of state James Baker, a longtime Bush family loyalist.

If Republicans lose their majorities, it will be that much harder for Bush to hold together already splintering party cohesion on Iraq.

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