Bush Back in Spotlight as Presidents Honor Him at Library Dedication

BY Christina Bellantoni and Katelyn Polantz  April 25, 2013 at 9:07 AM EDT

George W. Bush Presidential CenterThe George W. Bush Presidential Center will be dedicated Thursday. Photo by the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

The Morning Line

Legacies are tricky business.

A new CNN poll released late Wednesday found support for former President George W. Bush on the rise.

As the George W. Bush Presidential Center is dedicated Thursday morning at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and with President Barack Obama and all of the living former presidents expected to attend and honor the 43rd commander in chief, Americans are viewing Bush more favorably.

CNN explains:

Fifty-five percent of those questioned say Mr. Bush’s presidency was a failure, down 13 percentage points since a CNN poll conducted in January, 2009, during his final days in office. Forty-two percent now say Mr. Bush’s presidency was a success, up 11 points from when he left the White House.

The survey showed eight in 10 Republicans say Bush’s two terms were a success, compared with 43 percent of independents and 13 percent of Democrats. Bush’s approval was just 31 percent when he left office in January 2009.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll showed many Americans see the wartime leader with rosier glasses than when he left office. Bush’s approval rating rose to 47 percent, placing him equal to Mr. Obama’s current approval rating.

At a fundraiser in Texas Wednesday night, Mr. Obama offered a little preview of his dedication remarks and kind words for his predecessor.

“The Democratic Party doesn’t always get it right and this is not a feeling that is unique to Democrats,” Mr. Obama said, according to a pool report. “I’m really looking forward to attending the Bush library opening tomorrow. One of the things I will insist upon is whatever our political differences, President Bush loves this country and loves its people and shares that same concern, and was concerned about all people in America, not just those who voted Republican. I think that’s true about him and I think that’s true about most of us.”

And the conversation continues. Over the last week, Team NewsHour has been reporting on how Americans view Bush, and we’re putting the library opening in context.

The opening of the $250 million library and museum sharpens the focus on Bush’s presidential legacy at the same time the country is focused on the first terrorist attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001.

Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post takes the initial stab at revisionism in a column Tuesday:

Only when we see a robotic, cold president like Obama do we remember fondly the tender, tearful love of country Bush often conveyed and the steely anger directed at our enemies. Only when a president completely bollixes up our relationship with both the Palestinians and the Israelis do we recall how warm and productive was our relationship with the Jewish state under Bush and how Israel proved willing to take “risks for peace” under the right circumstances. And only when we see our current president kick our friends and kowtow to our foes can we fully appreciate a president with strong personal bonds with leaders (e.g. Tony Blair) and fierce determination not to appease our foes.

Political scientist Stephen Knott, a professor at the U.S Naval War College, wrote in defense of Bush. He argues in the Post that it’s too soon for historians to discuss his legacy, before the country is able grasp his true impact and fully understand his policy choices.

But others are more skeptical.

The New Jersey Star-Ledger editorial board weighed each of his major policy points, from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to immigration proposals and efforts to fight AIDS, with stark criticism. “Bush was among the worst presidents in our history. His mistakes were enormous, and they haunt us still,” the newspaper wrote in an editorial.

A cohesive judgment on Bush’s policies may have to wait until historians can study behind-the-scenes of his decision making. What did advisers tell him as Hurricane Katrina slammed against the Gulf Coast? Did his national security policies and the newly created Homeland Security thwart attacks after Sept. 11? Will democracy take hold in the Middle East and encourage peaceful leadership transitions?

Despite the kind reception he’ll receive this week in Dallas and his recent uptick in polls, scholars will be forced to wait a decade or more until the library releases his papers.

Huffington Post’s Jon Ward looks closely at the ongoing debate between Bushies over how he’ll be remembered. And the Washington Post rounds up the top five Bush moments.

The NewsHour will have more coverage of the Bush Library and Museum opening all day Thursday. Watch the livestream at ustream.tv/pbsnewshour.

We’re also showcasing our public media partners. KERA in Dallas will live blog the day’s events. It also reported on the rebuilt Situation Room at the library. Watch:

CONTINUING THE FIGHT

Gun control groups are not letting up one week after a major defeat on the Senate floor.

Americans for Responsible Solutions, the gun reform group founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly, has made a $50,000 radio buy against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for his vote against the background checks amendment. They also have been running ads against Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who has suffered in the polls for her vote.

At the same time, the group is airing a radio spot thanking Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for his vote in support of the amendment.

A new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll measured Americans’ anger over the failed gun control legislation. The numbers, with 47 percent of adults disappointed or angry and 39 percent relieved or very happy, are subdued compared with the pre-vote polls showing that about 90 percent of Americans supported expanded background checks for gun purchases.

We recently interviewed Michael Dimock of the Pew Research Center about that 90 percent figure, which gun control advocates often cite.

“Of a host of different kinds of gun control or gun legislation that pollsters have tested, this one stands out in virtually every poll as the most supported,” Dimock said. “Far more support than any restrictions on guns, assault weapons, or bullets, or access to guns in other ways. It tends to get from a polling perspective very bipartisan support. You’ll get well over 80 percent of Republicans, Democrats and Independent saying they support broader background checks for private sales or sales at gun shows. So it seems to be a very broadly endorsed idea.”

The NewsHour will be taking a look the evolution of the gun lobbies — on both sides. Judy Woodruff interviewed Jim and Sarah Brady and NRA President David Keene to get a sense of how each side has seen the issue change over the last few decades. We’ll air that piece soon.

LINE ITEMS

  • House Republicans don’t have enough votes to change the Affordable Care Act. Leadership chose not to bring a vote to the floor Wednesday, The Hill reported. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has tapped a new communications expert to spearhead public outreach on the president’s signature legislative achievement, and lawmakers are exploring ways to get an exemption from participating in the plan’s exchanges.
  • Republican senators are skeptical about the drones that the Environmental Protection Agency uses to search for pollution and survey animal feedlots.
  • Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli hopes to remove himself from the felony embezzlement case against the former chef at the governor’s mansion, whose lawyers late Wednesday objected to Cuccinelli’s efforts to withdraw from the case.
  • New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Wednesday that residents can now recycle hard plastics. The Wall Street Journal reports, “The change will send 50,000 tons of plastic that the city generates each year to recycling plants instead of landfills and save New York $600,000 annually in export costs for such refuse.”
  • The Council for American Job Growth, funded by the FWD.us group founded by Mark Zuckerberg, will run this ad thanking Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska.
  • The Washington Post profiles former Florida GOP Gov. Jeb Bush’s “lifetime of intimate proximity” to Hispanic immigrants, including a dear family employee who was deported.
  • Strange bedfellows? Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., will co-headline New Hampshire’s GOP Unity Dinner on May 20. And before speaking at an Iowa fundraiser on May 10, Paul is giving interviews with the Des Moines Register.
  • It’s exceedingly difficult for Alaska law enforcement officials to write you a parking ticket and win, because they need to hand it to you in person.
  • Wouldn’t have wanted to get too close to this elephant in the room, who’s apprently really good at taking pictures with GOP politicians.
  • If you commute into D.C. on a Virginia Railway Express train, be careful if you cut across the tracks at Burke Centre Station.
  • Another day, another Anthony Weiner story. He told a news station: “If reporters want to go try to find more, I can’t say that they’re not going to be able to find another picture, or find another … person who may want to come out on their own. But I’m not going to contribute to that.”
  • Say so long to “penmanship.” Washington state laws will now use gender-neutral language.
  • This diagram from Foreign Policy maps the various levels of the government’s terror watch list and explains where Tamerlan Tsarnaev had landed.
  • Know a terrific state-based political reporter? Let Chris Cillizza know. Christina’s nomination: Chelyen Davis with the Freelance Star in Fredericksburg, Va.
  • Neda Semnani at Heard on the Hill unravels the boom in hookup culture at airports, prompted by — you guessed it — sequestration.
  • Three years of the sun, in three minutes of awesome.
  • Members of Congress, set in great American novels, courtesy of Roll Call’s Abby Livingston.
  • It’s time for you to watch “The rent is too damn high,” the rap.
  • The White House Correspondents’ Dinner is this weekend, so The Week celebrates the “nerdgasm.”
  • “What we’ve said to the girls is, ‘If you guys ever decided you’re going to get a tattoo, then mommy and me will get the exact same tattoo in the same place. And we’ll go on YouTube and show it off as a family tattoo,” Mr. Obama said on NBC’s “Today” show Wednesday. “And our thinking is that might dissuade them from thinking that somehow that’s a good way to rebel.”
  • A Senate staffer proposal via Twitter? Basically adorable.

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • Gwen Ifill interviewed Kimberly Kindy of The Washington Post and Marilyn Thompson of Reuters about strange twists in the ricin letters investigation, including the conflict between a karate teacher and an Elvis impersonator. Thompson, who wrote a book about the anthrax attacks, said there is a lot of pressure on authorities to swiftly name a suspect given that politicians are involved.

Watch here or below.

TOP TWEETS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Politics desk assistant Simone Pathe and Joshua Barajas contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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