In a Wall Street Journal op-ed and on Fox News this morning, former Bush political adviser Karl Rove accused the Obama White House of “ethical problems” in its “hard-nosed push” to “pressure Congress to adopt the president’s budget.” “The degree of direction the White House is exerting over a lobby campaign” is “unprecedented,” claimed Rove, referring to ad campaigns by Americans United for Change and MoveOn.org.
When Fox’s Bill Hemmer asked Rove how this was different from the “contact with outside groups” he had during the Bush administration, Rove replied that “it’s fine to say the White House is focused on getting our message out to these members,” but that it’s another thing to “sit down and coordinate on ad copy.” Watch it:
To support his claim that the White House is coordinating with outside groups in an unprecedented way, Rove asserted that Obama’s deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina, “is [being reported] in the newspapers as going over ad copy.” But according to a Lexis-Nexis search, no such claim has ever been reported. The Chicago Tribune did report last month that Messina “has consulted on strategy,” but a White House official told the paper that this basically consisted of talking “about the president’s priorities to groups.”
Rove participated in similar consultation with outside groups when he worked in the White House. For instance, Time reported in 2001 that Rove regularly dispatched aides to attend “conservative-coalition lunches”:
The courtship grew more intense when Bush and Rove got to the White House. Each Wednesday Rove dispatches a top administration official to attend the regular conservative-coalition lunches held at Paul Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation. When activists call his office with a problem, Rove doesn’t pass them off to an aide. He often responds himself.
Rove was also “known to stop in at” Grover Norquist’s weekly Wednesday meetings, where the conservative coalition coordinated its efforts, often aimed at punishing wayward Republicans. In 2004, Norquist told the Washington Post that consultation with Rove made it so the Bush White House and the conservative movement were “riding parallel” to each other. When Bush pushed Social Security privatization in 2005, Rove held “regular meetings” with outside allies “to make sure everyone is singing from the same hymnal.”
HEMMER: Now, the man who helped run the Bush White House has an eye-opening look today at the pressure tactics behind the current budget on Capitol Hill. Karl Rove says that team Obama is talking daily to far-left political groups like MoveOn.org and Americans United for Change. Those groups then are turning around and launching attack ads against moderate Democrats, their own, and who are questioning parts of the president’s budget and perhaps are not on board entirely. Karl Rove, Fox News contributor and former senior adviser to President Bush, writes it about today in the Wall Street Journal. Good morning to you Karl, from your home state of Texas. And thank you for coming on today.
ROVE: Good morning Bill, how are you?
HEMMER: I’m doing just fine. I just want to get an idea about — you’re in the White House for eight years, why is this such a big deal?
ROVE: Well, because it’s unprecedented the level of control the White House is having over this and the fact that it is aimed so early at the members of the president’s own party. I frankly think there are some ethical problems involved here with the degree of direction the White House is exerting over a lobby campaign. Remember, this involves the senior aides to the president, sitting down with Americans United for Change and MoveOn.org and coordinating their strategy and even in one incident, Jim Messina, deputy chief of staff, is in the newspapers as going over ad copy. And what they’re aimed at, Americans United for Change is running ads in 12 states, a lot of those are aimed at moderate Democrats who are skeptical of the president’s budget. And MoveOn.org is running ads in 10 states and again, mostly aimed at Democrats skeptical of the president’s spending and deficit requests.
HEMMER: Just, would you reflect on the eight years you were at the White House. Did any of this happen then? I mean, certainly, you must have had contact with outside groups. What’s the difference now?
ROVE: We were told…oh sure, sure. We were told explicitly by the White House counsels office, don’t ask them to do anything. Don’t review ad copy. It’s fine to say the White House is focused on getting our message out to these members. But to sit down and coordinate on ad copy. I mean, this started, you know, one of the things they did was they invited all the leadership of these groups, and I assume their donors, into the White House for a social event before this effort began, with the president and first lady. This was conducted by the senior adviser to the president, Valerie Jarrett, and her people. And it was to sort of say, “thanks for agreeing to do all these things we want you to do to help press forward on the president’s budget and, you know, we want to thank you and the president wants to personally thank you by inviting you to the White House.” That’s a level of direction and a specificity of action that is really — if you’re a member of Congress and you’re sitting up on Capitol Hill, and you’re a Democrat who’s skeptical about this. That’s a little worrisome that your president is picking your party, his own part out, for this kind of suasion. In fact, I saw this when President Obama last week at the Democratic House Caucus meeting was quoted by the Associated Press, telling Peter DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon who voted against the stimulus bill. When DeFazio stood up and asked a question, President Obama said to him, “don’t think we aren’t keeping score, brother,” which was a pretty pointed reference to a member of the caucus that “I know you voted against my stimulus package, I’ve remembered it and we’re keeping score.” What exactly are they going to do when they tote up the final tally?
MSNBC’s First Read called Rove’s WSJ op-ed ironic, writing: “Irony watch: Did Karl Rove, in his Wall Street Journal op-ed today, really accuse Obama of, gasp, practicing politics? Really?”