Rove Policy Influence Said To Be Exemplified By Klamath River Decision.
The Wall Street Journal (7/30, Hamburger) reports, “In a darkened conference room, White House political strategist Karl Rove was making an unusual address to 50 top managers at the U.S. Interior Department. Flashing color slides, he spoke of poll results, critical constituencies — and water levels in the Klamath River basin.” The Journal continues, “At the time of the meeting, in January 2002, Mr. Rove had just returned from accompanying President Bush on a trip to Oregon, where they visited with a Republican senator facing re-election.
Three months later, Interior Secretary Gale Norton stood with Sen. Gordon Smith in Klamath Falls and opened the irrigation-system head gates that increased the water supply to 220,000 acres of farmland — a policy shift that continues to stir bitter criticism from environmentalists and Indian tribes. Though Mr. Rove’s clout within the administration often is celebrated, this episode offers a rare window into how he works behind the scenes to get things done.
Over the past two years Mr. Rove or his top aide, Kenneth Mehlman…have visited nearly every agency to outline White House campaign priorities, review polling data and, on occasion, call attention to tight House, Senate and gubernatorial races that could be affected by regulatory action..”
The Journal adds, “Every administration has used cabinet resources to promote its election interests. But some presidential scholars and former federal and White House officials say the systematic presentation of polling data and campaign strategy goes beyond what Mr. Rove’s predecessors have done. ‘We met together and talked a lot about issues of the day, but never in relation to polling results, specific campaigns or the president’s popularity,’ says Lisa Guide, a political appointee at Interior during the Clinton administration. Frank Donatelli, political director in the Reagan White House, says ‘we were circumspect about discussing specific administration rulings that had yet to be made.’
White House spokeswoman Ashley Snee says the agency visits simply were designed to keep political appointees apprised of the president’s accomplishments and priorities.”
The Journal notes, “An Interior spokesman, Mark Pfeifle, says Mr. Rove spoke in general terms about the Klamath conflict in the course of a broader discussion. Without directing a policy outcome, Mr. Pfeifle says, Mr. Rove simply ‘indicated the need to help the basin’s farmers. … A few weeks ago, the federal Bureau of Reclamation in Klamath Falls warned farmers that the department would curtail the irrigation flow.
Irate, Republican Rep. Greg Walden began making calls to protest. His first one went to Mr. Rove’s office. Within hours, the idea was dropped. Interior officials say managers from two cabinet departments agreed on a way to avoid it.”