President George W. Bush
Amid controversies over firing of U.S. attorneys and withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, President Bush is also trying to stay focused on a domestic agenda he laid out in his State of the Union address.
updated 3/27/2007 9:45:14 AM ET 2007-03-27T13:45:14

The attorney general is struggling to keep his job in a standoff with Congress over the purging of U.S. prosecutors. The war spending bill is stuck over whether troops should stay in Iraq, another bit of brinksmanship with lawmakers.

And President Bush is again talking, for two days in a row, about converting switchgrass and wood chips into ethanol.

The president's public schedule has Bush operating in two different worlds of news: the one threatening his administration, and the one he is determined to promote whether anyone is listening or not.

So while Congress challenges Bush on the firings of U.S. attorneys, the president is sticking to energy.

The president's only planned public event Tuesday was a visit to a U.S. Postal Service plant, where he was to stand near vehicles that run on alternative fuels and hail them as a way to reduce reliance on oil. If it sounds familiar, it's because he did something similar Monday at the White House.

He also touted his energy plan on a Midwestern tour of auto plants last Tuesday, which adds up to three times in about a week.

"We want people to know that we're doing a lot on energy, and we think energy is an issue where there's an interest in getting it done on the Hill," said Kevin Sullivan, the White House communications director. "The only way to break through and build some momentum is to do two or three events in a short period of time."

Without newsy developments, the message gets diminishing attention from networks and major newspapers. That's particularly true when it is up against the stories of embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the Iraq war and the 2008 presidential race. Video: Alberto Gonzales on the record

Energy, education, health care and immigration
From the White House perspective, though, there other ways to measure success.

Bush's visits get strong regional coverage, which can influence members of Congress and help give a boost to his legislation. In that sense, how the president spends his time is a message unto itself, a sign of his commitment to an issue.

Plus, pounding one issue increases the chances that people will hear what Bush is saying - even if takes several times to do it.

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"I don't know whether it works, but I don't think they have any choice," said Karlyn Bowman, a public opinion analyst from the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington. "Sticking to your agenda is just the standard rule of what you do, and you do it even more when you're in trouble."

It is not surprising that Bush is spending so much time on energy, Bowman said. The issue affects the lives of gas-guzzling Americans. Politically, it also important to Democrats, which creates an opening for Bush to get something done as his term winds down.

Expect Bush to stay active on the four themes of his State of the Union speech: energy, education, health care and immigration.

Focus on domestic agenda
The events are typically scheduled weeks in advance, which means they are not thrown together to draw attention from the controversy of the day. The White House certainly doesn't mind when that happens, though.

If Bush didn't keep pushing his domestic agenda, his administration says, it would be accused of being paralyzed by distraction.

"You certainly don't want the president just hunkered down in a bunker, besieged with problem after problem," said John Podesta, chief of staff to President Clinton during the impeachment scandal.

Clinton was famous for staying focused on one issue while a crisis raged on another one. He called it compartmentalizing. Unlike Clinton, though, Bush's popularity has sunk with the public because of the war in Iraq and other missteps, Podesta said.

"His agenda is relatively thin, and his job approval on the elements of his agenda is bad," Podesta said. "It's very hard to break through and have much to break through with."

Important differences
Bush's advisers say his agenda is plenty robust to matter to millions of people, if Congress will work with him.

Energy is one example. Bush wants to reduce U.S. gasoline consumption 20 percent over 10 years, so he promotes cars that run on batteries or on alternative fuels such cellulosic ethanol, which can be produced from cornstalks, woodchips and switchgrass. Video: Bush, automakers meet

Bush's theme sounds about the same each time, but his events are subtly different.

After announcing his plan, he first went to a high-tech ethanol lab in Delaware to focus on the science.

Then he toured Ford and General Motors plants in the Kansas City area to show people that hybrid vehicles are becoming sleeker and more common. On Tuesday, he was showcasing how big delivery companies use alternative fuel technology.

The danger of such a singular focus is the risk of appearing tone-deaf if everyone is paying attention to something else.

Sullivan says Bush won't let that happen. On the day Bush toured the auto plants last week, for example, he returned to the White House earlier than expected to give a statement on the Gonzales matter and take questions from reporters.

Iraq remains the dominant issue for the public and for Bush, and it continues to show up on his calendar regularly. He plans to make comments on it Wednesday. As for promoting the rest of the agenda, Sullivan insists: "We can do more than one thing at a time."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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