The [Thursday] Papers
Last night the news broke on NBC that a group of congressional Republicans had confronted President Bush about the war in an extraordinary White House meeting.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Tonight we're also able to report new and exclusive details on the politics of the war in Iraq, specifically involving President Bush and members of his own party. For that we are joined by our Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert. What do we know?
TIM RUSSERT: Brian, all eyes on the Republican Party. How long will they support the president's position on the Iraq war? Yesterday may have been a defining pivotal moment. At 2:30 in the afternoon in the private quarters of the White House, the Salarium room, 11 Republican congressmen had a private meeting with the President, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, the chief political adviser Karl Rove and the White House Press Secretary Tony Snow and others. It was headed by Mark Kirk of Illinois and Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania.
It was, in the words of one of the parties, the "most unvarnished conversation they've ever had with the president." Another member said he has met with three presidents and never has been so candid. They told the president, and one said, "My district is prepared for defeat. We need candor, we need honesty, Mr. President." The president responded, "I don't want to pass this off to another president. I don't want to pass this off, particularly, to a Democratic president," underscoring he understood how serious the situation was. Brian, the Republican congressman then went on to say, "The word about the war and its progress cannot come from the White House or even you, Mr. President. There is no longer any credibility. It has to come from Gen. Petraeus."
The meeting lasted an hour and 15 minutes and was, in the words of one, "remarkable for the bluntness and no-holds-barred honesty in the message delivered by all these Republican congressmen."
Wow. This is the stuff of history.
The Tribune, quite appropriately, played the story atop its front page today, though the print reports all the way around were more sedate.
Illinois's Ray LaHood also attended the meeting, and told the Tribune after that "I've been to a lot of meetings at the White House. I've been to a lot of meetings with the president about the war. This was one of the toughest, frankest, no-holds-barred meetings in terms of the members who were there giving their assessment of where they think things are in their district and their country."
That assessment, according to the chatter on MSNBC last night, was that in increasingly large number of voters in Republican districts are willing to admit defeat and bring the troops home.
"House Republican moderates, in a remarkably blunt White House meeting, warned President Bush this week that his pursuit of the war in Iraq is risking the future of the Republican Party and that he cannot count on GOP support for many more months," the Washington Post reported.
"It was a very remarkable, candid conversation," Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia told the Post. "People are always saying President Bush is in a bubble. Well, this was our chance, and we took it."
"Others warned Bush that his personal credibility on the war is all but gone," the Post said, echoing the Russert report.
"One told Mr. Bush that voters back home favored a withdrawal even if it meant the war was judged a loss," The New York Times said. "Davis told Mr. Bush that the president's approval rating was at 5 percent in one section of his northern Virginia district."
Meanwhile, Dick Cheney said Wednesday "We've got a long way to go."
I could not find the story anywhere in the Sun-Times.
Burt Natarus was in fine form.
"I ought to punch you in the nose," Natarus yelled at a cab driver attending the meeting, the Tribune reports.
The cabbie yelled back and was escorted out by a police officer.
Natarus explained to the Trib afterwards that "he had goaded the driver by falsely claiming responsibility for the loss of his city taxi license."
"I did that to entertain myself," Natarus said.
Like many other reporters in the city, I have a Burt Natarus story. Several years ago I wrote a story while at Chicago magazine called "The Mayor's To-Do List" or something like that. It was basically a look at the possibilities of the mayor's agenda after it was clear he had taken complete control of the city.
One of the items mentioned one of many examples of negligence toward a historic building, one that was in Natarus's ward. It was maybe a sentence or two in a much broader, wide-ranging think piece.
My phone rang one day and a voice said "Alderman Natarus would like to see you."
"Um, okay," I said. "Should I schedule an appointment?"
"No, he wants to see you right now."
Well, I was kind of busy right then, but I did go see him a few days later and he complained about how I had characterized the handling of the building in question and my failure to call him for comment. Well, it wasn't really that kind of story, but in my further questioning he talked himself around to agreeing that what I had written was dead-on. We ended up talking about Wisconsin and beer, and he gave me one of his bobbleheads, which right now is sitting atop my TV. His head shakes every time the El goes by.
A short while later I was working on a story about Block 37, in Natarus's downtown ward, so I naturally called him.
"Why should I talk to you?!" he bellowed. "All Chicago magazine does is make fun of me!"
"Look," I said, "a few months ago you called me to your office and complained that I hadn't called you about a story. Now you're complaining that I have! I don't care one way or another, but just for future reference, do you want me to call you or not?!"
He spoke to me, non-linearly of course, and I never had reason to call him again.
Natarus went a full year not speaking to Cate Plys when she was writing a Sun-Times column that most often was about the council. Cate writes about that in her sendoff to Burt today in Open Letter.
Burt Natarus's Exit Interview with the Beachwood.
In What I Watched Last Night, I note that Dorothy Tillman claimed she was leaving office with her record "unblemished" - a statement unchallenged by a media more fascinated with her hats (enough, already!) than her blemishes.
Shirley Coleman yelled "I'm free!" though she ran for re-election and therefore didn't seem to hold her job under duress.
Columnists John Kass and Mark Brown were also at the meeting. Kass notes in his piece today how Ted Matlak pathetically tried to get in a last word with the mayor while his family was in tow and was rebuffed. Brown writes through the prism of Quiet Ted Thomas.
The Beachwood Tip Line: Our own special session.
Posted on May 10, 2007
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