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Judy Keen

March 10, 2010

Q&A: Rove gives candid take on two presidents

Karl Rove helped engineer former president George W. Bush's\015\0122000 and 2004 elections and was White House deputy chief of staff and senior\015\012adviser. He spoke Tuesday with USA TODAY about his memoirs, Courage and\015\012Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight. Questions and answers have\015\012been edited for length and clarity.

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Q: The book is\015\012reviving some of the controversies of the Bush era. Is it worth it?

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A: You can't win the argument unless you're willing to make\015\012the argument, and things as pernicious as "Bush lied about weapons of mass\015\012destruction" or the true record on tax cuts or the reality of the absence\015\012of bipartisanship on the part of Democrats in Washington — these are\015\012things that need to be told.

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Q: What's your take\015\012on President Obama's first year?

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A: He came into office with the goodwill of the American\015\012people and a real opportunity to work across party lines. Shockingly, he has\015\012not seized that moment.

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Q: Didn't the same\015\012thing happen with President Bush? In the 2000 campaign, he called himself\015\012"a uniter, not a divider," but there wasn't a lot of bipartisanship.

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A: Between Bush's campaign and when he got into office,\015\012there was a highly poisonous outcome of the election. President Obama came in\015\012with the good wishes of the American people. He had a chance to say to ...\015\012Congress, let's arrive at a consensus about what ought to be in the stimulus\015\012bill. Instead he outsourced the writing of the bill ... and did not force\015\012Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to give a seat\015\012at the table to their Republican counterparts.

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Q: Are you saying\015\012he's in over his head?

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A: I think he has outsourced too much to Congress. I think\015\012he has not been involved in the substance of writing these big things that he\015\012wants the country to achieve. I think the decision-making process at the White\015\012House has been ragged at best.

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Q: Aren't Republicans\015\012unwilling to work with him?

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A: If you spend a year telling people "you're shut\015\012out," and bipartisanship is defined as you voting for my bill, which you\015\012had no substantive involvement in writing, that ain't bipartisanship.

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Q: Has Obama done\015\012anything of which you approve?

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A: I think he was wise in continuing President Bush's\015\012policies in the Gulf region and in Iraq. I think he was right to mimic\015\012President Bush's policy on Afghanistan with the surge. I think he's been right\015\012not to seek the repeal of No Child Left Behind. I think he's been right to\015\012support the extension and the renewal of the Patriot Act, but let's be clear:\015\012President Obama has not conducted himself in office in the way that he led the\015\012American people to expect on big issues.

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Q: Isn't there a gap\015\012between what a candidate says and the realities a president faces?

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A: Absolutely. During the campaign, President Bush said he\015\012had doubts about the U.S. presence in the Balkans, but after he became\015\012president, it became apparent it was a force for stabilization. What's\015\012interesting is Obama sees no disconnect between what he said during the\015\012campaign and what he's doing now.

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Q: Your animus sounds\015\012almost personal.

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A: It's not, though his animus is clearly personal on me.\015\012This is a guy who wrote a book in which he attributed to me something I never\015\012said — that we are a Christian nation — and then refused ... to\015\012acknowledge that he had made a mistake.

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Q: What's your view\015\012on the Justice Department's hiring of seven lawyers who once represented\015\012terrorism suspects?

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A: I believe everybody in America deserves to have an\015\012attorney representing them in any investigation.

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On the other hand, these are instances where people sought\015\012— they weren't called by the court, they were not assigned by a judge\015\012— the opportunity to represent terrorists and I think that's taking it a\015\012step further than I'm comfortable with.

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These people are now, after having attacked the detention\015\012policies and interrogation policies of the country by volunteering their\015\012services to terrorists, finding themselves in places where they affect public policy.

This article originally appeared on USAToday.com on Wednesday, March 10, 2010.

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