President George W. Bush’s memoir, “Decision Points,” which hit bookstores last week, has received plenty of press.
Most of the discussion has centered on Bush’s thoughts on his most important presidential moments, such as the 2000 election, the Iraq War, the financial crisis and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Tidbits such as Kanye West’s anti-Bush sentiments after Hurricane Katrina also made headlines.
Less discussed are Bush’s thoughts about his relationship with Congress — a relationship that, even with Members of his own party, wasn’t always friendly or productive. But Bush does recall some Members fondly — and perhaps nobody gets more praise than an icon of the left, the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).
“Ted was friendly, gracious, and full of life,” Bush writes. “He had the trademark Kennedy accent and a great Irish glow. His smile came easily and often gave way to a big, warm laugh.”
Bush and Kennedy didn’t always agree, of course, considering the pair famously sparred over the Iraq War. But the duo still managed to work together effectively on a number of issues, including education reform.
In a chapter the former president titles “Leading,” Bush describes how he developed a bond with Kennedy while they worked together on No Child Left Behind legislation. Their relationship began just two weeks after Bush moved into the White House, when he held a movie night in the White House theater.
Bush screened “Thirteen Days,” which chronicles President John F. Kennedy’s handling of the Cuban missile crisis. He invited Sen. Kennedy, wife Vicki, son Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, then the lieutenant governor of Maryland.
Bush’s main goal that night was to get Sen. Kennedy to partner with him on education reform, and it worked. The Senator sent Bush a letter the day after the screening, writing: “Like you, I have every intention of getting things done, particularly in education and health care. We will have a difference or two along the way, but I look forward to some important Rose Garden signings.”
Bush admits his relationship with Kennedy deteriorated over the course of his presidency, writing that he “was disappointed by [Kennedy’s] vitriolic speeches, in which he claimed I had ‘broken the basic bond of trust with the American people’” over Iraq. But the pair still managed to let bygones be bygones, and in 2006, they were able to work together again on ill-fated immigration reform efforts.
Kennedy wasn’t the only Member to form a relationship with Bush, of course. He recalls meeting with more than 150 Members during his first two weeks in office, hoping to gain valuable ties to the legislative branch. Among those whom Bush recalls helping him early on was Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), then the chairman of the House Education Committee, who collaborated with Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) on education reform legislation. Bush describes Boehner as “skilled.” Bush also praises Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, calling him “my friend” and noting that the Kentucky Republican “has a sharp political nose.”
Of course, the 43rd president doesn’t have kind words for all the Members of Congress he mentions in the book. Bush’s relationships with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) aren’t discussed at length, but when the president mentions them, the two are usually depicted as obstacles in Bush’s legislative and political goals.
For example, Bush writes that he blames Reid, at least in part, for killing immigration reform. At the height of the controversial effort, Bush (at the urging of Kennedy) pushed Reid to keep the Senate in session over the weekend before the July Fourth recess. Bush’s pitch didn’t work.
“I thought it would be worthwhile to allow them a little extra time for the bill to pass,” Bush writes. “Apparently, Harry Reid did not. ... Senators went home and listened to angry constituents stirred up by the loud voices on radio and TV. By the time they came back to Washington, immigration reform was dead.”