Bush tries diplomacy — with Republicans

BUSH TRIES DIPLOMACY — WITH REPUBLICANS….Talk about your soft bigotry of low expectations; the New York Times ran a lengthy article today that offers the president credit for — get this — schmoozing with Republican lawmakers.

Senator John W. Warner and his wife were at the White House for a Memorial Day photo session with veterans when they received an unexpected invitation from President Bush. “Come on,” the president said suddenly. “Let’s go back to the Oval Office.”

What followed, said Mr. Warner, a Virginia Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was a rare 15 minutes alone with the president, no aides or staff in sight.

Mr. Bush escorted the couple to a private garden that President Ronald Reagan had built — “I never knew it was back there,” said Mr. Warner, whose public service dates to the Eisenhower administration — and, just as important, solicited Mr. Warner’s views on Iraq. “It was a nice way of doing things,” Mr. Warner said.

The Bush-Warner chat was noteworthy, the article suggests, because the president has considered Congress little more than an annoyance for more than five years. Now, with Bush’s political capital gone and his agenda stalled, Chief of Staff Josh Bolten has convinced the president to try “a more personal touch.”

What does this include? Apparently, Bush is suddenly willing to talk to Republican members of Congress about issues that are on their minds. He’s also willing to host “intimate cocktail parties” on the Truman Balcony and take lawmakers and their spouses for tours of the White House residence.

There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, but it’s odd that the paper of record seems to find it so remarkable. Bush may think of lawmakers as rubber-stamps, but it’s hardly a striking development for a Republican president to talk to Republicans in Congress about policy matters.

For that matter, it’s a sort of half-hearted charm offensive. The president is acting chummy with his GOP allies from the Hill, but as the Times article conceded, “[I]t is hard to find evidence that Mr. Bush’s new open-ear policy has led to any substantive change in direction by the White House.”

So we’re left with a president who will, for the first time, chat with members of his own party, whom he’ll proceed to ignore and act just as he always has. Are we supposed to be impressed by this?