Ahead of near-imminent military action in Iraq, the Bush administration has assured the Congressional Democratic leadership that both parties will be provided the same information from the front — and just as quickly, too.
In meetings with senior aides, White House and Defense Department officials have stressed that the president is determined to tamp down partisanship in the event of war, and laid out a communications system aimed at ensuring the free flow of data to Capitol Hill.
“They want to just inundate us with information,” one Democratic aide said after a meeting Monday with representatives from the administration.
For Members, the key point of contact with the war effort is likely to be in daily classified briefings — already being structured through the Armed Services and Intelligence committees — while regular conference calls are tentatively being planned for press secretaries and other communications staff on Capitol Hill.
In the event of military conflict, information will be zipped to Capitol Hill as it is de-classified, offices have been promised. But administration representatives indicated they will channel restricted information to rank-and-file lawmakers through Congressional leadership offices — information such as troop movements and other developments that can be pegged to Congressional districts or delegations.
The administration has also identified four officials who will serve as the point-persons for communication with Capitol Hill, participants in the meetings said.
The group will be led by Christopher Cox from the White House’s legislative liaison staff, and will also include Mary Catherine Andrews from the Office of Global Communications, Defense Department media affairs representative Don Meyers and Claude Chafin, an official in the Pentagon’s legislative affairs shop.
“For us, it’s access to information that’s going to be important,” said Cindy Jimenez, a spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), citing the importance of receiving data that is not available to media outlets, but can be used for planning by Congressional offices.
While Democrats uniformly said they were pleased with the assurances from the administration, some aides expressed reservations about the quality of the information that they would receive, particularly from the global communications office, which one staffer referred to as a “spin machine.”
The OGC will be circulating “key points” about the war effort through a regular bulletin called the “global communicator.”
Citing concerns about relying on White House data, the aide said the Democratic leadership is still mulling over how it plans to screen information in the Caucus.
“It’s clear the stuff [the White House is] sending is not just going to be forwarded on,” the aide said.
A White House spokeswoman was unable to offer specific information about the communications plan for Capitol Hill.
Relations between the White House and Congressional Democrats have soured considerably in recent months, as the parties have sparred openly over the president’s tax and budget plans and the nomination of Miguel Estrada to the U.S. Court of Appeals.
The issue of a potential military conflict in Iraq has remained largely outside that sphere, but fresh tensions have emerged in recent days as some Congressional Democrats, led by Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (S.D.), have blamed the possible war on “failed diplomacy” by the Bush administration.
In the meeting with House Democratic leadership aides Monday, the administration’s representatives sought out e-mail addresses from the participants in order to get the communications process rolling.
Hours later, the deluge began almost the moment President Bush stepped away from the White House podium after giving Saddam Hussein a deadline of 48 hours to leave Iraq.
One senior Democratic aide said that within a minute of the speech’s conclusion, he had already received messages on his BlackBerry from Defense, the Department of Homeland Security and the White House’s Office of Global Communications.
The OGC sent the text of the president’s speech, along with excerpts from a press conference held by Secretary of State Collin Powell earlier in the day, after the British decided to abandon a second resolution in the face of French veto threats.