The President's Problems

After his election victory, President Bush said he had earned political capital and he planned to spend it. But six months into his second term, that capital appears to be all but gone.

In a CBS News/New York Times poll out Thursday, more than half the public disapproves of the job he's doing. And it gets worse from there:

  • Only 39 percent approve of his handling of the economy.
  • Only 39 percent approve of his handling of foreign policy.
  • Only 37 percent approve of his handling of the war in Iraq.
  • Only 25 percent approve of his handling of Social Security.
  • Only the campaign against terrorism gets the approval of more than half those questioned.

    The biggest drop off is among Americans aged 30 to 44. In just the past month, his approval rating in that group has fallen 14 points.

    In the most serious split over the president's Iraq policy, two Republican House members joined with Democrats Thursday urging President Bush to start bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq in October of 2006.

    "After 1,700 deaths, over 12,000 wounded and $200 billion spent, we believe it is time to have this debate and this discussion on this resolution," said Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C.

    CBS News Chief White House Correspondent John Roberts reports the October date is no coincidence: it's one month before the midterm elections, clearly reflecting Republican angst that Iraq will be a factor at the polls next year.

    The White House refused to even entertain the notion of setting a timetable for a troop withdrawal. The Pentagon insisted it would send the wrong message to the insurgents.

    "They see where we have withdrawn previously, in Vietnam, in Beirut, in Somalia, and nothing would make them happier, I suppose, than to think that there is a deadline out there," said Lt. Gen. James T. Conway.

    But it is another crack in the once iron grip President Bush held over Congress. His Social Security plan is stalled, his energy bill languishing, his nominee for U.N. ambassador uncertain. And he's threatened to veto two measures passed by the Republican-controlled House - on stem cell research and limitations to the Patriot Act.

    Republicans admit the president's got problems.

    "I think this is a president that frankly takes on big questions, big challenges," says Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. "That's always going to generate controversy. But I think he'll get through it OK."

    President Bush's solution? Not to change tack on Iraq or drop Social Security, like some Republicans want. Instead, he'll sharpen his focus and ramp up his sales pitch in the coming weeks - telling Americans why it's important to stay the course in Iraq and pressuring Congress to get some of his agenda passed by the August recess.

    But, on the surface, at least, this sharper focus doesn't appear to include anything the president hasn't already been saying. And in a case of deja vu all over again, his new PR campaign on Iraq seems remarkably similar to one he embarked on almost two years ago, citing progress there while warning Americans there are more difficult times ahead

    CBS News Correspondent Gloria Borger notes that it's not unusual for a second-term president to lose support. While President Bush is concerned with his legacy, House Republicans have midterm elections coming up.
    • Joel Roberts

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