It took Mike DeWine 50 minutes and two chats with a waitress to get a glass of milk to wash down his oatmeal in Perrysburg yesterday.
Ohio's senior senator had less trouble trying to wash away Democrats' attempts to smother him in President Bush's sagging popularity. In a breakfast interview with The Blade, Mr. DeWine, a Republican from Cedarville, said the President sent too few troops to Iraq and must submit to permanent legislative oversight of his domestic wiretapping program.
Mr. DeWine also criticized the Bush Administration's handling of a controversial plan to allow a Middle Eastern country to assume operations of U.S. ports - although he declined to criticize the now-scuttled plan itself.
The comments came a day after Mr. DeWine toured Ohio with Karl Rove, the President's top political adviser, and two weeks after Mr. Bush helped Mr. DeWine raise $1.1 million for re-election in Cincinnati.
They reflect a balancing act that Democrats call hypocritical, but Mr. DeWine says fits his pragmatic approach in the Senate.
"I do not always agree with the President, and when I do not agree with him, I vote the other way," Mr. DeWine said, adding a moment later: "People of this state are going to decide if they want Mike DeWine to be their senator. They're not electing George Bush, they're not electing Karl Rove, they're electing me."
Mr. DeWine's presumptive November opponent disagreed. In a telephone interview, U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown (D., Avon) called the visits by Mr. Rove and Mr. Bush, along with a January fund-raiser Vice President Cheney headlined for Mr. DeWine in Washington, "rewards for service well-done for the President."
Mr. DeWine attended Mr. Rove's Saturday evening speech in Bowling Green. He and his wife, Fran, stayed the night with a friend nearby.
The interview included what appeared to be Mr. DeWine's most extensive public discussion of the proposed port management agreement with Dubai Ports World, which canceled the deal last week under pressure from the public and legislators in both parties.
Mr. DeWine said he would have preferred for Congress to complete a 45-day review of the proposal.
"My initial impression was that we did not have enough information" to decide on the deal, he said. "It was clear initially that the public was very upset about it; it was clear initially that the administration did not do a very good job explaining it."
He said history will ultimately judge Mr. Bush on his response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. DeWine praised the Afghan war and Mr. Bush's efforts to improve intelligence gathering and said Iraq's future is a political, not military, question.
"Clearly there were mistakes made in Iraq," he added. "There were not enough troops sent in there."
Mr. DeWine said he was encouraged by Mr. Bush's agreement this week to brief a Senate subcommittee on his wiretapping program. He said he will push a bill that would legalize the program but formalize congressional oversight of it.
"The administration's position," he said, "is we don't need any authorization to do what they're doing. Critics on the left, Democrats, have said, that oversight has not been enough.●...● The problem is, if you don't pass this legislation, if you don't pass any legislation, than this whole thing is in limbo."
Mr. Brown said current laws - with perhaps some "minor modifications" - go far enough in allowing federal agents to listen in on terrorist conversations, then request warrants afterward from a secret court. He accused Mr. DeWine of "twiddling his thumbs" on national security, particularly the ports deal, which Mr. Brown frequently criticized in past weeks.
"The rest of Congress in both parties had enough information to make a decision" on the deal, Mr. Brown said. "I would just feel more comfortable if my senator was standing up and looking for ways to stop this from happening again."
Mr. DeWine declined to discuss Mr. Brown at length, saying only, "Sherrod has a record as well as I do. I think people are going to look at his record, look at my record."
After breakfast at Holiday Inn French Quarter, Mr. and Mrs. DeWine headed to church and then to Detroit, where they'll attend a fund-raiser today organized by Spencer Abraham, a former senator from Michigan and Mr. Bush's first secretary of energy.
Contact Jim Tankersley at: email@example.com or 419-724-6134.