Martha Brant

Stories by Martha Brant

  • Bush's 'Power Puff Girls'

    Ari Fleischer needed answers, and he knew where to go. Early this spring, when the Bush administration quietly closed the Office for Women's Initiatives and Outreach, the White House press secretary was swamped with questions from reporters. Was the new president signaling a retreat on women's issues? "What's our answer?" Fleischer asked at the daily 7:30 a.m. senior-staff meeting. His boss, presidential counselor Karen Hughes, looked around the Roosevelt Room, where Bush's 18 top staffers had gathered. Eight of them were women. She let out a laugh. "In this White House, the women's office is the senior-staff meeting!" ...
  • 'There's No Question About Where I Want To Lead'

    One hundred days. It's the traditional assessment point for a presidential administration. On Monday, George W. Bush will hit that milestone. This week, in a wide-ranging discussion, Bush described his first 100 days with NEWSWEEK'S Martha Brant. They were aboard Air Force One, en route to New Orleans. Excerpts: ...
  • West Wing Story: A Presidential Packing List

    I have yet to learn the art of packing for presidential trips. But last weekend's jaunt to Quebec City for the Summit of the Americas was a much-needed crash course. On all international visits, one of our colleagues from the White House press corps writes up a "pre-advance" report about the places we'll visit and the logistics of the trip. The Quebec advance was very thorough. The weather would be unpredictable, he said, rain or shine and anywhere from 43 to 66 degrees during the day. So I packed a sweater and an umbrella. To use a laptop computer at the press hotel, he explained, you'd have to unplug the phone line from the RJ-11 jack in the wall. I took his advice and packed a small double jack plug to avoid this minor inconvenience. ...
  • West Wing Story: Reagan As Role Model

    George W. Bush took another extended weekend on his Texas ranch over Easter, his third trip to Crawford in as many months. The press, camped out an hour away in Waco, hardly saw him for three days. "What does he do out there?" one former Clinton aide asked me recently. He rests, exercises, reads (at the moment he's reading a mystery) and usually clears away the cedar thicket around his property. ...
  • West Wing Story: A Tale Of Two Press Secretaries

    On Ari Fleischer's book shelf there is, of all things, a copy of the "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Verbal Self-Defense." Sure, it was gag gift from a reporter, but the White House press secretary has never needed more guidance than during the diplomatic standoff with China, where the difference between "regret" and "sorry" appears to have finally won the release of the 24 crewmembers. Never has the balancing act of giving the press information without giving away too much been more important than during this first real crisis of the new administration. ...
  • West Wing Story: Read No Evil

    The Bush clan likes to say they don't pay too much attention to what scribblers like me write about them. Ignoring the press--or claiming to--started back when No. 41 (as the inner circle calls Bush Sr.) was running for president. ...
  • West Wing Story: What's In A 'Nugget'?

    In the world of newsmagazines a story lives or dies by its "nuggets," those rich little anecdotes that often reveal more about a subject than some pat quote ever will. A friend of mine at Time once told me about her early days at the magazine after working for years as an Associated Press reporter. As newsmagazine correspondents do every week, she was trying to fit her story down to a limited space. New on the job, my friend cut out the reference to the tuna fish sandwich her subject had been eating during their interview. Her editor's response: cut one of the quotes, keep the sandwich. ...
  • From An Unlikely Perch, 'Slotus' Takes Control

    Lynne Cheney is small, blond and, when necessary, fierce. Her forceful personality was on display last week at the hospital as she quizzed doctors and protected her husband's privacy. "She was a commanding, impenetrable presence," says Mary Matalin, an adviser to the vice president. "My wife is in control of my food supply," the veep joked in a TV interview, but he heeds her as well on politics and policy. Mrs. Cheney dislikes being called the Second Lady. (Her kids teasingly call her SLOTUS, a play on POTUS, the White House acronym for president of the United States.) But she is the first vice president's wife to wield real power--both as her husband's closest adviser and in her own right. ...
  • West Wing Story: The Byzantine Rules Of Press Pools

    When I started on the White House beat in January, no one handed me a "Press Pool Protocol" booklet. Sure, I understood that the "pool" was the small group of reporters who rotate the duty of flying on Air Force One, that it shadows the president to places the whole press horde couldn't possibly go and then files a "pool report"-written, recorded and filmed-for everyone else. ...
  • 'That's Our Dubya'

    It felt like old home week in Bushland. On Wednesday, we embarked on a five-state tour reminiscent of the campaign-but this time selling George W. Bush's budget rather than the candidate.We started in Beaver, Pa., where the president donned peacock-blue rimmed safety goggles and surveyed machine tools at an electrical-switch plant. The Bergers-a "tax family," props really-were on hand to tell how Bush's tax cut would help them. "I'll give you a loaded question," Bush said to David Berger, who works at the factory. "Do you want some tax relief?" He sure did. Then we packed up and were off to Council Bluffs, Iowa. It felt like January 2000 all over again. When we flew into Iowa more than a year ago for the caucuses, Bush dubbed his campaign plane "Great Expectations." When we flew out of New Hampshire-where Bush got trounced in the primaries-he wandered back on the plane and declared sheepishly: "Welcome to Expectations."In truth, the Bush plane-now Air Force One-should be christened ...
  • Bush Starts At Home

    It was the night before George W. Bush's first foreign trip as president, and there was one unresolved issue. Would Bush agree to Mexican President Vicente Fox's request that they slip into cowboy boots and jeans? Bush aides were wary. Bush's father, one recalled, had once been invited to an "informal" meeting with Mexican dignitaries. He'd showed up in casual wear, only to find his counterparts had suited up. And this Bush administration was already miffed that Mexican newspapers had spread a rumor on their front pages: BUSH TO RIDE MAXIMILIANA--one of Fox's prized mares. Horseback riding together was Fox's idea of macho bonding, but Bush is more urban cowboy than "ranchero." By Friday afternoon at Fox's Rancho San Cristobal, Bush had made the tough diplomatic call. He opted to wear cowboy boots with his suit. Then he walked over to one of Fox's horses--and petted him.It's no surprise that Bush's trip to Mexico last week was widely characterized as "style over substance." The eight...
  • 'What Unites Us Is More Important Than What Divides Us'

    Apparently, the oft-discussed "special relationship" between Britain and America won't end with Bill Clinton's departure from Washington. With a White House meeting scheduled for tomorrow, British Prime Minister Tony Blair will be the first foreign head of state to call on President Bush; a few weeks back, British Foreign Minister Robin Cook was the first minister to visit Secretary of State Colin Powell. Earlier this week, Blair invited a handful of London-based American and Canadian correspondents to 10 Downing Street for a wide-ranging conversation. Among them was NEWSWEEK's Carla Power. Here are excerpts from that hour-long discussion.Correspondent: Is it time for a rethink on Iraq? Britain and America [seem to be] standing sort of isolated on it.Tony Blair: I can never understand how people can look at the history of Saddam and come to any other conclusion than that he is an extremely dangerous man, probably the most dangerous ruler at the present time anywhere in the world. If...
  • The Honeymoon Is Already Over

    George W. Bush has always seemed to like the press, at least on a personal level. He gives us nicknames (although last week he used the same one on two people). He asks us about our personal lives (in a joshing, needling way, as in: "You married yet?") He even claims to miss those campaign days when he could amble to the back of the plane and chat off the record about baseball, his cats, baseball, his dog, and baseball.But behind the curtain, Bush thinks a lot of us are snarky, East Coast elites teeming with cynicism. On Tuesday, en route to St. Louis, the president summoned the press pool-the small group of reporters selected to represent the larger horde each day-to the front of Air Force One. He wanted to make a statement on Robert Philip Hanssen, the FBI agent suspected of spying. After he finished reading his remarks from notecards, the reporters tried to ask Bush for more information. But the plane was about to land, and as they were physically ushered out of the cabin, Bush...
  • Hot Time In Gucci Gulch

    The corporate tax lobbyists were all smiles and backslaps as they poured into the upscale Watergate Hotel a week ago Friday to meet with Larry Lindsey, the president's chief economic adviser. They were eying George Bush's tax proposal as if it were a medium-rare porterhouse. Lindsey sat at a large oval table surrounded by the 40 advocates, each of whom had a brilliant idea about how to tinker with the tax plan. His message to them was blunt: the tax bill is for the single mom with two kids who pays a 50 percent marginal tax rate on every dollar over $25,000--not for your tony clients. "If any one of you has a tax problem more egregious than [hers], speak up now and I'd be happy to include it," Lindsey recalls saying. "I have never heard such profound silence from so many lawyers in my life. I shamed them into silence."Their "shame" didn't last long. The largest tax bill in a generation is too big a temptation for the pin-striped set. Soon they were back on their mobile phones taking...
  • Welcome To The White House

    Every morning, the regulars on the White House beat gather for what's affectionately called a "gaggle" with press secretary Ari Fleischer and a few of his deputies. Today, at the informal gathering just after 9 a.m., Fleischer gave a read-out on the day's events. On Bush's schedule: taxes, taxes and more taxes. After the scrum, reporters dispersed to drink an extra cup of coffee, make a phone call or, in the case of one reporter, give a speech across town.So when gunshots were fired at about 11:30 a.m. outside the White House, few reporters were around to capture the event. One press aide says he thought the pop sound of the shots being fired was a car backfiring. He changed his mind when he looked out his window to see men in black toting submachine guns in combat position behind every tree. The reporters who were there went stampeding out the briefing room door. Others found out about the shooting from television, from a colleague or-worse-a boss.It took only a few minutes for CNN...
  • The Man In Charge

    George W. Bush and Al Gore in recent weeks have have been a real study in contrasts. While Gore personally drew up his recount strategy on a Palm Pilot, Bush cleared cedar brush from his 1,500-acre property in Crawford, Texas. Gore has stayed tuned to televised court proceedings around the clock; W doesn't even have satellite TV or cable at his modest ranch house. Aides explained that Bush was busy reading the new biography of Joe DiMaggio. Gore's front man: Al Gore. Meanwhile, Dick Cheney was spending so much time in front of the klieg lights that reporters asked whether he was worried about overshadowing Bush. (With characteristic restraint, Cheney answered, "No.") A one-liner making the rounds in Washington lately put it best: "With Dick Cheney, George Bush will be just a heartbeat from the presidency."Bush's happy-hayseed act, however, is mostly that, an act. He retreated to his ranch not just because he loves what he describes as its "cathedral-like canyons," but because it...
  • A Splash Of Records

    The crowd looked as if it belonged at a Brazilian soccer match rather than a swim meet. Middle-aged housewives from Queensland donned yellow and green Afro wigs and boogied in their seats. Grown men bowed in homage when Australia's Susie (no one uses Susie O'Neill's last name down under) appeared on the pool deck. "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!" boomed out from one side of the pool. "Oi, Oi, Oi!" came back from the other. It wasn't just the home crowd that went a little loco last week. Yelena Krayzelburg--mother of Lenny, the U.S. backstroker who tripled in gold--sported a red, white and blue top hat. And female admirers of Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband dyed their hair a patriotic bright orange and scrawled "Hoogie" on their bodies.The over-the-top behavior of the fans was matched only by the over-the-top swimming. Fifteen world records were broken during the eight days of competition--more than three times as many as in Atlanta. By the end of 32 events, only six Olympic records were...
  • A Master Of Pool Science

    When Lenny Krayzelburg was 8 years old, his swimming coach in Odessa, Ukraine, told his father: "Your son is born to be a backstroker." He had double-jointed elbows (like nearly every great backstroker) for a longer, more powerful pull. He had just the right proportion of muscle to fat, which makes him ride high in the water. And he had the aerobic capacity for distance, as well as the strength for sprints. The old Soviet system of vetting athletes, it seems, got a few things right. Krayzelburg broke the world records in both the 100- and 200-meter backstroke last year, and he is favored to sweep those events in Sydney--not for his native land, but for America.Krayzelburg immigrated to the United States at 13, but his success is due to more than an immigrant's work ethic. Perhaps more than any other American swimmer, he has learned from science. "I've become a lot more educated about how to find my ideal stroke," says Krayzelburg, now 24. After every big race he and his coach, the...
  • Sydney Diary: 'Is That A Gun In Your Sling?'

    I didn't plan on going to these lengths to report on Australian culture. But when I broke my wrist three days after arriving in Sydney, I became unwittingly immersed in both Aussie lingo and lovability.It began when I literally fell down on the job (with some help from a reversing car). A hotel worker quickly came to my aid by making me a pillow out of his jacket. Soon after, a restaurateur brought me a glass of water. The morphine drip in the ambulance was even more welcome. Once it was clear that I was just in pain, not danger, my paramedic started me on a truly Australian remedy: humor. "The last person I gave this to told me how beautiful my four eyes were," she joked as she cranked up the morphine.Doctors always need translating, but I never thought I'd be so befuddled in an English-speaking country. "We'll get you to the theater quickly," the doctor said when I arrived at the hospital. In my drugged haze, I imagined being subjected to a Broadway show featuring Sydney 2000...
  • Fast Lanes

    To hear the buzz around the Aquatic Centre at the Sydney Olympic Park, the secret to breaking world records in swimming is already out. It's not the new sharkskin like body-length suit. It's not some new muscle-building dietary supplement. It's the pool itself. When the Aussies started breaking records like matchsticks in this pool last year competitors began scrambling around for an explanation. Australia's legendary swim coach Don Talbot would like to think that hard work and talent are why his team is so speedy. "A fast pool? A fast pool is when swimmers swim fast," Talbot jokes. But he recognizes that part of the credit for his swimmers' success goes to the design of the Olympic pool.Even before the Olympic swimming competition begins this weekend, gawkers have made their way to the Space Age-looking Aquatic Centre. Sure, they'd love to catch a glimpse of Oz icon Ian Thorpe, who many believe will break his own world record in the 400-meter freestyle Saturday night. But true...
  • Grannies Of The Games

    When Dara Torres mounts the racing block this week at the Olympic swimming Team Trials, she'll look a bit dated. She'll strap on bug-eyed, mirrored goggles like the ones she wore in her first Olympics--more than 15 years ago. "All the girls are always making fun of me," she says.At 33, Torres is practically a senior citizen in the world of swimming; one of her training partners was a toddler when she swam in her first Games. Now she's trying out for her fourth Olympic team. "Come on, Granny!" her coach teased her in practice. The joking stopped when Torres broke the world record in the 50-meter freestyle in June. "There is a myth in swimming that you have to be 17 or 18 years old, you peak and that's it," Torres says. "But I guess I'm peaking now."Torres isn't the only oldster among this year's prospects for swimming medals. If everything goes as expected at the Trials, America's most promising Olympic swimmers will be a group of women who have already collectively won more than a...
  • Don't Call Her An 'Adviser'

    Laura Bush's political debut was a two-minute speech in Levelland, Texas, back in 1978, when George W was running for Congress. "I ended up mumbling and just sitting down," she told NEWSWEEK. That was then. This week the self-described "reluctant campaigner" is scheduled to kick off the Republican National Convention with a 15-minute speech in prime time. Late last week she practiced using the TelePrompTer and tested out a joke she worked into the speech herself. "I'm definitely nervous. Who wouldn't be?" she says.But for all her trepidation, Laura Bush has emerged as a self-assured campaigner. She has shilled for her husband on her own in two dozen states, and she often delivers her stump speech without notes. Privately, she is an invaluable sounding board for Bush. Last Easter, while his parents were visiting his ranch in Crawford, Texas, Bush got hung up on the wording of a statement he thought might be too harsh. Instead of bouncing it off his dad, who was sitting right there,...
  • A Son's Restless Journey

    Last June the Bush clan and 200 or so of their closest friends gathered near Walker's Point, the seaside family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, that George Bush Sr. describes as his "supreme joy." The occasion was Barbara Bush's 75th birthday. Most of the Bush family joined in the usual high-spirited skits and songs (the former president dressed up as Carnak the Magnificent, after the old Johnny Carson routine). The eldest son, George W. Bush, normally the family cutup, did not participate and became the butt of teasing. Marvin Bush taunted his older brother for "trying to act presidential." For much of the weekend, the GOP's nominee for president seemed to be busy working the phones. Was he, some guests wondered, calling Dick Cheney, the head of the vice presidential search team? No, George W later confessed. He was telephoning the caretaker at his ranch in drought-stricken Texas to see how much it had rained. He wanted to know the water level at his fishing hole.After the...
  • The Buddy Who Has Bush's Ear

    On a Saturday afternoon last fall, George W. Bush was in a hang-dog mood. Ridiculed by the press after failing to remember the names of various foreign leaders during a TV interview, Bush had just slogged through a two-hour remedial session with his chief foreign-policy tutor, former White House national-security staffer Condoleezza Rice. Suddenly, his old Yale friend, entertainment business mogul Roland Betts, barged into the room. "What are you doing, trying to learn the world capitals?" Bush lit up, obviously relieved, and began joshing and one-upping his old fraternity brother. "Both George and my husband," observed Betts's wife, Lois, "have this king-of-the-world thing."Among insiders, Roland Betts is the outsider. Betts is a Democrat, not a Republican. He lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, not Texas. In an interview with NEWSWEEK, Betts described himself as "a friend" of the GOP presidential candidate, not an adviser, but added that the two men talk "constantly." Betts...
  • The Fight Of His Life

    Just before George W. Bush was re-elected governor of Texas in 1998, he sat with an old friend in the library of the governor's mansion in Austin, smoking cigars and talking about the future. The outcome of the Texas election was not in doubt, only the scale of the landslide. (Bush won with 68 percent of the vote.) "You are a cork on a raging river," said the friend. Republicans were sure to see that Bush was the right man to win back the White House. "They're going to come to you and you will have no choice," said the friend, his tone more matter-of-fact than breathless. "You're the franchise."Bush did not argue. He, too, had seen the wave coming. Back in 1993, when he decided to run for governor, he had told his wife, Laura, that if he ran and won, and then won again, there would be enormous pressure on him to seek the presidency. But as the Republican moneymen began shuttling down to Austin in their corporate jets throughout 1999, anointing Bush with promises of financial support...
  • A Little Help From Mom

    The Bush campaign brought its field marshal in pearls to New Hampshire last week. The Austin, Texas, strategists had held Barbara Bush in reserve for close primary contests where she could turn out the most GOP votes--and New Hampshire now tops that list. The 74-year-old former First Lady drew crowds for her "Georgie" from big-ticket fund-raising dinners to Geno's Chowder and Sandwich Shop. "I swore I'd never campaign again," cracked Mrs. Bush. "Maybe I should have said, 'Read my lips'."That phrase brings back cold family memories of New Hampshire. In the 1992 primary, President Bush's broken pledge not to raise taxes helped power Pat Buchanan to a close second, demonstrating Bush's vulnerability. This year George W. Bush's brother Jeb, the Florida governor, has handed out oranges in New Hampshire. The former president, however, has stayed away from the state--partly to avoid giving the impression that George W needs dad's help. Barbara jokes that "my George" was so anxious about...
  • The Sage Of Indianapolis

    Stephen Goldsmith has discovered a new gadget: a headset for his mobile phone. He slips the phone in his pocket and straps on the earphone. That leaves his arms free to gesture emphatically, something he does all the time as George W. Bush's chief domestic-policy adviser. In Indianapolis recently, where he is about to step down after two terms as mayor, Goldsmith was touring a new housing development in an inner-city neighborhood when he took a call from a Bush staffer back in Austin, Texas, working on a speech. Standing on a weed-infested corner that once saw its share of drug deals, the mayor began talking--and waving his arms.To Goldsmith, this was a perfect backdrop for dickering over the details of the speech. Wiry and intense, he is a reform-minded conservative who believes that government still has a role, particularly if it paves the way for individual initiative. The housing project is a good example: the city donated the land for private development and encouraged local...