WASHINGTON - Presidential adviser Karl Rove blamed the war in Iraq on Monday for dragging down President Bush's job approval ratings in public opinion polls. "People like this president," Rove said. "They're just sour right now on the war."
Rove said that Bush's likeability ratings are far higher than his approval ratings. "There is a disconnect" because of the Iraq conflict, Rove told the American Enterprise Institute.
"I think the war looms over everything. There's no doubt about it," Rove said during a question-and-answer session after a speech on the economy at the conservative think tank.
Rove, who is deputy White House chief of staff and Bush's top political adviser, brushed aside a question on his own role in the federal CIA-leak investigation, saying he would not go beyond statements by his attorney. "Nice try," Rove told the questioner.
On the economy, Rove credited the president's fiscal policies, particularly a series of first-term tax cuts, for a recovery that has gone on since late 2001. "The reality is, the tax cuts have helped make the U.S. economy the strongest in the world," Rove said.
He said the president in his address to the nation Monday night would propose "a comprehensive solution" on immigration, including tougher border enforcement.
Asked about criticism from some conservatives for his proposal for a guest worker program, Rove said, "This is about getting the right policy, and the politics will take care of themselves."
"I mean, we've seen this about four or five times before in American politics, and it's always seemed to work its way out politically, and I'm confident this will as well," Rove said.
"You'll hear the president talk tonight about steps that we're going to take to increase our security along the border immediately and to deal with the other part of it, which is we will not be able to secure the border unless we have a temporary worker program," Rove said.
The presidential adviser, widely credited with securing Bush's win in 2000 and re-election in 2004, was questioned about public opinion polls that show the president's plunging approval ratings. A recent AP-Ipsos poll showed Bush approval at 33 percent. Other national polls put it around 30 percent.
"Well, you know, it's interesting, because consumer confidence is relatively high. In fact, it is much higher than the average of the last 40 years," said Rove, who argued that typically should lead to a gain of congressional seats for Republicans in November's midterm elections.
"Their personal circumstances are good. They're feeling good about where they are. They don't like gas prices. Who likes having to pay more at the pump? But they do feel that overall the economy is good for them, that the prospects for their family in the near term and for the future are good," Rove said of Americans.
"They're worried about the long haul. They've heard about the problems with Social Security. They're worried about globalization. But they're confident about where they are right now and where they find themselves," he added.
Rove accused the news media of being too fixated on polls.
"I love this mania which has swept through American media today which substitutes polls for coverage of substance," he said.
"There's, I'm sure, going to be a special Betty Ford addiction for those that are addicted to regular poll numbers, but you'll work your way through it," he said, referring to the former first lady's clinic for treating substance abuse.
Despite low approval ratings, "I'm sanguine," Rove said. "I know our own polls."
He said that Bush's likeability, his personal approval ratings, were in the 60s in some polls. "Job approval is lower. And what that says to me is that people like him, they respect him, he's somebody they feel a connection with, but they're just sour right now on the war. And that's the way it's going to be."
Rove spent about half an hour taking questions from the audience, including some from reporters.