|So it has finally come to this: Congressional Republicans, once a compliant bunch, are now openly defiant. In some ways, it's not surprising: The president is a lame duck, leading an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq, and his personal popularity is at an all-time low. After all, members of Congress are most loyal to themselves when it comes to saving their jobs. And Republicans are worried that they could actually lose control of the House in the upcoming midterm elections. 'It's not that we feel we now can [criticize the White House],' says one nervous House Republican. 'It's that we feel we must.' Survival is a basic instinct.
But something else is happening: Republicans are truly miffed at a White House that they consider too secretive, too arrogant, and too interested in extending its own power. When the president threatened to veto legislation to block a Dubai company from operating six American ports, that was too much--even for some conservatives. 'I think the administration has looked at the legitimate power of the executive during a time of war and taken it to extremes,' Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told me. '[It's] to the point that we'd lose constitutional balance. Under their theory, there would be almost no role for the Congress or the courts.' Mississippi's Sen. Trent Lott put it more succinctly: 'Don't put your fist in my face.'