President Bush had promised one press conference a month and made good on that commitment by coming in just under the wire on the last day of May, summoning reporters on short notice for a Q&A session in the White House Rose Garden.
With Congress out of town, he had the capital spotlight to himself and took the occasion to urge the lawmakers to do “four good things” when they return from recess.
First, he said, pass an energy bill. He will get that bill, and the best that can be said of it is that it’s not as bad as it might have been.
Next, he asked Congress to stick to its “responsible” budget that closely tracks his own “disciplined” budget for fiscal 2006. That could happen, but if the president doesn’t want the usual end-of-year spending free-for-all he will have to convince Congress that he won’t balk at vetoing key money bills at the 11th hour.
Third, he urged Congress to pass the Central American Free Trade Agreement _ and Congress should. But CAFTA is very much a coin toss and the president may have to personally slap backs and twist arms to bring lawmakers whose free trade credentials aren’t as strong as his own into line.
Finally, he said Congress should move forward with Social Security reform. His momentum on this issue has stalled but he said he would push, push, push relentlessly “like water cutting through a rock.” It would help greatly to have an actual plan on the table.
In other areas, he called Amnesty International’s characterization of Guantanamo Bay as a gulag “absurd.” We would have used a stronger word but the president has to be conscious of his decorum.
He refused to be goaded into saber-rattling on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, probably not a good idea with a lunatic regime. He did say the military option was “on the table” but said he was a long way from exhausting diplomatic options.
Bush defended the decision of his aides not to interrupt his bike ride to tell him that F-16s had intercepted a small plane nearing the White House. First lady Laura Bush says the president should have been told, but Bush said, “I was very comfortable with the decision they made.”
However, the rest of us would have been more comfortable if the president had not learned of the evacuation of Capitol Hill and the White House and a military operation over Washington until 50 minutes after it was over.
The president was well briefed, good humored, bantered with reporters and got off some trademark Bushisms _ “disassemble _ that means not to tell the truth.” He does these so well it’s a puzzle why he does them so reluctantly.
(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)