Journalist Helen Thomas has questioned every president since John Kennedy. On Tuesday she got what has become a rare chance to question the current commander in chief.
“You’re going to be sorry,” Thomas warned President Bush when he called on her in his news conference at the White House.
“Well, then, let me take it back,” Bush joked to laughter from the press corps.
Thomas, a columnist for Hearst Newspapers, is an outspoken critic of Bush’s war policies and is known around the White House for her daily haggling with press secretary Scott McClellan. Bush rarely calls on her even though she always raises her hand, and once she got her chance she pointedly challenged his reason for wanting to go to war “from the moment you stepped into the White House.”
“To assume I wanted war is just flat wrong, Helen, in all due respect,” Bush responded. He repeated, “Excuse me, excuse me,” as Thomas tried to interrupt him five times during his answer.
“No president wants war,” he said. “Everything you may have heard is that, but it’s just simply not true.”
As he finished, Thomas kidded him about their debate and thanked him for taking her question.
“You’re welcome,” he said. “I didn’t really regret it. I kind of semi-regretted it.”
Bush was wary of some questions during the news conference, his second of the year.
He paused when asked what impact the formation of a unity government in Iraq would have on public opinion of his mission there.
“That’s a trick question, because you want to get me to talk about polls when I don’t pay attention to polls,” Bush said. “At least that’s after five and a half years I was able to rout you out.”
Bush also was asked whether he’s concerned that the polls show that a growing number of Americans are questioning his trustworthiness. The president said he understands the war he is leading creates concerns.
“One of the reasons why it’s important for me to continue to speak out and explain why we have a strategy for victory, why we can succeed,” Bush said.
The president says he’s glad some people are paying attention to him.
Bush said he was impressed when a reporter for The Washington Times asked him about an exchange on immigration that the president had near the end of a marathon Q-and-A session with his audience in Cleveland on Monday.
Bush said the reporters he saw seemed to be half asleep at the end of his hour-and-a-half appearance.
“They were dozing off,” Bush teased. “I could see them watching their watches, kind of wondering how long he’s going to blow on for. Let’s get him out of here so we can go get lunch, is what they were thinking. So at least you paid attention. Thanks.”
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