Pres­i­dent shows his softer side

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Jon Ward

A more out­go­ing, me­di­afriendly Pres­i­dent Bush has been on dis­play in re­cent days, hold­ing un­prece­dented in­ti­mate ses­sions with re­porters and host­ing Euro­pean lead­ers in un­usual set­tings.

Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel’s Nov. 9 visit to Mr. Bush’s Craw­ford, Texas, ranch was the White House’s latest ef­fort to main­tain in­flu­ence abroad and at home dur­ing the pres­i­dent’s last year in of­fice.

“The pres­i­dent is go­ing to con­tinue to have to look for new and in­no­va­tive ways to talk about what

they’re try­ing to ac­com­plish,” said Scott McClel­lan, who served as Mr. Bush’s press sec­re­tary from 2003 to 2006.

The White House com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fice has peren­ni­ally sought to put “a new twist on things,” but the ap­proach­ing close of Mr. Bush’s term has made that search more im­por­tant, said Mr. McClel­lan, who works in the private sec­tor and is close to com­plet­ing a mem­oir.

“At­ten­tion will con­tinue to shift more to­ward the [pres­i­den­tial] can­di­dates than to­ward the in­cum­bent, es­pe­cially be­cause the in­cum­bent is not on the bal­lot,” he said.

Stephen Hess, a Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity pro­fes­sor who has worked as a staffer or ad­viser in four ad­min­is­tra­tions since Pres­i­dent Eisen­hower, said the need for the pres­i­dent to wield a larger mega­phone near the end of his term is “a law of pres­i­den­tial physics.”

“The longer pres­i­dents re­main in of­fice, the harder they must work to stay on the cen­ter stage,” Mr. Hess said.

For the vis­its last week of Mrs. Merkel and French Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Sarkozy, the White House took steps to keep things in­ter­est­ing.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Sarkozy held their meet­ing and a press con­fer­ence on Nov. 8 at Mount Ver­non, the North­ern Vir­ginia es­tate of Amer­ica’s first pres­i­dent, Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton.

And Mr. Bush made Mrs. Merkel the 15th for­eign leader to be in­vited to his ranch, a re­cip­ro­ca­tion of her warmth to­ward the U.S. and a sign of her clout.

Mr. Bush’s meet­ings with Mrs. Merkel fo­cused on Iran’s nu­clear am­bi­tions, the fight against al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Iraq sta­bi­liza­tion, global warm­ing and peace ef­forts in Le­banon and in the Is- raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict.

Mr. Bush’s meet­ings with Mr. Sarkozy fo­cused on the same is­sues.

In ad­di­tion to fet­ing two of the most U.S.-friendly Euro­pean lead­ers last week, Mr. Bush has spent more time with the press in a clear at­tempt to keep pace with the in­creas­ing cov­er­age of the 2008 pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns.

Two weeks ago, he in­vited six re­porters into the Oval Of­fice to talk about a speech on fight­ing ter­ror­ism that he would give later that day.

Mr. Bush said he had been in­spired to hold the first pen-and-pad brief­ing of his pres­i­dency when he saw a pic­ture of Mr. Eisen­hower speak­ing to re­porters from his Oval Of­fice desk.

Over the years, Mr. Bush has held sev­eral get-to-know-you ses­sions with re­porters, but his com­ments at th­ese gath­er­ings were al­ways off the record. Dur­ing the re­cent avail­abil­ity, the pres­i­dent sur­prised re­porters by speak­ing at length on the record. More­over, in­stead of al­low­ing aides to rush re­porters out of the room af­ter a few ques­tions, Mr. Bush sat back and said, “OK, what else?”

Af­ter an­swer­ing a few ques­tions, the pres­i­dent then asked re­porters to turn off their tape recorders. He spoke off the record for an­other 10 min­utes, en­gag­ing in a ca­sual back-and­forth on pol­i­tics.

Agence France-Presse

French Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Sarkozy and Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush ar­rive for a press con­fer­ence at the Mount Ver­non es­tate of Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton, Amer­ica’s first pres­i­dent, in Mount Ver­non, Va. on Nov. 7.

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