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Bush Decries 'Political Dance' with Democrats

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

President Bush yesterday accused members of Congress of not doing their jobs. They haven't sent him legislation to fund U.S. troops in Iraq, and he said if they don't act soon the military will have to begin scraping for cash and possibly pulling money out of programs to train and equip National Guard units and Reserves. Mr. Bush spoke during a press conference as he prepared to leave Washington for his Easter break.

As NPR's David Greene reports, the session was a little unusual.

DAVID GREENE: Yesterday seemed like a natural day for a regular news conference. The president's last one was Valentine's Day, about six weeks ago. Mr. Bush is departing today for a stop in California and a five-day Easter break in Texas. So he invited reporters into the Rose Garden, where typically they would have mikes with which to question the president. At that last session in February, the questions were clearly audible, like this:

Unidentified Woman (Reporter): Mr. President, do you agree with the National Intelligence Estimate that we are now in a civil war in Iraq?

GREENE: But yesterday Mr. Bush may not have been in the mood for something so formal. Whatever the reason, there were no chairs and no mikes. Reporters stood and tried to make themselves heard, even by the president himself.

Unidentified Woman (Reporter): Thank you sir. (Unintelligible) in the context of the international conferences on Iraq?

President BUSH: Excuse me?

Unidentified Woman #2: You have reached...

GREENE: The question was why is the White House so upset that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has decided to go to Syria? Pelosi arrived yesterday, did some sightseeing and planned today to meet with Syria's president, Bashar Assad. Mr. Bush said her visit is not helpful because it sends mixed signals to a government he's been trying to isolate.

President BUSH: And by that I mean, you know, photo opportunities and/or meetings with President Assad lead the Assad government to believe they're part of the mainstream of the international community.

GREENE: Pelosi, for her part, said she had no illusions about Syria, but held out hope that engaging Iraq's neighbors might do some good, much as the Iraq Study Group recommended.

One of the reporters in the Rose Garden yesterday was Bret Baier, from Fox News. He brought up some recent comments made by General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The general was talking about the U.S. military's don't ask, don't tell policy, and said he thinks homosexuality is immoral. The Fox reporter was lucky enough to be near a microphone when he raised this issue with the president.

Mr. BRET BAIER (Reporter, Fox News): Do you, sir, believe that homosexuality is immoral?

President BUSH: I - my... I will not be rendering judgment about individual orientation. I do believe the don't ask, don't tell policy is good policy.

GREENE: Mr. Bush was also asked if he's aware of the current price of gasoline in the country.

President BUSH: About $2.60 plus.

GREENE: The former oilman also had some thoughts on why prices are high, even before the summer driving season.

President BUSH: And the price of crude oil is on the rise. And the price of crude oil is on the rise because people get spooked, for example, when there comes - when it looks like there may be a crisis with a crude oil-producing nation like Iran.

GREENE: The president didn't elaborate on the current showdown over 15 British sailors and Marines being held by Iran. Clearly, the idea the White House wanted to emphasize yesterday was Mr. Bush's warning to Democrats about recent votes on Iraq. Both the House and Senate have passed war funding bills with timetables for bringing U.S. combat troops home. The president said neither of the bills is acceptable, so Congress should get on with its work and let him get on with his.

President BUSH: They need to come off their vacation, get a bill to my desk, and if it's got strings and mandates and withdrawals and pork, I'll veto it and then we can get down to business of getting this thing done. And we can do it quickly.

GREENE: If it's not done quickly, the president argued, the military will be strapped for cash in the middle of a war. Essentially, Mr. Bush's argument boiled down to this: until Democrats cave and remove language about troop withdrawals, they're just wasting their time.

President BUSH: And no question there's been a political dance going on here in Washington. You follow this closely; you know what I'm talking about.

GREENE: Mr. Bush will resume his part in the political dance today, speaking at Fort Irwin in California, and next week when he and lawmakers return to Washington.

David Greene, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
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