Tales from the Trail

White House’s Perino gets last laugh

WASHINGTON – She got ‘em.

White House press secretaries probably dream of turning the tables on reporters and having a public laugh at their expense. Well Dana Perino got that wish.

The briefing room was packed to BUSH/overflowing on Friday for Perino’s final say as spokeswoman for President George W. Bush, who leaves office next week.

“So much history has happened at the White House, and much of it occurred right here in this room,” she began.

Then followed a slide show of journalists in action over the years – working on a crossword puzzle during a briefing, apparently trying to grow a mustache, snoozing in chairs outside.

It was all good-natured humor and Perino probably got more laughs at her 145th and final briefing than any previous ones.

The First Draft: Packing day

It’s not a day to move house in Washington. The U.S. capital woke up to a face-stinging hypothermic cold that had early morning commuters walking just a little bit faster to get to the heated comfort of their offices.
 
But it’s packing day for the Bush administration. As White House staffers move out, ahead of President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration on Tuesday, President George W. Bush’s spokeswoman Dana Perino will give her last news conference.
 
Over at the State Department, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will attend a farewell ceremony closed to the press. It follows Bush’s televised farewell address to Americans on Thursday night in which he defended his record after eight tumultuous years in office. 
 
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Obama meanwhile says he is still tinkering with his inaugural address, but that there is a “good solid draft” that he is happy with. In an interview with USA Today, he rated the addresses given by Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“I will point out that JFK’s speech is the second best … Lincoln first. You know, FDR’s actually isn’t that great. It’s got a great line. `The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.` The rest is kind of clunky.”

While Bush gives final address, Obama goes out to dinner

WASHINGTON – U.S. President-elect Barack Obama skipped his soon-to-be predecessor’s final address to the nation on Thursday in favor of dining out.
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At roughly 8 p.m. in Washington, about the time President George W. Bush began his televised speech, Obama left his new temporary residence across from the White House to go out for dinner in a restaurant a few blocks away.
 
The ride in his motorcade lasted about a minute and an aide said his wife, Michelle, accompanied him for the meal.
 
Bush, who was speaking for the final time to the country, reflected on his eight years in office and opened by wishing his successor well.
 
“This is a moment of hope and pride for our whole nation,” Bush said. “And I join all Americans in offering best wishes to President-elect Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their two beautiful girls.”
 
Obama spent the day working at his transition office in downtown Washington, then came to the Blair House — the residence where his family will stay from now until the inauguration — at around 7:15 p.m.
 
He left the house about 45 minutes later and entered the restaurant while Bush was speaking.
 
Maybe he’ll read the transcript?
 
Obama goes to Ohio on Friday to visit a factory. The trip is designed to highlight his proposals to create jobs and boost the economy. On Saturday Obama returns to Washington on a train ride that kicks off several days of inauguration festivities.
 
Obama routinely criticized Bush over domestic and foreign policy during the 2008 election, but the transition of power between the two leaders has proceeded smoothly.
 
Last week Obama had lunch with Bush and the three other living former U.S. presidents at the White House.

Photo Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque. Secret Service agents stand in front of the security canopy after Obama arrived at his temporary residence at Blair House across the street from the White House in Washington January 15, 2009.

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Bush: the winsome hawk

WASHINGTON – The word of the day at the White House was winsome.

Not as in ‘you win some, you lose some,’ but just plain winsome as a description of President George BUSH/W. Bush’s mood five days before he relinquishes the presidency to Barack Obama.

“He’s not tired.  He just has a ton of energy,” Ed Gillespie, counsellor to Bush, told reporters. “I would say that he’s gotten a little more winsome.”

That raised the question of whether Gillespie had actually meant wistful since the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of winsome is: “generally pleasing and engaging often because of a childlike charm and innocence” or cheerful, lighthearted.

White House declares inauguration a D.C. emergency

WASHINGTON – It’s official. The inauguration is an emergency for the District of Columbia.

USA-OBAMA/

President George W. Bush declared the emergency Tuesday, a week before the Jan. 20 swearing-in of the 44th president, Barack Obama.

Millions of people are expected to swarm the streets of Washington on inauguration day. Streets will be closed, bridges open only to taxis and the like, and security will be tight.

Some countries sad to say good-bye to Bush

WASHINGTON – President George W. Bush may be deeply unpopular at home and reviled abroad but in some places people, apparently, are sorry to see him go.

The BBC reports  that Dubya has approval ratings of around 80 percent in Africa where his BUSH/administration increased aid funding and raised the alarm over the Darfur crisis. In fact, children born in the Sudanese region are routinely named George Bush, the BBC reports. And in Kosovo a main street was named after him to thank him for supporting Kosovo’s independence.

Israelis will miss Bush too. Bush has been a staunch supporter of Israel and some analysts believe Israel’s current offensive in Gaza was timed to coincide with the final days of his administration because the Jewish state knew it could count on his support. ”Israel is probably the only place on earth where Bush can still get a standing ovation,” Peter Berkowitz of the Hoover Institution told the BBC.

The First Draft: Hillary on the hot seat

Obama’s dream team faces its first test on Tuesday as the Senate holds confirmation hearings for Hillary Clinton and several other Cabinet picks.

The hearings will provide a sneak peak at relations between the Obama administration and Congress. Obama’s fellow Democrats control both chambers, but that’s no guarantee of smooth sailing.

USA/Clinton, nominated for Secretary of State, will have to answer some pointed questions about hubby Bill’s globe-trotting activities, but observers expect her to win confirmation easily. The fun begins at 9:30 EST.

The First Draft: Bailout Bingo

Congress is nervous about spending more money.HUNGARY
    
In other news, pigs are flying, hell is freezing over and Democrats and Republicans are cooperating for the good of the country. 
     
Two of those things are actually true. The outgoing Bush administration and the incoming Obama administration are working together to get Congress to approve the second half of the $700 billion financial bailout, so Obama can hand it out quickly if needed. 
     
But Democrats on Capitol Hill want to attach more conditions to banks that accept federal cash — limits on executive pay, more oversight, and more help for homeowners facing foreclosure.  
     
“My colleagues in the Senate will not provide any additional funds unless they are assured by the Obama administration taht these provisions will be a part of it,” Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
    
Republicans, meanwhile, question whether the money is needed at all.
    
Obama is also urging Congress to approve an additional $800 billion economic stimulus package. Should be a stimulating week.
    
Obama also will discuss trade and the drug war with Mexican President Felipe Calderon today in his first meeting with a foreign leader since his election.
    
Bush, meanwhile, holds a press conference at 9:15 EST.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh (Pigs are hung at a butcher shop in Budapest)

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The First Draft, Thursday, Jan 8

President-elect Barack Obama will use a speech on the economy Thursday to try to build support for a massive stimulus bill aimed at lifting the United States out of a deep recession. 
 
BUSH/Obama is warning Congress that unless it acts quickly and boldly to pass his stimulus plan, with its estimated $775 billion price tag, the country could be mired for years in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
 
The president-elect delivers his remarks at 11 a.m. at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, with less than two weeks to go before his inauguration.
 
The speech comes as some lawmakers and financial experts are beginning to raise doubts about elements of the stimulus plan.
 
The Washington Post quoted lawmakers, tax experts and economists as saying some of the tax cuts in the Obama plan are likely to be too expensive and ineffective.
 
Obama’s choice to lead the administration’s charge on health care reform goes before a Senate confirmation hearing Thursday.
 
Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle is expected to receive a cordial welcome from his ex-colleagues and Democratic leaders on the panel predict a smooth confirmation.
 
President George W. Bush travels to Philadelphia Thursday for an event touting the success of his No Child Left Behind education reform program.
 
The House of Representatives and the Senate hold a joint session to formally count the electoral votes from the November election, in which Obama defeated Republican rival John McCain.
 
The action will formally declare Obama as winner of the U.S. presidential vote.
 
The morning television news shows reported on Obama’s economic speech and new violence in the Middle East, where rockets from Lebanon struck northern Israel.
 
The attacks raised concerns about a possible second front in Israel’s two-week war against Hamas Islamists in the Gaza Strip.
 
U.S. stock futures dropped early Thursday on disappionting December sales by Wal-Mart, pointing to a lower open on Wall Street.
 
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Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Obama listens as Bush speaks during an Oval Office meeting Wednesday with all the living former presidents)

Bush to welcome New Year with sunrise ranch stroll

CRAWFORD, Texas – President George W. Bush, in the sunset of his presidency, plans to welcome in the New Year with a sunrise stroll accompanied by wife, Laura, at their Texas ranch. 
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“It’s something they’ve always enjoyed doing and look forward to doing tomorrow,” White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
 
Some New Year’s Eve revelers might struggle at the prospect of waking up at dawn after partying past midnight, but not Bush since he’s an early-to-bed kinda guy.
 
“I think he’s more likely to be an early riser for the first of the New Year rather than to see the old year out,” Johndroe said.
 
Bush will return to Texas for good after handing over the  White House keys to Barack Obama on Jan. 20. He plans to live in Dallas, but was also expected to spend time at the Crawford ranch on weekends and holidays.
 
In his final New Year’s Day presidential message, Bush said 2009 was an “exciting time for our country” as it prepares for a peaceful transfer of power.
 
“As my time in office comes to a close, I thank the American people for trusting me with the honor of serving our great country. It has been a tremendous privilege, and together we have accomplished a great deal,” Bush said.

“Earlier this year, I promised that I would sprint to the finish of my time as president,” he added. “We are working hard to keep that promise.”

For more Reuters political coverage, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (President and Mrs. Bush arrive in Waco Dec. 26)