- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 8, 2001

President Bush yesterday chided the press for suggesting his monthlong vacation in Texas is too long and insisted he is getting much work done now that he is outside the partisan confines of Washington.
During a question-and-answer session with reporters near his ranch in Crawford, Texas, Mr. Bush was repeatedly asked whether he is "taking any naps in the afternoon." But the president refused to rise to the bait and suggested the press resents having to cover his working vacation.
"I know a lot of you wish you were in the East Coast, lounging on the beaches, sucking in the salt air," Mr. Bush said. "But I'm getting a lot done and it's good to be on my ranch. It's good to be home."
Mr. Bush seemed to shrug off a USA Today poll that showed 55 percent of Americans believe his 30-day vacation is too long.
"I'm working a lot of issues, national security matters," the president said. "Working on immigration policy [and a] state visit with the president of Mexico."
Mr. Bush said he prefers the broiling heat of central Texas to the overheated political rhetoric of Washington.
"There's no political heat here," he said. "I'm amongst friends, and it doesn't matter whether they're Democrats or Republicans here in Texas. The people and I get along really well.
"In Washington, it's a lot more partisan," he added. "People up there just like to dig in and fight."
He also suggested his 18-acre "compound" at the White House is more confining than his 1,600-acre ranch in Crawford.
"Washington D.C. is a fine place and I'm honored to working in the Oval Office, staying in the compound there," Mr. Bush said. "But I'm the kind of person that needs to get outdoors.
"I like to be outdoors; I like to work outdoors," he added. "It keeps my mind whole, it keeps my spirits up. I think it's important for people to get outside and to work."
However, the president made clear he has not given up on the task of changing the political tone when he returns to Washington next month.
"I think eventually, over time, if I stay persistent, that we'll erode the intransigence of Washington, D.C. — you know, where people say: Let's try to score political points, let's don't try to come together and work for what's right.
"But we'll see," Mr. Bush added. "We made a lot of progress the first six months — a lot more than a lot of people thought we could do."
He was referring to the conventional wisdom during the postelection recount wars in Florida that the eventual winner would be an ineffectual president haunted by doubts about his legitimacy. Instead, Mr. Bush has surprised even Democrats with the success of his agenda so far.
Six months into President Clinton's first term, he had not yet persuaded the Democratic-controlled Congress to approve his tax increase at the centerpiece of his "economic stimulus" plan. Mr. Clinton also fumbled the issue of homosexuals in the military and was forced to scuttle several of his top administration choices — including two potential attorneys general and the chief civil rights official.
By contrast, Mr. Bush has passed a $1.35 trillion, across-the-board tax cut that most Democrats had predicted would never become law. He has also boosted military pay and managed to co-opt a traditionally Democratic issue — the patients' bill of rights.
A recent poll puts Mr. Bush's approval rating at 59 percent, a third higher than Mr. Clinton's 44 percent rating after his first six months.
Still, the news media has generally portrayed Mr. Bush as plagued by sagging approval ratings. And journalists grumble that his monthlong vacation will only worsen his standing with the public.
But the president yesterday seemed intent on demonstrating that this is very much a working vacation. He made a point of mentioning that he is in frequent contact with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice on such issues as the Middle East peace process.
"I talked with Condi this morning," he told reporters after a round of golf. "We're constantly in touch."
Mr. Bush said he also spent part of yesterday writing a letter to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
"I told him we're still very much engaged in the process, obviously," the president said. "Peace in the Middle East is a top foreign policy priority"
He added: "We need to work together to convince both sides to break the cycle of violence."

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