- The Washington Times - Monday, January 22, 2001

President Bush and his team got unpacked and untracked on their first full day at the White House, a day of prayers, promise and more than a little confusion.

In fact, the new president said he had to hunt for the visitors' bedroom to meet his parents for coffee.

The nation's 43rd president and first lady Laura Bush began the day attending a prayer service at Washington National Cathedral and joining two dozen invited guests for a White House tour as his top aides fanned out on Sunday talk shows.

Mr. Bush and wife Laura then opened the White House and spent an hour greeting 300 supporters. An additional 2,700 people who received tickets on a first-come, first-served basis toured the White House but did not get to meet Mr. and Mrs. Bush.

"This is not our house; it's the people's house," Mr. Bush said during a brief question-and-answer session in the East Room before the private tour.

Mr. Bush, who will detail his education package this week, said, "I really am looking forward to getting to work."

That work will begin in earnest today, as Mr. Bush begins his "education week."

A Bush aide said last night that the new president will meet this afternoon at the White House with Democratic elder statesmen such as Robert Strauss, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee; former Illinois Sen. Paul Simon, and former Ohio Sen. John Glenn.

The move is meant to promote bipartisanship.

"That's how he did it in Texas," the aide said. "Yes, Washington is more partisan. Yes, it's harder to do in Washington." But "Washington ought to be more like Texas," the aide said.

The aide also stressed that Mr. Bush "absolutely" will fight for school vouchers.

"There's a lot of support for school choice in the African-American community," the aide said. Mr. Bush will argue that choice gives children in failing schools a chance.

"We will win the compassion fight with the Democrats if they try to stand on that argument."

This morning the president will make remarks at a swearing-in ceremony in the East Room for new White House staff members.

At noon Mr. Bush will have lunch with House and Senate Republican leaders. Mr. Bush then will meet with leaders of successful reading programs.

Late this afternoon he will make his first concrete move toward breaking gridlock when he meets with senior Democrats in the Cabinet Room.

But first, Mr. Bush took a day to mingle with old friends and lucky strangers and tried to get his bearings.

"I woke up this morning first thing, early, and went in and had a cup of coffee with Mother and Dad, and I had to find the visitors room," Mr. Bush said.

"I found it. They were staying in the Queen's Bedroom."

Mr. Bush returned to the White House at 11:38 p.m. Saturday after he attended eight inaugural balls and a ninth party.

"I am exhausted from dancing," he told reporters yesterday. "Ten minutes of dancing in nine balls is pretty tiring."

Laura Bush told reporters she will tinker with the first family's living quarters but has no grand plans to redecorate.

"We'll change our bedroom, of course, and a little part of the living quarters, our sitting room. I don't know what we're going to change them to. We'll work on that later," she said.

"The house was recently redone as most of you know, by Mrs. Clinton. It's all really beautifully redone upstairs. We'll just make it personal."

The new president and first lady joined two dozen guests for the private tour. The group included families who dramatized Mr. Bush's signature $1.6 trillion tax cut during the campaign, educators, political allies and representatives of faith-based organizations.

"This is the first tour we've been on," Mr. Bush said. "I need to brush up on the history, and Laura does as well."

Guests on the private tour included Dave Wenzel, a former mayor of Scranton, Pa., and his wife, Janet. Mr. Wenzel, a disabled veteran, lost an arm and both legs in combat. Mr. Wenzel, who gave a speech on disability issues at the Republican National Convention, rode in a wheelchair during the tour.

"President Bush was wheeling him in the first part of the [tour]," Mrs. Wenzel said.

"I was hysterical. My blood pressure will never be the same, I was so excited. He's so congenial," she said.

Mr. Wenzel told the president he wants to reciprocate.

"You have to come see my house sometime," he said.

Another guest, Wendy Ault, a teacher and the Maine co-chairman of Educators for Bush, brought the new president maple syrup, T-shirts and letters from her son's fifth-grade class.

At the end of the tour Mr. Bush whispered to Betty Monkman, the White House curator, asking about a red-carpeted staircase off the main foyer.

The curator said President Truman had the staircase refurbished to create a finer, more ceremonial entrance.

The new Bush era begins with a remodeled Oval Office. The Associated Press reported that workers have hauled off President Clinton's bright blue carpet and installed an off-white rug, two new cream-colored couches, as well as paintings of a boy fishing and a man on horseback.

White House aides strolled through the mansion, and many gave their parents behind-the-scenes tours. Others explored hallways and opened doors not knowing where they led.

"It's chaotic," the Bush aide said.

Yesterday afternoon, reporters milled in the briefing room, waiting for word from a press staff that did not yet have computers. Some reporters missed Mr. Bush's remarks in the East Room because they were not broadcast over the White House audio system, as is customary.

For all the frenzy, Mr. Bush appeared calm. The new president said he read the note Mr. Clinton left him in the Oval Office, but he declined to reveal the contents.

"It's a personal note, for which I'm very grateful, a very gracious note the president wrote, and it will remain between me and the president."

On NBC's "Meet the Press" yesterday, Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's top political adviser, said he is "the new boy on the block" in an administration of Washington veterans.

Last evening Mr. Rove strolled through the press briefing room, and reporters asked if he knew where his office was.

"I do now," he said.

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