Bush Explains the Economy, Ribs the Press Corps

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, January 23, 2004; 9:10 AM

Job growth is a weak spot for President Bush. Even as the economy overall seems to be on the upswing, there are still about 2.3 million jobs less than when Bush took office. In his State of the Union address, the president made a passing comment that "jobs are on the rise" and proposed a modest job-training initiative.

The next day he went off to promote that initiative in Ohio and Arizona. Yesterday, he was on his way out of Roswell, N.M., after talking about fighting terrorism, when his limo came to a sudden halt in front of the Nuthin' Special Café, at the corner of 22nd and Main streets.

According to print pool reporter Jim Lakely of The Washington Times, "POTUS's arrival caught the restaurant workers and patrons by surprise. POTUS entered and immediately shook hands with some elderly patrons, and soon worked his way behind the counter."

Following is the full text, as recorded by the White House, of the ensuing exchange with White House correspondents David Gregory of NBC and Terry Moran of ABC. Gregory is one of several people in the press corps Bush calls "Stretch."

11:25 A.M. MST

THE PRESIDENT: I need some ribs.

Q Mr. President, how are you?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm hungry and I'm going to order some ribs.

Q What would you like?

THE PRESIDENT: Whatever you think I'd like.

Q Sir, on homeland security, critics would say you simply haven't spent enough to keep the country secure.

THE PRESIDENT: My job is to secure the homeland and that's exactly what we're going to do. But I'm here to take somebody's order. That would be you, Stretch -- what would you like? Put some of your high-priced money right here to try to help the local economy. You get paid a lot of money, you ought to be buying some food here. It's part of how the economy grows. You've got plenty of money in your pocket, and when you spend it, it drives the economy forward. So what would you like to eat?

Q Right behind you, whatever you order.

THE PRESIDENT: I'm ordering ribs. David, do you need a rib?

Q But Mr. President --

THE PRESIDENT: Stretch, thank you, this is not a press conference. This is my chance to help this lady put some money in her pocket. Let me explain how the economy works. When you spend money to buy food it helps this lady's business. It makes it more likely somebody is going to find work. So instead of asking questions, answer mine: are you going to buy some food?

Q Yes.

THE PRESIDENT: Okay, good. What would you like?

Q Ribs.

THE PRESIDENT: Ribs? Good. Let's order up some ribs.

Q What do you think of the democratic field, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: See, his job is to ask questions, he thinks my job is to answer every question he asks. I'm here to help this restaurant by buying some food. Terry, would you like something?

Q An answer.

Q Can we buy some questions?

THE PRESIDENT: Obviously these people -- they make a lot of money and they're not going to spend much. I'm not saying they're overpaid, they're just not spending any money.

Q Do you think it's all going to come down to national security, sir, this election?

THE PRESIDENT: One of the things David does, he asks a lot of questions, and they're good, generally.

One final note from the pool reporter: While none of the reporters took Bush up on his offer to buy ribs themselves, someone from the front of Air Force One eventually sent a few back to the press area, shortly after take off. But there was not enough for everybody.

Plame Grand Jury Convenes

Citing unidentified sources, John Dickerson and Viveca Novak report on TIME.com that a grand jury at the E. Barrett Prettyman federal courthouse in Washington began hearing testimony Wednesday in the investigation of who leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame to columnist Robert Novak and other journalists.

Plame is married to former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, who has said he thinks Bush administration officials blew his wife's CIA cover to retaliate against him for publicly challenging U.S. intelligence reports that Iraq was seeking uranium for nuclear weapons in Africa. There was more on this in yesterday's column.

Duck Bind

Charles Lane reports in The Washington Post that "Two top Senate Democrats challenged Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist yesterday to explain the Supreme Court procedures that permitted Justice Antonin Scalia to spend several days recently duck hunting with Vice President Cheney, who is a named party in a case pending at the court." The duck story was first reported by David G. Savage in the Los Angeles Times last Saturday. A copy of the senators' letter can be found here.

Roswell, Presidential Backdrop

Amy Goldstein and Dan Eggen write in The Washington Post: President Bush announced Thursday that he will seek a nearly 10 percent increase in spending on efforts to prevent terrorism in the United States, an expansion that is more than twice as large as the overall rise in discretionary spending in the budget the president is preparing to send Congress in two weeks.

And in the New York Times, David E. Sanger writes that "in a clear indication of the strategy his aides say he plans to pursue in his re-election campaign, [Bush] urged Americans against taking false comfort in the absence of terrorist attacks on American soil for more than two years...

"One senior political adviser to Mr. Bush described the president's strategy in the coming months as "a healthy mix of optimism and the fear factor."

Roswell, UFO Capital of the World

From the morning press gaggle:

MR. McCLELLAN: Now, when we land today there are certain things that we may ask you not to report, that you may see. (Laughter.)

Q I'm not playing that game. If there's a flying saucer, it's going on the wire, man. (Laughter.)

From Bush's speech:

"I understand you had reports this morning of an unfamiliar aircraft. (Laughter.) No worry, it was just me."

The State of the Seating Chart

Al Kamen reports on all the fascinating geopolitical wheedling behind the seating arrangements in the first lady's box at the State of the Union address.

The State of the Political Cartoon

Daryl Cagle has put together a collection of political cartoons about the State of the Union on Slate.

Here are some others: Tom Toles, Tony Auth, Mike Luckovich, Ted Rall, Stuart Carlson.

Dick Cheney Watch

Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus note that Cheney insists he has not has given up on finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Greg Miller of the Los Angeles Times writes that Cheney "revived two controversial assertions about the war in Iraq on Thursday, declaring there was 'overwhelming evidence' that Saddam Hussein had a relationship with Al Qaeda and that two trailers discovered after the war were proof of Iraq's biological weapons programs."

Newsweek's Chris Dickey reports from the swanky World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where they're awaiting a visit from Cheney. "If there's a dominant mood at Davos this year, it's perhaps a faint hope that the Bush-Cheney economic policies really will kick-start the global economy, coupled with pure fatalism about their performance in the Middle East."

Souper Bowl of Caring

Aparna H. Kumar of the Associated Press: First lady Laura Bush is encouraging football fans to spare $1 from their Super Bowl party budgets to help fight hunger and poverty.

Here's the text of Mrs. Bush's remarks.

Today's Calendar

Bush will speak to the U.S. Conference of Mayors at the Capital Hilton Hotel in the morning, and has a photo op with the 2003 World Series Champion Florida Marlins in the East Room of The White House. The Associated Press reports that Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will be on hand, that that the Marlins will present the President with a personalized No. 1 Marlins jersey.

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