Bush Cries With Iraq Widow

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, April 6, 2004; 10:50 AM

On his trip to Charlotte and St. Louis yesterday, President Bush met with the widow of a Charlotte soldier who died in a roadside bombing in Iraq on March 11.

Jim Morrill of the Charlotte Observer writes that Chris Hill, 26, "became the first Charlottean killed in Iraq when the Humvee he was riding in near Fallujah was blown up by a hidden booby trap. The Army specialist also had been in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

"Bush met privately with his widow, Cheryl, her family and 14-month-old daughter, Cierra. Hill described the meeting as emotional. She said Bush cried when he picked up Cierra and tears flowed freely from all around.

"'Our family basically told him that we stood behind him 100 percent and he assured us that he would finish what he had started,' she said. 'Basically we told him that we loved him and was praying for him.'"

Mark Washburn of the Observer wrote about Hill's heroism last month.

The White House had reason to believe Hill's widow would not give Bush a hard time. In a March 15 interview with News14 in Charlotte, (see the text or video) Cheryl Hill made it clear that she did not second-guess her husband's decision to go to Iraq.

"I don't question why Chris was there," she said. "I know why Chris was there. I know why they're all there. I will let Cierra know why Chris did what he did, but that he did love her more than anything, that he was trying to protect her more than anything."

Bush: No Turning and Running

Soon after his meeting with Hill, Bush met with the press pool, his eyes looking "quite red and moist" according to the print pool report.

"I just met with Specialist Chris Hill's family from North Carolina," Bush said. "You know, I told the family how much we appreciated his sacrifice -- he was killed in Iraq -- and assured him that we would stay the course, that a free Iraq was very important for peace in the world, long-term peace, and that we're being challenged in Iraq because there are people there that hate freedom. But the family was pleased to hear that we -- its son would not have died in vain. And that's an important message that I wanted to share with you today."

Here's the transcript of the back and forth, which mostly dealt with Iraq and the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Dana Milbank and Mike Allen write in The Washington Post: "President Bush asserted Monday that he would not postpone the June 30 transfer of power in Iraq, as the administration gave an understated public reaction to flaring violence in that country and some of the heaviest fighting since Saddam Hussein's fall."

Bush said: "The message to the Iraqi citizens is, they don't have to fear that America will turn and run."

And, about his still unscheduled meeting with the commission, he said: "I look forward to sharing information with them. Let me just be very clear about this: Had we had the information that was necessary to stop an attack, I'd have stopped the attack. And I'm convinced any other government would have, too. I mean, make no mistake about it; if we'd had known that the enemy was going to fly airplanes into our buildings, we'd have done everything in our power to stop it."

Snippy President

There was an uncomfortable exchange between Bush and Associated Press reporter Pete Yost, an unfamiliar face to the president.

"Let me ask you a couple of questions," Bush misspoke. "Who is the AP person?"

"I am," said Yost.

"Well, ask it," said Bush.

Yost: "Sir, what, in regard to -- "

Bush, interrupting angrily: "Who are you talking to?"

Yost: "Mr. President, in regard to the June 30th deadline, is there a chance that that would be moved back?"

Things proceeded fairly smoothly from that point on.

Not entirely clear was whether Bush was ticked off because Yost didn't call him "Mr. President" -- or if Bush though Yost was talking to someone else on his mobile phone. [Update: I am now told that Yost had a phone to his ear. That would tick me off, too.]

Charlotte and Jobs

Bush was in Charlotte to talk up a new job-training initiative and attend a fundraising lunch.

The Charlotte Observer provided some local reaction.

Tony Mecia writes: "Carolinians involved in job training applauded President Bush's focus on the issue Monday, although some wondered how his plan will work."

Karen Cimino and Lauren Pifari write: "As President Bush touted job retraining at a $2,000-a-plate fund-raiser in Charlotte Monday, hundreds of displaced Pillowtex workers in Kannapolis sought government aid, questioning how retraining would help them.

"'He's talking about the economy getting better, and I'd like to know where at,' said Lindsey Smith, 54, who worked in the textile giant's shipping department for 35 years.

"Crippled by foreign competition, Pillowtex shut down last July, eliminating 4,800 N.C. jobs in the largest mass layoff in state history."

Jim Morrill writes about the $2,000 a plate fundraiser, a "gourmet luncheon with only one thing missing: something to eat it with."

There was no cutlery whatsoever, neither metal nor plastic.

"The explanation was at the bottom of the menus distributed at President Bush's $1.5 million Charlotte fund-raiser Monday," Morrill wrote.

"'At the request of the White House, silverware will not accompany the table settings,' it said in discreetly fine print. . . .

"The reason: So the tinkle of silver wouldn't disrupt the president's speech.

"'They're just doing it so people can eat their meals prior to or after the president's speech,' said spokesman Reed Dickens, who said it's standard procedure for fund-raisers. 'It's just a logistical issue. Nothing more.'"

Here is the text of Bush's remarks on job-training in Charlotte, a related fact sheet, and the text of his tinkle-free remarks at the fundraising luncheon.

Later, in St. Louis

The president then flew to St. Louis, where he threw out the first pitch of the St. Louis Cardinals season.

Neil A. Lewis writes for the New York Times: "Mr. Bush chose to do so here in Missouri, an important tossup state in the presidential race. When he sprinted out of the home-team dugout at Busch Stadium here wearing a Cardinals jacket, he drew a cheer from the stands exceeding even that given a few minutes earlier to Stan Musial, perhaps St. Louis's most revered Hall of Famer. The president then threw an arguable strike to Mike Matheny, the Cardinals' catcher."

Shane Graber, Heather Ratcliffe and Tim O'Neil of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch write: "Some fans grumbled about the long security lines, others didn't like President George W. Bush's politics. But they raved about his pitching."

They related an amusing anecdote from the dugout, where they found Secret Service agent Brian Piersall of the Las Vegas office wearing a Brewers uniform.

"'I'm not even a baseball fan,' he said before game time and turned to one of the Brewers and asked what he should do if fans asked for his autograph. 'Just sign them,' the player said."

Speaking of security, Todd C. Frankel of the Post-Dispatch writes: "A helicopter trip for a pilot, his girlfriend and her toddler son went from leisurely to a matter of national security Monday when they flew into restricted airspace just as President George W. Bush finished throwing out the first pitch at Busch Stadium.

"Two F-15 fighter jets scrambled to intercept the helicopter, circling the aircraft until it was forced to land behind a home in the Spanish Lake area."

Jo Mannies of the Post-Dispatch writes: "While President George W. Bush visited Busch Stadium on Monday, he engaged in two of the great American pastimes: baseball and politics.

"After throwing the first pitch of the Cardinals' new season, Bush spent more than hour hobnobbing with some of his best campaign donors: the Cardinals owners."

Bush gave a quick interview from the field to Fox Sports Midwest. "It's such an honor to throw out the first pitch with a storied franchise," he said. "I'm really glad that baseball season's here. . . . Baseball's a very important part of the social fabric of this country."

Poll Watch

Will Lester of the Associated Press writes that Americans are "increasingly skeptical about President Bush's handling of the situation" in Iraq.

The Pew Research Center reports that "[m]ore Americans now disapprove of the way he is doing his job than approve, though by only a slight margin (47% disapprove vs. 43% approve). Just four-in-ten approve of the way Bush is handling the situation in Iraq, his lowest rating ever and down from 59% in January. Bush's evaluations on other issues -- the economy, energy and even terrorism -- have fallen as well. And by a wide margin (57% to 32%) the public does not think he has a clear plan for bringing the situation in Iraq to a successful conclusion."

And Carla Marinucci writes in the San Francisco Chronicle: "A new poll shows President Bush's approval ratings in California have plummeted, even in the state's most GOP-dominated conservative areas.

"With the Iraq war taking a difficult turn and questions raised at home about the administration's terrorism policy, the poll by the Survey and Policy Research Institute at San Jose State University released Monday puts Bush's state approval ratings at just 38 percent, while 50 percent disapprove."

Here are more poll results from the Chronicle.

Background Background

Dana Milbank writes in his White House Notebook for The Washington Post: "One side effect of Richard A. Clarke's testimony to the Sept. 11 commission was to bring the Washington notion of the 'backgrounder' to the fore. . . .

"The notion of speaking 'on background' has been around for decades, allowing reporters to get senior administration officials to speak candidly, and sometimes critically, about their boss's policies. But somewhere along the line, administrations learned to turn background backward. The White House now organizes authorized background briefings almost weekly, in which officials are cloaked in anonymity. It appears from these sessions that the anonymity is not to protect officials who say something negative -- but to shield them from embarrassment for sounding like cheerleaders."

New Bush Book Revelation

Oh boy, another Bush book.

Peter Schweizer, co-author of a new book on the Bush family, has an opinion piece in USA Today about the experiences both presidents Bush have had with the limits of CIA intelligence. In it, this nugget:

"The irony in all of this is that when father and son talked about a second Gulf War, the father was against it. Family members told us they recall him asking: 'What is the exit strategy?'"

Or, as the headline over Thomas M. DeFrank's story in the New York Daily News puts it: "Book: Poppy opposed Dubya's war."

Cheney and Gas

Richard A. Oppel Jr. writes in the New York Times: "In October 1986, when Dick Cheney was the lone congressman from energy-rich Wyoming, he introduced legislation to create a new import tax that would have caused the price of oil, and ultimately the price of gasoline paid by drivers, to soar by billions of dollars per year. . . .

"Renewed attention on Mr. Cheney's plan, which Democrats dusted off and talked about on the Senate floor last week, offers another wrinkle in this year's politicized debate about gas prices. . . . "

Upcoming Visits

Patrick E. Tyler writes in the New York Times: "Prime Minister Tony Blair will fly to Washington next week for a meeting with President Bush that will be dominated by concern over mounting instability and the political transition in Iraq, British officials said Monday."

Drew Fagan of the Toronto-based Globe and Mail writes: "Sources say that Prime Minister Paul Martin is expected to meet with United States President George W. Bush on April 30. The trip could involve an overnight stay, because the Prime Minister may also meet with congressional Republican and Democratic leaders on April 29. Mr. Martin and Mr. Bush discussed the meeting in a telephone conversation on Saturday morning."

Using Tax Dollars

Nancy Benac writes for the Associated Press: "In the time-honored tradition of presidents past, Bush is skillfully using the resources of the federal government to promote his re-election. And some critics say the president is going far beyond his predecessors in using government means to accomplish political ends."

Yawning Boy Redux

In yesterday's coda to the Yawning Boy saga, I forgot to mention an illuminating report from Thomas Lang on the campaigndesk.org Web site on Friday.

Lang arguably gets to the bottom of the question of why CNN ever reported that the White House called to cast doubts on the accuracy of the yawning boy video. This has caused much huffing and puffing amongst administration critics.

Lang quotes CNN spokesman Matt Furman thusly: "When we aired the Letterman clip Tuesday morning a producer in the CNN White House unit called our national desk to raise an issue about the potential authenticity of the tape. That conversation was relayed among several people in the newsroom and by the time it made it to [news anchor] Daryn Kagan it had gone through several people in the news room and unfortunately [the on-air version] became 'The White House has said the tape is not authentic.'"

And speaking of yawning boy, reader Stephen Stackwick e-mailed me yesterday with this comment:

"Interesting that W. had time to scribble a note to Tyler but families of KIA servicemen get (duplicate) form letters."

Stackwick was referring to last Tuesday's Washington Post story by David Maraniss who told of one Iowa family who lost their son getting two identical form letters from Bush.

Awkward Transition Watch

From Bush's remarks at the fundraising lunch in Charlotte:

"I generally try to stay on time. I'm running a little late. I met with some special people in order for me to -- before I came over here, so thanks. There's nothing worse than a politician making people wait. I think I've got a pretty good excuse. I met with the family of a fellow who -- who was killed in Iraq. It's part of my duty, it's part of my obligation. It was an uplifting experience to meet with a family that loves their country. I told the -- I told the dad, and the mom, and the wife that we'd stay the course. We'd do what's right, and their son would not have died in vain. (Applause.)

"If you're noticing me working my shoulder a little bit, it's because after dinner I've got to go out and deliver a hopping fastball to open up the baseball season. I can't run very far, just hope I can throw 60 foot and six inches. (Laughter.)"

I Promise You a Rose Garden

The White House announced yesterday: "The Annual White House Spring Garden Tour will be held on two dates: Saturday, April 17 from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. and Sunday, April 18 from 12 p.m. - 4 p.m." Tickets are required, and are available first-come first-served at the Ellipse Visitor Pavilion located at 15th and E Streets on both tour days beginning at 7:30 a.m.

Today's Calendar

Bush travels from his ranch in Crawford to El Dorado, Ark., today to have another one of his talks about the economy, then zips back to Crawford where he's spending the week.

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