The President and the Chocolate Factory

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Friday, January 30, 2004; 11:11 AM

While in Merrimack, N.H., yesterday, the presidential motorcade pulled over at a chocolate store -- and for the second time in a week President Bush had a jolly time pretending to help workers, refusing to answer pointed questions and exhorting the press corps to spend some money. (See last Friday's column on the rib joint.)

Here's a partial transcript provided by the White House:

" Q: Mr. President --

" THE PRESIDENT: Now what was that look for?

" Q: I'm wondering what you think of John Kerry, sir?

" THE PRESIDENT: You're supposed to be thinking about what it means to start your own business, like these people here have done.

" Q: Mr. President, what about consternation over weapons of mass destruction?"

There's a break in the transcript, and then:

" THE PRESIDENT: Here are the owners, right here. They started their business last year, had a dream, living their dream, and they're making good product. And I expect people in the national press corps to leave some cash behind. (Laughter.)

"That would be you, Allen. Go buy some -- (laughter) -- they'll help you, right over there. (Laughter.)"

The Allen in question, Mike Allen of The Washington Post, was part of the travel pool yesterday.

In the report he filed to his colleagues about the 15-minute stop, Allen said that when the pool was brought into the store, the president was behind a window talking to two workers in the kitchen. The pool was taken into the kitchen, where Bush was lounging against the conveyor belt, casually chatting with two workers who were calmly making peanut butter truffles. Bush pitched in, and sprinkled some crushed peanuts with his fingers.

Another member of the pool said, "You remember the 'I Love Lucy' episode with the chocolates?" The president chuckled. (Here's a video clip from the episode.)

The Manchester Union-Leader has pictures -- and reports that Bush bought a one-pound box of mixed chocolates for $26. He paid cash.

"Any time he wants a job, he can come back." co-owner Theresa Anderson told the paper.

The White House Web site has a picture.

Allen sent me an e-mail with his own postscript. "Prodded a second time by the president, I stopped taking notes and gave the lady behind the counter $40 and told her to surprise me. She gave me a big mixture with some change in the bag. The pool was hustled out before it was ready, so Scott McClellan delivered the bag to me on Air Force One (which, incidentally, was the smaller Boeing 757 because of a tight runway used for one of the stops yesterday). I then sold the candy to a staff member who either wanted to eat it or give it to his girlfriend -- I'm not sure which."

If you feel you missed out on the fun, Swan Chocolates, an eight-month-old family-owned business, has a Web site where you can even order online.

About That Economy

Mike Allen was also there for the main event of the day, Bush's economic pep talk at the Fidelity Investments campus. "Bush used the word 'optimism' or 'optimistic' seven times during the 42-minute event, which was staged in a talk-show format," Allen writes.

" 'See, I'm really optimistic about the future,' he said. 'I think after you hear this discussion, I think you'll be optimistic.' Then he added, to laughter: 'At least if you pay attention to what you hear.' "

Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times writes that Bush's goal was "to try to dig out from the piles of invective that those candidates had heaped on him in a presidential primary that White House officials said Mr. Bush was too busy to notice."

Here's the full transcript.

Intelligence Failure Update

In a news analysis, David E. Sanger of the New York Times writes: "The intensifying debate over prewar American intelligence about Iraq presents President Bush with difficult and risky alternatives as he balances election year politics with calls to overhaul the intelligence apparatus and to restore the nation's credibility around the world....

"Mr. Bush's political advisers are highly aware that Dr. Kay's report has given Democratic contenders for the presidential nomination something they have long sought: a way to revive the issue of whether Mr. Bush was careless and trigger-happy, willing to twist intelligence findings to fit his own agenda, even at the cost of American credibility abroad."

Dana Priest and Walter Pincus write in The Washington Post: "The White House, meanwhile, edged closer to acknowledging flaws in the intelligence on Iraq but continued to say it is not yet possible to draw final conclusions about Hussein's weapons."

Richard W. Stevenson of the New York Times writes that the Bush administration is now saying "that even if Saddam Hussein had not amassed stockpiles of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, the United States could not have afforded to leave him in power because he had a history of trying to acquire them."

Janet Hook has a news analysis in the Los Angeles Times: "Mounting questions about the White House's rationale for invading Iraq are giving Democratic presidential candidates fresh ammunition for attacking President Bush's credibility and challenging a foreign policy record that has been the cornerstone of Bush's 2004 reelection campaign."

Judy Keen writes in USA Today: "When national security adviser Condoleezza Rice turns up on every network morning news show, as she did Thursday, it's usually a sign of worry in the White House."

John Roberts of CBS News reports that "President Bush today was publicly sticking to his guns."

While Bush didn't explicitly address the issue yesterday, he had this comment regarding the war: "We'll debate about the decision, and I look forward to those discussions with the American people. I'm absolutely convinced it was the right thing to do. And I look forward to explaining it clearly to the American people."

Imminent or Not

Press Secretary Scott McClellan on Thursday denied that the White House ever used the term "imminent threat" to describe the need to attack Iraq.

Here's an excerpt from his news conference:

"MR. McCLELLAN: I think some in the media have chosen to use the word 'imminent.' Those were not words -- ...

"Those were not words we used. We used 'grave and gathering threat.' "

The researchers at the liberal Center for American Progress were having none of it. In a press release yesterday, they list 30 statements with variations on the theme, including this one from a McClellan news conference on Feb. 10, 2003:

"MR. McCLELLAN: This is about an imminent threat."

Also see their press release from Wednesday, "A chronology of how the Bush Administration repeatedly and deliberately refused to listen to intelligence agencies that said its case for war was weak."

Campaign Watch

The president attended a $1.1 million campaign fundraiser in Old Greenwich, Conn., last night. And he sounded really pumped.

"We're laying the foundation for what is going to be a great national victory in November of this year. (Applause.) I'm loosening up. (Laughter.) And I'm getting ready. (Laughter.) But politics is going to come in its own time. See, I've got a job to do, and I want you to tell your friends and neighbors that my administration will continue to work hard to earn the confidence of every American, by keeping this nation strong and secure, prosperous and free. (Applause.)

Here's the transcript.

His campaign sure is rolling in money.

Thomas B. Edsall and Sarah Cohen report in The Washington Post on their study of the campaign's just-filed end-of-year statement. The Bush-Cheney '04 Committee raised a record $131.8 million in 2003 and spent $31.6 million.

Here, from the FEC Web site is the financial summary, and a ledger showing where the money came from, and how it's being spent.

Greg Hitt of the Wall Street Journal weighs in with his campaign update: "The first few weeks of 2004 have laid out the different roles President Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney are taking in their re-election campaign...

"As the president, who appeared here Thursday, stumps across the country, he is hewing to big themes and forward-looking goals involving space exploration, an easing of immigration rules and overcoming a jobless recovery.

"Meantime, Mr. Cheney has emerged from self-imposed isolation to take a highly public role defending the Iraq invasion and the war on terror -- contentious areas in which he played a leading part."

Today's Calendar

Bush meets with economists in the morning, and the NATO Secretary General in the afternoon.

Happy Birthday, Freedom Corps

"In the last two years, the USA Freedom Corps has mobilized more Americans to engage in volunteer service, strengthened national service programs, supported the teaching of American history and civics, and established new volunteer initiatives to better serve important community needs," reports a White House fact sheet.You can ask questions of Ron Christie, the acting director of The Freedom Corps, today at 2 p.m. ET on the White House Web site.

Budget Watch

The Bush budget proposal is to be unveiled in full Monday. Before that, we get dribs and drabs.

•Medicare Drug Cost Estimate Increases; Prescription Benefit's Price Tag Rises 33%, Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post.

•Bush's Aides Put Higher Price Tag on Medicare Law, Robert Pear, the New York Times.

•Widening Deficit Is Posing a Risk To Bush's Agenda; Concern About the Shortfall May Crimp Legislative Plans In President's New Budget, Jackie Calmes and John D. McKinnon, Wall Street Journal.

•Republican Concerns About Deficits Grow, Edmund L. Andrews, the New York Times.

•White House to Project Deficit of $521 Billion in 2004, Andrew Clark and Adam Entous, Reuters.

White House Seeks Raise For the Arts; Boost Would Still Leave Agency Below 1992 High, Jacqueline Trescott, The Washington Post.

•Bush to Seek More Money to Thwart Bioterrorism, Jon Marino, Los Angeles Times.

•Bush Pushes Mad Cow Spending, Jeffrey Sparshott, the Washington Times.

Veto Threat

President Bush hasn't used his veto even once. But he's prepared to, says Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, if Congress passes a bipartisan proposal to undo parts of the Patriot Act, reports Dan Eggen of The Washington Post. The Patriot Act, the broad anti-terrorism measure overwhelmingly approved by Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, has come under fire as an infringement on civil liberties.

Eric Lichtblau in the New York Times notes: "The threat of a veto represents an unusual pre-emptive strike by the administration. The bill has not even come up for a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee."

Thank You, Soldier

The president rarely mentions the casualties of the Iraq war, and even more rarely by name.

But yesterday at Fidelity Investments, he had this to say: "I particularly want to pay tribute to Sergeant Randy Rosenberg, of Berlin, New Hampshire, who paid the ultimate price for our security and freedom. Our prayers go to his loved ones, and we thank him for his service. I want his loved ones to know, and the people of New Hampshire know, that a free and peaceful Iraq is in this nation's interests. A free and peaceful Iraq in the heart of the Middle East is in our nation's long-term security interests. It will mean our children can grow up in a more secure and peaceful world."

The Manchester Union-Leader reported that Rosenberg, 23, died Saturday. He was killed by a car bomb in Khaldiya.

© 2004