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John King: The Bush presidential style, kudos and criticisms

John King
 

John King is CNN's senior White House correspondent.

CNN Moderator: Welcome back to CNN.com Newsroom, John King. President Bush has said he's done "pretty darn good" in his first 100 days. How would you describe Mr. Bush's presidential style and how does it contrast with former presidents like Bill Clinton and even his father, George Bush, Sr.?

John King: We could spend a week on this, but here are a few observations. This president is a very early riser and very punctual -- two things President Clinton was not known for. Bush has a very MBA - corporate style. He likes short memos and fast-paced meetings; Clinton liked more "bull sessions" if you will. And Bush is more reluctant than Clinton to use the bully pulpit when there are national events like school shootings or racial tensions in Cincinnati.

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And of course there is a very different political/philosophical approach to issues like taxes and spending. One comparison with his father worth nothing: this President Bush is very careful to keep lines of communication open to the conservative base of the Republican Party -- his dad did not have such good relations.

CNN Moderator: How's the president doing with his own party? Has he met the expectations of the Republican Party? Are there issues or certain individuals in the party where he deviates on philosophy?

John King: There has been some grumbling from conservatives about Christie Whitman at EPA -- and the recent effort to seem more pro-environment. And some quiet grumblings from people brought into the administration. But it is striking how, for the most part, this is a president who has kept his political base very much in the support column. The early focus on tax cuts has helped, as did appointments like John Ashcroft and Tommy Thompson. Some moderate Republicans have complained the tax cut is too big or that the administration's reversal of Clinton administration environmental regulations put them in a tough spot. But so far, he gets pretty high marks for keeping the GOP base happy and in line -- and it is a difficult challenge given the 50-50 Senate.

Question from chat room: I heard that many members of Congress are going to skip a luncheon given for them, what is the consensus among White House staffers regarding this snubbing?

John King: All 535 members of Congress were invited, and we are told to expect 193; so fewer than half. Privately they concede here adding this event so late was probably a mistake. Most members of Congress have events in their districts on Monday because Congress is not in session on Mondays. So even many Republicans are not coming because they tend to business back home.

Question from chat room: John, how is Dick Cheney's health? He is looking better on television.

John King: Well he says he feels better and he had a checkup about a month ago now that was said to be pretty good. He has lost 20 pounds from this time a year ago but is being told he needs to lose more. And he says he is keeping his diet and exercise regimen, but every now and then he is known to like a big steak.

Question from chat room: Is the Senate getting anywhere with the education proposal?

John King: There has been considerable progress in private negotiations but still a major hangup over money for elementary and secondary education. Democrats want about $10 billion more for next year; the White House we are told last week offered about $2 billion more. Those negotiations will be a major focus this week -- at the same time the president tries to negotiate a compromise tax cut figure as well.

Question from chat room: John, what do you think Bush gets low marks for thus far?

John King: Well it depends who you ask of course! Democrats say all the talk of bipartisanship is just that -- that Mr. Bush has not truly sought their advice or at least not accepted any of it. And there is a great deal of criticism of his public remarks about defending Taiwan -- that he departed from more than 20 years of U.S. policy answering a question in an interview. Many believe it was a mistake-- that he simply gave too simple an answer to a very complex issue. Even allies of the president say if he wanted to articulate a more muscular pro-Taiwan policy he should have done it in a major speech and consulted allies in Asia and key members of Congress first.

Question from chat room: How is the Bush doing with the ultra-religious who put him in office in order to enforce their agenda?

John King: Well your question veers into political conclusions and judgments that are not my job to make, but the religious right or the social conservative wing of the Republican Party as I prefer to term it, is quite important and this president has open and frequent lines of communication with it. He won praise from this sector of the party by acting early to impose abortion-related restrictions on international family planning money. But there has also been a little grumbling that he appears less willing to fight Congress over the issue of taxpayer vouchers for private schools.

Question from chat room: Good morning John. What's the general feeling of the White House staff to the new administration, and especially the boss?

John King: Well, much of the staff we interact with on a daily basis came from the Bush campaign or the Republican Party ranks, so they are of course quite loyal to the boss. He is viewed by aides as someone who is very polite and cordial, very determined that they have lives outside of their jobs. People who work for him seem to enjoy doing so. Some of the people here go back to his earliest days as a candidate for Texas governor.

The household staff here -- ushers and the like the people who keep the White House running regardless of who is president, say he is very likeable and they like that he keeps a tighter schedule than Clinton not necessarily a criticism of Clinton there, but he did keep people jumping around here with his long days and personal habit of working late into the night.

CNN Moderator: What's on the president's agenda this week and what will we see in the political spotlight?

John King: The negotiations over tax cuts and education are very important. And on Tuesday - tomorrow - he will give a major address outlining his goals for a global missile defense and, as part of that, more reductions in U.S. nuclear stockpiles. It will be quite controversial and the next big test for the president on the international stage.

CNN Moderator: Thanks for joining us today, John King!

John King: Very much enjoyed it ... have a good week.

John King joined CNN.com from his office in the White House in Washington, D.C. He typed for himself. The above is an edited transcript of the interview on Monday, April 30, 2001 at 11:00 a.m. EDT.



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