Somber Bush sees ‘difficult time’ for Americans

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — This is hardly the way he wanted to go out.

President Bush found few encouraging things to say July 15 as he assessed a grinding list of problems for his final six months in the White House, from soaring gas prices, falling home values and anxieties about bank safety to un-won wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, genocide in Sudan and friction with Moscow and Beijing.

He bounded onstage for a news conference in the White House press briefing room with a smile and a quick good morning, but the next words out of his mouth were a sobering recognition of the nation’s gnawing pocketbook anxieties.

 

“It’s been a difficult time for many American families who are coping with declining housing values and high gasoline prices,” the president said.

Over the next 42 minutes, Bush repeatedly found fault with the country’s direction and the government’s failure to solve problems in the 7˝ years that he has been in office.

He said Americans were “rightly concerned” about gas and home prices, that “there’s a lot of nervousness” about the stability of banks, that the economy is “not as good as we’d like” and there is “no short-term solution” to the energy problem. He blamed the Democratic Congress for failing to deal with the issues.

On the bright side, Bush said the banking system “basically is sound” and the administration has taken steps to help stabilize housing and financial markets and increase confidence in mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

He urged Congress to pass quickly legislation to prop up both institutions.

 

 

Take a deep breath

The president tried to reassure people who are alarmed by pictures of anxious depositors lined up outside troubled banks. “Take a deep breath,” he said, because deposits are insured by the government up to $100,000.

As of July 15, Bush had 189 days before he walks out of the Oval Office for the last time. His term is ending with Americans on edge, the mood of the country sour.

Just 16 percent said the U.S. is moving in the right direction in an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released on the day of Bush’s remarks.

That’s the lowest reading of public sentiment since the poll started in December 2003. Bush’s approval was at 28 percent, which ties the all-time low he hit in AP-Ipsos polling in April.

 

When a reporter reminded him of an embarrassing moment in February, when he said he hadn’t heard forecasts of $4-a-gallon gasoline, Bush interrupted to say, “Aware of it now.”

He called on Congress to follow his example and lift a ban on offshore drilling to help increase domestic oil production.

“I readily concede ... it’s not going to produce a barrel of oil tomorrow, but it is going to change the psychology that demand will constantly outstrip supply,” the president said.

 

 

Lame duck status rejected

Sensitive to his portrayal as a lame duck, Bush said, “People say, ‘Aw, man, you’re running out of time, nothing is going to happen.’

“I’ll remind people what did happen.”

He pointed to recent congressional approval of a bill to broaden the government’s eavesdropping power and a war-funding bill that increases college aid for military service members and veterans who served after Sept. 11, 2001.

He said lawmakers also should pass legislation dealing with housing, energy and trade.

It was Bush’s first White House news conference since April 29, and it was announced about 90 minutes before it began.

 

The timing clashed with a major speech on Iraq by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, who delayed his remarks a half hour for Bush’s news conference. Obama said that, overall, U.S. interests have been hurt rather than helped by Bush’s decision to increase troop strength in Iraq 18 months ago, and he vowed to stick to his plan to withdraw combat troops within 16 months of becoming president.

The president said Obama, when he visits Iraq soon, should listen to military commanders, diplomats and the Iraqis themselves about how the war is progressing and turn aside pressure from liberal anti-war groups like MoveOn.org.

 

In a slap at the news media, Bush said elected officials visiting Iraq will get “an interesting insight — something that you don’t get from just reading your wonderful newspapers or listening to your TV shows.

“You call them TV shows? Newscasts, yes.”

He took another shot at the media over questions about whether the nation is slipping into a recession. Bush said he believes the economy is growing.

“And I can remember this press conference here where people yelling ‘recession this, recession that’ — as if you’re economists.”

 

 

President says he’s enjoyed it

The global stage offers little relief for Bush.

He said he was “displeased” that China and Russia blocked new U.N. sanctions against the government of President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who has retained power in an election that the United States and many other countries have labeled a sham.

He said the U.S. was looking at new ways to punish Zimbabwean leaders.

Bush said the growing strength of extremists flowing from Pakistan into Afghanistan and the deteriorating security situation was troubling.

 

“Obviously it’s still a tough fight there,” said Bush, who will meet at the White House this month with Pakistan’s prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani.

Bush said both Iraq and Afghanistan are important fronts in the war on terror. “The question really facing the country is, will we have the patience and the determination to succeed in these very difficult theaters.”

He ended the news conference with a wave and a smile. “OK, I’ve enjoyed it. Thank you very much for your time. Appreciate it.”