The Oval: Presidential Gifts

What do you give the man who has everything? In 2004, President George W. Bush accepted more than a dozen gifts valued at nearly $27,000, according to recently filed financial-disclosure forms. The most generous present: a $14,000 custom-made shotgun from Roy Weatherby, a California gun manufacturer.

Leisure-time features heavily among the gifts. Bush, an avid biking fan, also accepted a $2,700 mountain bike from Trek Bicycle Corp., as well as more than $500 in biking accessories from the company. Nike gave the president a set of warm-ups valued at $305. Bush also received several thousand dollars in fishing equipment, including a rod, three caps and fishing bait valued at more than $200 from former Commerce Secretary Don Evans. A longtime Bush pal, Evans also gave the president a $149 sweater and a hardcover book called "Longhorn," priced at $240.

But it wasn't just the president on the receiving end. First Lady Laura Bush received a $1,300 gold bracelet from close friends Tom and Andi Bernstein, who own New York City's Chelsea Piers, and $400 in salad plates from Tricia Lott, wife of Sen. Trent Lott.

Under government ethics rules, gifts valued at more than $285 must be disclosed annually by Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. All told, Cheney received 10 gifts valued at roughly $6,000 last year. While Bush received mostly sporting goods, Cheney reported lots of arty gifts, including a $700 statue and two paintings valued together at $2,400. The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation gave Cheney a $350 hatchet commemorating the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Meanwhile, Donald Vinson, a family friend from Wyoming, gave Cheney a dozen bottles of wine valued at $699.

But perhaps the most interesting gifts were the ones Bush and Cheney gave to each other. Bush lists his Christmas gift from Cheney as a desk clock valued at $595. Bush's gift to Cheney, according to the VP's financial disclosure: a $425 floor globe. Judging from those gifts, you could deduce one of three things: Cheney might be subtly reminding Bush how he can't wait for him to leave the Oval in January 2009. Alternatively, Bush might be subtly reminding Cheney there's a world beyond Iraq. More simply, the gifts tell another story: Cheney can afford a more expensive gift than his boss.

What a difference a year makes

Presidential press conferences provide great snapshots of a White House in motion, and the last two media events in the Rose Garden were no different. Speaking alongside Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last week, Bush started to explain his theories about how elections in the region would affect terrorist groups such as Hamas.

"The president ran on a peace platform," Bush said of Abbas. "You know, maybe somebody will run on a war platform--you know, vote for me, I promise violence. I don't think they're going to get elected, because I think Palestinian moms want their children to grow up in peace just like American moms want their children to grow up in peace. As a matter of fact, I think the people that campaign for peace will win."

That's a curious analysis for a politician who described himself last year--as he ran for re-election--as a "war president" and campaigned intensively on the issue of national security. Bush's first TV debate with John Kerry revolved around who would be the better commander in chief, or as Bush put it: "You cannot lead the war on terror if you keep changing positions on the war on terror." There were few lines more repeated during the campaign than Bush's pledge "to stay on the offense," or as he said in the same TV debate: "We will fight the terrorists around the world so we do not have to face them here at home." To underscore that message, one ad from the RNC questioned whether Kerry was "too weak" to fight terrorism.

As for Kerry's peace platform, the Democratic senator came under intense fire for suggesting that U.S. troops could begin coming home by the summer of 2005 as long as new allies committed troops immediately. Bush mocked Kerry for that suggestion in their second TV debate, saying, "We're going to solve the problem in Iraq by holding a summit."

Of course, there's a world of difference between Hamas' goals and Bush's goals, not to mention their methods and morals. But when it comes to elections, the lessons of Bush's campaign in 2004 suggest that war platforms can be exceptionally effective.

Media maven

The biggest news arising from Tuesday's Rose Garden event may have been the press conference itself. It was Bush's fifth formal question-and-answer session with reporters since January--about triple the rate of such events during his first term. Indeed, Bush held just 17 solo news conferences during his first four years in office, the lowest total of any first term president since Dwight Eisenhower formally launched on-the-record briefings with reporters back in 1953. By comparison, President Bill Clinton held 44 solo news conferences during his first four years in office, Bush's dad held 84, and President Ronald Reagan held 26, according to statistics compiled by Martha Joynt Kumar of Towson University. If the pace continues--and White House officials say it will--Bush stands to be the first president to hold more press conferences in his second term than in his first.

Why the turnaround? For one thing, Bush has been visibly more confident in office since winning re-election last fall and has appeared to be more at ease with reporters. But Bush doesn't regularly appear before the media because he particularly enjoys it. As a second-term president constantly working to stay one step ahead of the dreaded "lame duck" label, Bush has reached out to White House reporters in part to maintain a sense of momentum about his agenda.

Yesterday, as in most of his recent meetings with reporters, Bush launched his press conference by talking about his domestic priorities that face an uphill battle in Congress, including his long-stalled energy bill and efforts to reform Social Security. But when asked if he feels momentum has slowed for his agenda, Bush shrugged off any doubt. "I don't worry about anything here in Washington, D.C.," he said.

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