For Many It's a Summit, For Bush It's a Pique
MONTERREY, Mexico, Jan. 13 -- President Bush sported heavy makeup on his right cheek Tuesday as he endured the pomp and circumstance of the closing day of the Summit of the Americas, leading some reporters to wonder if his South American critics might have finally gotten physical.
It turns out the mark is a battle scar, but Bush got it before he arrived for the two-day, 34-nation summit. Bush's aides say he was scratched by a branch as he cleared brush at his Prairie Chapel Ranch in Crawford, Tex.
The aides, who spin even blemishes, said calling it a "gash" would be overdoing it, but it seemed quite noticeable for a scratch.
Besides exercising, Bush's biggest release from his job is chain sawing branches into huge piles in the summer, with Secret Service agents hovering nearby to protect him from falling limbs as he trims. In the winter, Bush and his heartiest alpha aides burn the towering pyramids of cedar.
That may sound like a chore, but Bush would certainly rather be there than here. The early-rising president can get crabby and punchy if he doesn't hit the pillow by 10 or so at night. On Monday, Bush was not scheduled even to arrive at a dinner hosted by Mexican President Vicente Fox until 9:10 p.m. local time (10:10 Eastern).
Bush, who returned to the White House on Tuesday night, sounded tired and bored at the few public appearances during his 28-hour visit. His remarks had unusually long pauses. Cutaway television shots captured Bush glowering into space as other heads of state talked about "economic growth with equity to reduce poverty," "investing in people" and "democratic governance."
One of the million great things about being president is that you rarely have to listen to people who bore you. Dignitaries who introduce Bush are asked to limit their remarks to one minute. Bush praises those who are quicker, and his aides have been known to scold those who run over.
But "international summit" means "plenary session," and Bush had to sit through speech after speech by his detractors -- most notably Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who had infuriated the Bush brigade over the weekend by describing national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, who is considered family by the Bushes, as "illiterate."
During the summit's inauguration ceremony Monday, Chavez was supposed
to speak for three minutes, but he rambled on about his time in jail, his
economics books and supposed mischaracterizations of him. He referred to the Free Trade Area of the Americas, a proposed hemisphere-wide, low-barrier trade
zone strongly backed by the White House, as "an infernal machinery that, minute by minute, produces an impressive number of poor."
"How many minutes do I have?" he asked at one point, looking at the timekeeper. After getting the response, he said with disappointment, "Just one?"
One of the first signs that Bush was already over the summit came Monday
night, when he was scheduled to pose for pictures and take a few questions
reporters toward the end of his 20-minute meeting with one of his most vociferous critics at the summit, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
The meeting ran late and the media session turned into a handshake and
a back pat for Lula. The whole thing lasted less than 20 seconds. Then
Bush's staff began
shooing the press corps out of the room.
White House regulars know that when the young aide barks "Lights! Thank
you all!" that's the cue to scram or else incur the wrath of Bush and his
palace guard. The
foreign reporters, though, took some cajoling.
"Okay!" various Bushies shouted. "Thank you. Let's go. Back out the
same door. Let's go. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Let's go. Thank you.
Thank you. Sir, we're done! Thank you. Thank you. Let's go, sir -- we're done! Thank you. Let's go."
Over the racket, Bush could be heard saying: "So long, folks. Thank you very much."
Jenna Bush, one of the president's 22-year-old twin daughters, generally
shuns the limelight. But she looked poised and notably slim at Bush's news
President Fox on Monday, where she was seated in the second row, right behind her mother. Jenna Bush was sitting with Fox's stepson, Fernando Bribiesca, who
was declared "a hottie" by several women nearby. Fox's staff said he was "escorting" Bush, not dating her.
The president's daughter, who graduates later this year from the University
of Texas at Austin, was wearing what one clothes-conscious member of the
described as "very fashionable New York winter" -- a knit poncho in Southwestern browns and reds, a black blouse, charcoal pants that bloomed into bell bottoms
and tall heels.
Bush and her father repeatedly smiled at each other during the news
conference. Witnesses said she turned and glared at one reporter who asked
about attacks by
former treasury secretary Paul H. O'Neill on Bush's style and policies.
Jenna's sister, Barbara, did not attend the summit.
First lady Laura Bush is becoming an increasingly prominent fundraiser
and campaigner for her husband, and the White House inner circle views
her as such an
appealing messenger that she is also taking on a higher-profile diplomatic role.
Before Air Force One headed to the Texas ranch and thence to the summit,
the first lady granted White House interviews to the TV networks Univision
Telemundo, both seen throughout the Western Hemisphere, to promote the administration's immigration proposal.
"If you have suffered in any way, if you have been exploited in any
way or a crime has been committed against you, you could go to the authorities,"
Univision. "Now, if you're illegal, you would feel like you couldn't go to the police because you would be deported."
On Tuesday morning, the first lady attended several seminars put on
by her Mexican counterpart, Martha Sahagun, that focused on women and democracy
"That is a message Mrs. Bush takes all over the world, whether she's
talking about Afghan women, or encouraging women to participate in the
political process here
in North and South America," said her press secretary, Gordon Johndroe. "Education and health care are better in countries where women are equal participants in
the political process than in countries that do not include women wholeheartedly, and that is a message that Mrs. Bush brings to this summit."
The first lady is planning to travel to Afghanistan later this year.