President Wrapping Up a Quiet Holiday in Crawford
Sunday, January 1, 2006
CRAWFORD, Tex., Dec. 31 -- A year ago this week, President Bush faced television cameras to offer relief and condolences after the Indian Ocean tsunami. In August, the retreat to his ranch was haunted by a 26-day siege by antiwar protesters demonstrating at his doorstep. Days later, Hurricane Katrina forced him to return to Washington in crisis-management mode as critics accused him of being slow to recognize the disaster.
But the president is in quiet seclusion in the waning days of 2005.
The traveling press has not laid eyes on him since Dec. 26, when he boarded Air Force One in Washington with Laura Bush and her mother, Jenna Welch.
The family's New Year Eve plans include a dinner of steak, tamales and green-chili-cheese grits.
On Sunday morning, Bush is to board a flight to visit wounded troops at an Army medical center in San Antonio before returning to Washington.
A handful of senior staff members joined the president on his annual Christmas vacation, and aides said the Bushes had no other visitors this week.
The protesters were gone -- for now. Even the locals in the president's adopted home town were denied a chance to mingle with him on a New Year's Eve stop for a cheeseburger at the Coffee Station, Crawford's only restaurant.
Bush stopped there in 2002 and 2003, and in 2004 hundreds of people lined up in the parking lot to catch a glimpse of their neighbor, to no avail. Only regulars were there Saturday. Reporters did see Bush in 2004, though, after a father-son quail shoot at the ranch of a family friend in South Texas.
"I think the best way to describe it is he's just reflecting, really . . . reflecting back, looking forward," said White House deputy press secretary Trent Duffy. "Just like all of us, when you're outdoors and taking a break, you have time to think about things, and that's the process that he's going through."
Duffy noted that Bush "values his time out of Washington, because it helps him stay grounded."
The president sought refuge at the Prairie Chapel Ranch after a year of sinking poll numbers, instability in Iraq and political scandal in Washington.
If these concerns were on his mind, it was not apparent from aides this week as they reported that Bush spent his time between intelligence briefings bicycling, clearing brush and reading.
Aides said Bush was crafting themes for his State of the Union address and mapping an agenda and political recovery for 2006. His poll ratings in the weeks after parliamentary elections in Iraq and a series of speeches on the war have improved.
The quiet in Crawford could lift at Easter, when Cindy Sheehan, the grieving mother whose son, Casey, was killed in Iraq, said she and her supporters plan to resume their demonstrations when the president is expected to return to the ranch.