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A Punchy President Meets the Press

"You're going to be sorry," Thomas warned.

"Well, then, let me take it back."

It was too late. Thomas hectored him with a question about how "every reason given" for the Iraq war was wrong, then repeatedly interrupted his answers to argue.

"I kind of semi-regretted it," Bush said after the ordeal-by-Helen. He reaffirmed that her musical performance was "just brilliant," then offered that Reuters correspondent Steve Holland's performance in the same show "was a little weak."

Bush's jests apparently did nothing to reduce the antagonism in the questions, but the president did succeed at entertaining his tormentors, and himself.

NBC's Kelly O'Donnell weighed in with a question about whether it's time to make some changes on his staff, which appears "tired and even tone-deaf." This prompted the networks to go to cutaway shots of Bush aides Dan Bartlett, Karl Rove, Scott McClellan and Steve Hadley, squeezed into small chairs along one wall, looking miserable. "Wait a minute," Bush interrupted cheerfully, "is this a personal attack launching over here?"

Asked about his lost "political capital" by Gerstenzang, Bush replied that he had just listed a series of accomplishments, offering, "I'd be glad to repeat them if you like." Bumiller waved her hand to indicate such a recitation would be unnecessary. "Please," Bush responded, "no hand gestures."

Bush took his revenge moments later, when, explaining his immigration policy, he asserted that "Elisabeth was half asleep" for his speech on Monday. When she protested, he insisted: "Well, the person next to you was. They were dozing off. I could see them watching their watches, kind of wondering how long he's going to blow on for. 'Let's get him out of here so we can go get lunch' is what they were thinking."

Perhaps. Or perhaps Bush was projecting. Seconds later, when he had finished his answer to the question, he added: "Listen, thank you for your time. I've got lunch with the president of Liberia right now." It was not yet 11 a.m.

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