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A President Besieged and Isolated, Yet at Ease

George W. Bush has invited a range of scholars to the White House to discuss how his presidency has gotten off course.
George W. Bush has invited a range of scholars to the White House to discuss how his presidency has gotten off course. (By Gerald Herbert -- Associated Press)

Bush also deals with stress through discipline, routine and exercise. On a typical day, he wakes at 5 a.m., arrives at the Oval Office at 6:30, then leaves at 4:30 p.m. for a 60-minute workout. He returns to work for a while before retiring to the residence, where he turns in at 9:30. On weekends, he favors two-hour biking sessions at a Secret Service facility in Beltsville with companions such as Card or Alexander Ellis IV, a young cousin.

Friends say this does not make him ignorant of his troubles. "There isn't any doubt that he is totally and completely aware of all the existing circumstances around him," said a close friend. "There's not anything that he's not aware of -- how he's perceived, how his people are perceived, the problems his people have. He is the furthest thing from oblivious. . . . Somewhere in the back of his mind there's a pretty complete autopsy."

Yet Bush can seem disengaged. When he flew to New York to visit a Harlem school and promote his education program, he brought along New York congressmen on Air Force One, including Democrat Charles B. Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. The White House was in the midst of tough negotiations with Rangel over trade pacts. But Bush did not try to cut a deal with Rangel, chatting instead about baseball. "He talked a lot about the Rangers," Rangel said. "I didn't know what the hell he was talking about."

Still, that trip demonstrated that Bush cannot escape his burdens. King, the GOP congressman, introduced him backstage to a soldier injured in one eye. Bush teared up and asked the young man to take off his dark glasses so he could see the wound, King recalled. "Human instinct is when someone has a serious injury to look the other way," King said. "He actually asked him to take them off. He actually touched the eye a little. It was almost as if he felt he had to confront it."

As they headed back to Washington a few hours later, with the televisions aboard Air Force One tuned to the New York Mets game, King mused that Bush must be feeling the weight of his office.

"My wife loves you, but she doesn't know how you don't wake up every morning and say, 'I've had it. I'm out of here,' " King told him.

"She thinks that?" Bush replied. "Get her on the phone."

King dialed but got voice mail. Bush left a message: "I'm doing okay. Don't worry about me."

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