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Bush's Not-So-Easy Riders

By Michael Abramowitz
Monday, December 17, 2007

As in almost every weekend when he is in town, President Bush's motorcade left the White House early Saturday for the Secret Service training facility in Beltsville. There he blew off steam the way he has for four years now, ever since doctors warned him that running was killing his knees: a hard, determined, mountain bike ride.

Bush's love of biking has been well documented, especially by biographer Robert Draper, who writes in his recent book about the Bush presidency of the inordinate efforts by the agents and aides to find trails for the president while traveling. "I like to stay fit," Bush told Bicycling magazine in 2005. "I think you can do your job better if you're fit."

What's less known is that Bush has a regular posse of eight to 10 cyclists who typically join him for his 90-minute weekend rides -- some from the White House, some from agencies, and outside friends. The White House has been circumspect about the composition of this group but recently allowed two of the regulars -- Bush economic adviser Edward P. Lazear and legislative aide Barrett Karr-- to offer a small window into Bush's exercise world.

Among others who have been known to bike with Bush, at least occasionally, are former chief of staff Andrew Card, outside political adviser Mark McKinnon and another young legislative aide, Christopher Frech.

Karr, 35, says that Bush usually takes the lead as the group heads out, but at some point the Leader of the Free World will say, "Let the dogs out" -- and the faster riders will zoom to the front, along the single-track trails at Beltsville. (Bush rode yesterday at Fort Belvoir.) "He's very respectful of everybody on the ride being able to get a good workout," she says.

As she describes it, Bush is obsessed with the metrics of biking, closely measuring the miles traversed and the calories burned. Recently, the president obtained a power meter, which measures wattage, a way to quantify how much power a rider is producing.

"It's been fun to watch him become a serious mountain biker," Karr says. "He's going over logs. He's moving fast on some very [winding] trails."

Lazear, who at 59 is the oldest in the group after the 61-year-old president, says the regular bike ride "is not just a walk in the park -- it is his opportunity in the week to get serious exercise."

"He's a very strong rider, very disciplined," Lazear said. "We ride hard. There's no question. We ride really hard."

There is not much chatting along the way, Lazear says, since many of the trails "require a lot of concentration." Bush is often listening to music on his iPod -- country music, Karr believes.

And the group rides rain or shine. Lazear and Karr tell of riding in extreme cold, with temperatures in the teens, and extreme heat, when she donned a special cooling bandanna. Sometimes, after the ride is over, the group spends a half-hour or so helping clear and build more trails, Lazear says.

"It's a great outlet for him--he gets outside. He relieves stress. He cranks up the iPod," says Karr. "It seems like a good way to balance the stress of the Oval Office."

Rove, Visible and Vocal

Karl Rove may be getting ready to pad his bank account significantly. The auction of his proposed book began last week, and word is that an announcement could come this week about a publishing deal worth potentially in the seven figures for the former senior adviser to President Bush.

With recent appearances on "The Charlie Rose Show," "Hannity & Colmes" and "Fox News Sunday," as well as opinion pieces in the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek and Financial Times, Rove is certainly doing his level best to keep his name out there as he tries to sell his book -- so much so that he might be in danger of overexposure. He found time to travel to Duke University, where more than 1,000 people turned out to see him be interviewed by professor Peter Feaver, who until recently worked with Rove from his perch on the National Security Council staff.

It was not an altogether friendly appearance, as some in the crowd interrupted Rove with shouts of "liar" or "murderer." At one point, Rove shot back, "I don't like to be slandered," according to an account in the Raleigh News & Observer, though Feaver professed to be pleased with the event: "Karl doesn't disappoint: he is humorous, engaging, informative, and, yes, provocative."

Going, Going . . .

The parade of people moving out of the West Wing is getting longer. On Friday, the White House announced that congressional liaison Ca ndy Wolff and top speechwriter Bill McGurn will be leaving shortly, joining Rove, press secretary Tony Snow, terrorism adviser Fran Townsend and others who have decided to bail out as the administration heads into the home stretch.

Wolff will be replaced by Dan Meyer, a former Hill staffer and private lobbyist who joined the administration earlier this year. The new chief speechwriter will be Ma rc Thiessen, a onetime Pentagon wordsmith and aide to former senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.).

Neither Wolff nor McGurn, a former Wall Street Journal editorial writer, have said what they will do next, according to press secretary Dana Perino, who said both had advised chief of staff Joshua M. Bolten long ago that they were planning to leave by the end of the year. McGurn will stay on a bit longer to help out with next month's State of the Union address.

Lessons Learned Dept.

Speaking of Meyer, the onetime chief of staff to then-House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) is one of a trio of senior White House aides who had the searing experience of being bested politically by President Bill Clinton during the 1995 budget showdown. The other two are White House counselor Ed Gillespie, then an aide to Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Tex.), and top political adviser Barry Jackson, then the chief of staff to Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio).

The three helped devise President Bush's hard-line strategy toward Congress this year, which appears to be resulting in a series of victories for him on the budget, Iraq funding and an energy bill that was stripped of provisions that he opposes. While there are certainly differences between the Bush and Clinton eras, the idea that even an unpopular president can exert leverage through use of the veto pen and the bully pulpit has seemed to resonate through the West Wing this fall.

"These guys remember what Clinton did to us," said another veteran of the earlier battles, onetime Gingrich aide Ed Kutler, a lobbyist at Clark & Weinstock. "These are people who learned the lessons of the powers of a president, even a weakened president, in the final days of a Congress. And they have done a good job of using them."

Who's in Charge?

Vice President Cheney:

"I think we've got people on the other side who don't believe as I do. . . . They don't think al-Qaeda is involved in Iraq . . . or they really do want to close Guantanamo. (Dec. 5, 2007, interview with the Politico)

President Bush:

"I'd like to end Guantanamo. I'd like it to be over with." (June 21, 2006, news conference)

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