Where the President Isn't

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, December 14, 2005; 1:45 PM

Here's a problem with following the president around all day long: Sometimes the story is where he's not.

Reporting that President Bush steered clear of the White House's own Conference on Aging yesterday -- making him the first president ever to do so -- fell to the regional newspapers and NPR, not the big guys.

It turns out that had Bush attended, he would have been facing a very hostile audience.

So instead, Bush held a photo-op with a hand-picked group of seniors at a swanky retirement home -- and it was well covered by the usual suspects.

The White House Conference

Julie Rovner reported on NPR's All Things Considered: "The once-a-decade White House Conference on Aging is meeting in Washington this week, with the future of Medicare high on its agenda. Medicare was on President Bush's agenda Tuesday, too. But he skipped the White House conference -- making him the first president not to speak to delegates in the event's half-century history.

"While the conference on aging delegates was meeting in a hotel uptown, the White House motorcade set out in the opposite direction, to Greenspring Village, a high-end gated retirement community in suburban Virginia. . . .

"The White House team handpicked the seniors who met with President Bush at the closed meeting."

Stephen Nohlgren writes in the St. Petersburg Times: "While President Bush was in Virginia touting his new Medicare drug plan Tuesday, delegates to the fifth White House Conference on Aging demanded it be overhauled.

"Their paths never crossed.

"Unlike his three predecessors, including his father, Bush will not attend the four-day conference. The administration is well represented there, a White House spokeswoman said.

" 'The purpose of the conference was to develop recommendations for research and action in the field of aging and present a report with their findings to the president,' said spokeswoman Jeanie Mamo. 'The president participated at an event in Springfield, Va., to educate seniors on Medicare prescription drugs and encourage them to sign up with the program.' . . .

"Bush, Republican governors and Republican members of Congress appointed most of this year's 1,200 delegates, which makes the resistance to [the drug plan] particularly striking."

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