President Bush expected yesterday's press conference with NATO Secretary General De Hoop Scheffer to be mundane. The President was standing with the Secretary General to sign a barely touted agreement to allow Albania and Croatia to join NATO. Bush remarked that he was happy to "celebrate two young and vigorous democracies seeking to assume new responsibilities in a time of terrorism and a time of war." With the boilerplate uttered, the United States Commander-in-Chief was ready to announce the gathering finished and call it a day.
That was until Newsweek Senior White House Correspondent Richard Wolffe cold called the President.
"I was ready to go home and watch some DVRed episodes of King of the Hill when Dick all of sudden asks me a question," remarked the President. "Boy, was I totally caught off guard."
Wolffe apparently startled Bush when he asked the President to summarize the government's actions to combat the financial crisis. According to observers, the President hesitated for a few seconds, made a number of incoherent mumblings and then asked whether he could have a second to look over his notes.
The Newsweek reporter tried to help Bush along with some more pointed questions about the changes to Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation's (FDIC) insurance coverage and the Federal Reserve's support for commercial paper, a tool for short-term financing.
"I saw that the President was a bit nervous so I tried to be nice at first," remarked Wolffe. "I floated some softballs but apparently President Bush didn't bring his bat."
Eventually, though, Bush gained his composure and remarked that the Federal Government has responded to the crisis in a way such that prevented the financial system's collapse while protecting tax payers and preventing the enrichment of corporate CEOs.
Wolffe responded: "Mr. President, while that may be true I am still interested to hear about the specifics actions of the FDIC and Fed."
The President proceeded to dither long enough to convince the White House correspondent to change his tack.
"Mr. President, let me ask a follow up," said Wolffe after the President tried to act like the press conference was over. "You have stated that deregulation is not the reason for the current meltdown yet at the same time have touted the Federal Government's planned creation of new, 21st century regulations as a key fix. How do you square these two seemingly incongruous statements?"
At this time Press Secretary Dana Perino noticed the President beginning to sweat and turn red from shame. After motioning to the President that she could answer the question, Bush asked, "Can I get help from my 'co-counsel' over here," making air quotes while saying the term co-counsel.
"I am sorry Mr. President but I'd like to hear the answer from you," responded Wolffe. "What is your thought on what I previously asked?"
After remaining silent for a few seconds the President finally admitted that he didn't do all the reading on the government's $700 billion bailout plan and was unprepared to answer the question.
"President Bush I am supremely disappointed in you," admonished Wolffe. "I expect you to be prepared for these press conferences. I hope the result will be different next time."
Observers verify that the Command-in-Chief's performance was quite excruciating. Doug Mills, a reporter from the New York Times, related that "he felt really bad for the President" but was shocked that Bush wasn't more prepared considering it is common knowledge that Wolffe loves to cold call.
When approached after the presser, however, the President seemed unfazed.
"Whatever, who cares if I looked like an idiot during that reporter's questioning," admitted Bush. "After all, I'm an 8th year. I don't do the reading anymore. They're lucky I even show up."