Bush Heads to the Crawford Ranch For a Shorter Vacation Than Last

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The New York Sun

With the Middle East in flames and Republicans in danger of losing control of the House and Senate in elections that are just months away, President Bush is scheduled to leave Washington today for his ranch in Crawford, Texas, where he will take a week of vacation.

That’s just a fraction of the five weeks Mr. Bush planned to spend in Crawford last year. Last year’s vacation was cut short to respond to Hurricane Katrina, but not cut short enough to prevent the image of a vacationing president slow to react to the disaster from contributing to a slide in his popularity.

This time around, Mr. Bush is doing things differently. He’s going to Crawford for just a week. And he’ll be working from the beginning. The secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, will join the president and the first lady on the ranch for a brief break in the 100-degree Texas heat before she heads to Lebanon for a continuation of her shuttle diplomacy.

Mr. Bush will spend some of the time he would have been vacationing to undertake nationwide road trips to rally support for his party ahead of the November elections.

The White House is hoping that increased exposure in the local press, rather than the more critical gaze of the national press, will bolster Mr. Bush’s image. The past few months have seen the president’s approval numbers slowly climb after an all-time low at the beginning of the year, and the administration fears that a summer out of the public eye could reverse that trend.

Between these engagements, Mr. Bush will transfer himself to Camp David, the country retreat of presidents whose place in the history of the Middle East has acquired a particular resonance since the Camp David Accords of 1978, when President Carter brought together Prime Minister Begin of Israel and President Sadat of Egypt to establish a peace between the two countries, which has not faltered in a quarter of a century.

It was also at Camp David, during a summit in 2000, where President Clinton and Prime Minister Barak failed to get Yasser Arafat to agree to a final peace settlement.

Despite these historic precedents, however, Mr. Bush’s visit to Camp David will mostly revolve around riding his bicycle and what a White House spokesman described as “downtime.”

“It’s important for me to go on with my life, to keep a balanced life,” Mr. Bush told reporters last year. “I think the people want the president to be in a position to make good, crisp decisions and to stay healthy.”

Later in August, Mr. Bush will progress to the third part of his vacation to attend a wedding in Kennebunkport, Maine, before marking the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina with a visit to New Orleans.

Mr. Bush’s August vacation at Crawford was dogged last year by anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan. This year Mr. Bush will have moved on from Crawford before Mrs. Sheehan arrives.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Blair is under pressure from his Labor Party backbenchers to cancel a summer vacation in Barbados, which he will begin after his visit to California, in order to guide the Middle East cease-fire negotiations.

Much to the irritation of the British, the initiative over the peace negotiations has been snatched from Mr. Blair by President Chirac of France, who has recently returned from a two-week holiday in French-speaking Canada.

The New York Sun

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