It's quite rare for President Bush to lecture reporters, but he did it Thursday morning to British reporters in a Rose Garden press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. When reporters for Sky News and BBC tried to suggest strongly that Blair was the lamest of ducks, President Bush upbraided them for "trying to do a tap dance on this political grave" and said Blair is a solid, respected leader, unlike some political players (in the press?): "There's a lot of blowhards in the political process, a lot of hot air artists, people who've got something fancy to say."
After reporter Adam Boulton of Sky News pressed Bush if he's "partly to blame" for Blair retiring, a reporter for the program BBC Newsnight really stirred up the president:
QUESTION: Mr. Blair, you outlined some very big policy areas there in your discussions with the president. Is it really possible, do you think, to make significant progress on them in the time that you have left? And, Mr. President, if I could ask you: Is this really still the right man to be talking to?
BUSH: Yes. No question about it, it's the right man to be talking to. And, yes, we can get a lot done....[Blair offers long answer]...You know, it's interesting -- like trying to do a tap dance on this political grave, aren't you? I mean this -- you don't understand how effective Blair is, I guess, because when we're in a room with world leaders and he speaks, people listen. And they view his opinion as considered and his judgment as sound.
And I find it interesting the first two questions are: Is this the right guy? Well, he happens to be your prime minister. But, more importantly, he is a respected man in the international arena. People admire him. Even if they may not agree with him 100 percent, they admire him a lot.
And it's not just the American president who admires him. A lot of people admire him. And so he's effective. He's effective because his recommendations to solve problems are sound. He's also effective because he is the kind of person who follows through. There's a lot of blowhards in the political process, a lot of hot air artists, people who've got something fancy to say.
Tony Blair is somebody who actually follows through with his convictions and, therefore, is admired in the international community.
The earlier question by Boulton unfolded like this:
QUESTION: During the course of this visit, it has been confirmed that Gordon Brown is going to be the next British prime minister, taking over in 40 days time. I wonder if I could have both your reactions to that. And in particular, to Mr. Blair, what do you say to those people who say now there's a new prime minister in place you should go sooner? And to Mr. Bush...
BUSH, laughing: Lovely question, isn't it?
QUESTION: ... however inadvertently, you once said that you would like Tony Blair to stay for the duration of your presidency. He's not doing that. Do you think you're partly to blame for that?
BUSH: I haven't polled the Labour conference. But, could be. The question is: Am I to blame for his leaving? I don't know....He's going to finish the job that the people want him to do. And I'm going to work with him to do it. The meetings today weren't -- this wasn't like a farewell deal. This was, "How can we continue to work together for the common good?" And that's what we'll do. As to why things happen politically in Great Britain, I'd suggest you go over there and ask people. Nice to see you again. (LAUGHTER)
BLAIR: You've kind of forgotten what the British media are like... (LAUGHTER)
BUSH: At least he woke up to ask the question.
BLAIR: ....I'll answer the question about the president, as well in relation to me. I mean, you can debate that as much as you like, but I want to say one thing to you since this will be the last chance I get to do this type of press conference in the Rose Garden standing next to President Bush.
I've admired him as a president and I regard him as a friend. I have taken the view that Britain should stand shoulder to shoulder with America after September 11. I have never deviated from that view. I do not regret that view. I am proud of the relationship we have had. I am proud of the relationship between our two countries.