White House Press Conference

Editor's note: David Gura live blogged the president's press conference this morning. You can read his post, in its entirety, after the jump.

President Bush, at the press conference this morning.

President Bush, at the press conference this morning. Source: AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Source: AFP/Getty Images

10:51 a.m. EST
The reporters in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room are desperate for some presidential prognostication.

One last question, shouted from what must've been the back of the room: "Do you still think that Senator Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic presidential nominee?!"

No answer from President Bush.

10:48 a.m. EST
President Bush faced a question about China, human rights, and the Olympics. (Apropos of our second-hour show today, I'll point out).

The president said that he enjoys a good relationship with Hu Jintao, the president of China, and that he won't shy away from bringing up his concerns about human rights violations. "And at the same time," Bush said, referring to himself as a big sports fan, "[he] will enjoy a great sporting event."

10:44 a.m. EST
A reporter asked the president what kind of hope can offer Americans, struggling as the economy continues to weaken. He cited a prediction by some analysts that gas could cost as much as $4 per gallon in the near future.

President Bush said that the government could assuage concerns if the tax cuts he passed earlier in his presidency were made permanent. The United States needs "to find more oil and guess at home," he said.

10:42 a.m. EST
Sheryl Gay Stolberg, a reporter for The New York Times, asked the president if he thought that a remark by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), during a debate with Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), was naive. Obama said that, if he were president and had withdrawn from Iraq, and al-Qaida made a resurgence in the country, he would reserve the right to return there to fight the terrorist organization. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) lampooned the remark for its naivety yesterday in a speech on the campaign trail.

Again, President Bush refused to "play pundit."

10:36 a.m. EST
President Bush was asked what he thinks about another subject of debate on the campaign trail: If anything is lost by refusing to embrace diplomacy with the leaders of Iran and Cuba, among other countries with whom the United States have chilly relationships.

"What's lost by embracing a tryant who puts people in prison for embracing their own political beliefs?" the president said. "It will give great status to those who have supressed human rights and human dignity."

He said that he has no plans to change his foreign policy. "Now is not the time to talk to Raul Castro," Bush said. "He's nothing more than an extension of what his brother did, which is to ruin an island."

10:33 a.m. EST
FOX News's Mike Emanuel asked President Bush if he believed that the Congress was playing political games with the Protect America Act, the update to FISA. No, he said.

The president emphasized that the telecommunications face billion-dollar lawsuits for eavesdropping they were told was legal.

10:28 a.m. EST
Another reference to the campaign trail, this time about the frequency with which candidates are mentioning free-trade deals.

"I am a big believer in free trade," President Bush said. It is "essential to the formation of high-paying, quality jobs."

NAFTA is overwhelmingly unpopular in Ohio, where Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) are competing doggedly.

10:23 a.m. EST
President Bush, when asked about the Protect America Act, became frustrated again. The pending lawsuits against the telecommunications companies are "patently unfair," he said.

10:23 a.m. EST
"We've had some diplomatic head butts," President Bush said, of his relationship with Putin. "And yet in spite of that, we still have got a cordial enough relationship to deal with common threats and opportunities."

10:17 a.m. EST
The next two question focused on two foreign issues attracting a lot of international attention: the Turkish incursion into Iraq, and this weekend's presidential election in Russia.

President Bush said that he "agreed with the sentiments of [Defense] Secretary of Defense Robert Gates," who urged Turkish forces to leave Iraq by mid-March.

On Russia, he said that he wants to leave a strong, personal relationship with Russia for his successor. "It is in the interest of the country to have a relationship leader-to-leader."

He rejected a suggestion by NBC's David Gregory that Dmitry Medvedev is "a puppet" for current Russian president Vladimir Putin.

10:14 a.m. EST
The first question from reporters was about the economy. President Bush was asked if he thought that struggling economy would hurt the [presumptive] candidacy of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

He avoided the thrust of the question, about the campaign. "You're trying to get me to play pundit again," he said.

10:13 a.m. EST
To the questions!

10:12 a.m. EST
President Bush touched on growing economy woes. Later today, he plans to meet with his economic team.

Yesterday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke told the House Financial Services Committee that the economy is continuing to weaken, the housing and labor markets are getting worse, and inflation is on the rise.

10:10 a.m. EST
Five minutes into his press conference, President Bush sounds testy. He criticized Congress for debating another bill that would cut funding for the war in Iraq.

He said that many senators and congressmen "are not recognizing progress in Iraq."

10:08 a.m. EST
He encouraged Congress to pass the Protect America Act. The law would make it easier for the government to eavesdrop on suspected terrorists. The House and the Senate have passed two different versions of the legislation, which enhances the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). President Bush favors the Senate one. Why? Because it affords telecommunication companies that provided information to government agencies after Sept. 11.

In an interview on Morning Edition, Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, told NPR's Renee Montagne that the government needs help from America's telecommunications companies "for success to protect the country." "Currently there is no retroactive liability protection for them. They're being sued for billions of dollars."

President Bush makes his case for the bill here.

10:05 a.m. EST
President Bush started the conference with a reflection on his recent week-long trip to Africa. He has asked for more funding for the Presidents Emergency Plan for Aids Relief.

"It is important to remain generous and compassionate to people oversees," he said.

The bill would "support treatment for at least two million people living with HIV/AIDS, prevent seven million new infections, and support care for 10 million people infected with and affected by HIV, including orphans and vulnerable children. The Emergency Plan works in over 120 countries around the world, with a special emphasis on 15 countries in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean."

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