In the Media, a De-Emphasis on President Bush

President Bush was pushing his ideas for energy legislation while in Alabama at the Browns Ferry nuclear plant Thursday. But the visit received little media attention. While President Bush dismisses talk of being a lame duck, he is being squeezed out of the headlines mainly by the people campaigning for his job.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

President Bush was pushing his ideas for energy legislation while he was in Alabama yesterday. He spoke at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant, then flew to Mobile for a fundraiser.

Mr. Bush always dismisses any talk of him being a lame duck. As he puts it, he is sprinting to the finish line. And yet he's facing many political challenges. He is being squeezed out of the headlines some days by the people campaigning for his job. He has low poll numbers, and he's having more trouble keeping his own Republican party in line.

Yesterday, we sent NPR White House correspondent David Greene on the road with the president.

DAVID GREENE: There was a time when President Bush had no trouble getting on the news. If he flew to some spot in the country and talked about an issue before Congress, cable news outlets would often carry him live. But yesterday, when he was ready to talk at the nuclear plant in Alabama, cable news viewers were getting this.

(Soundbite of news broadcast)

Unidentified Woman #1: Keeping a close eye now on that search for missing Ohio mother Jessie Cutts. She's 26 years old…

Unidentified Man #1: Let's go to Texas now. Holding a press conference, Mike McDonald, the assistant city manager, talking about the beating.

Unidentified Woman #2: We are waiting for word now from Illinois State Police on this bank standoff in Arcola, which you can see by the map…

GREENE: Even without a larger television audience, the president got a warm reception from the hundred or so employees who came to listen.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Thanks for coming by to say hello, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for your kind introduction, and thanks for the invitation to tour this impressive facility.

GREENE: Mr. Bush used the facility to push for increased nuclear energy production in the U.S. One problem, though, was that while Browns Ferry produces electricity for the Southern United States, they didn't have the AC on in the room where the president spoke.

Pres. BUSH: Nuclear power is part of a broader strategy. I want to spend a little time on the broader strategy before we all pass out in here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: Mr. Bush hasn't been feeling well, so the heat yesterday probably didn't help. He was starting to sound hoarse.

President BUSH: And so, I urge the Congress to be realistic about the bills they're talking about. And get it done, get it to my desk so that we can all say we've done a good job of representing the people.

GREENE: From there, he headed for Mobile and a fundraiser for GOP Senator Jeff Sessions. Now, let's put this in context. Sessions is a longtime Bush supporter, but recently he's fought hard against an immigration bill the president wants.

This was Sessions on CNN last week.

(Soundbite of CNN broadcast)

Senator JEFF SESSIONS (Republican, Alabama): Frankly, I think the president is wrong to push this piece of legislation so hard after we've demonstrated the flaws that are in it. He needs to back off.

GREENE: But last night in Mobile.

Sen. SESSIONS: It's my great honor and privilege to introduce to you the president of the United States.

(Soundbite of applause)

GREENE: So why was the president helping this senator in Mobile last night?

President BUSH: I remember - and I'm going to share this with Sessions - I remember a political buddy of mine in Texas. He said, if we agreed 100 percent of the time, one of us wouldn't be necessary.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: The president did have a friendly audience of people sipping wine and munching on hors d'oeuvres.

Ms. SHELBY ROGERS(ph): Here in the Deep South with all these Southern people. Have you eaten - had any food?

GREENE: That's Shelby Rogers, a retired real estate broker. She said she likes Mr. Bush, but she's been angry about his immigration plan. She said it makes it too easy for undocumented workers to become citizens.

Ms. ROGERS: We'd like to have an immigration bill pass, but just not the one that they've got up there now.

GREENE: David Whetstone(ph) was standing nearby. I asked him how folks feel about the president in Mobile.

Mr. DAVID WETSTONE: He is doing better than he is anywhere else.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WETSTONE: But his numbers even here are not nearly as high as they should be. I think the immigration issue and the war has just been difficult.

GREENE: Whetstone is a loyal Republican. He was actually a party delegate who backed Mr. Bush's father and then Mr. Bush, twice. But last night, Whetstone wasn't jumping for joy about the president's visit. He said he was excited to see Sessions.

Mr. WETSTONE: I'm here for Jeff. I would be here even if the president was not here. The president being here makes it nice, but it doesn't make it - I would have come anyhow.

GREENE: Mr. Bush left Mobile last night after raising $900,000, all for a senator who's trying to derail an immigration bill that could shake the president's legacy.

David Greene, NPR News.

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