President Bush's Vacation Habits

President Bush has gone to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, for a nearly five-week "working vacation." Madeleine Brand speaks with Mark Knoller, a reporter for CBS Radio News who travels with the president. Knoller reportedly keeps better records of presidential travel than the White House itself, and talks about Bush's vacation habits.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

White House reporters from news organizations far and wide have packed their bags and gone to Crawford, Texas. That's where President Bush will spend the next five weeks or so on what the White House is calling a working vacation. This is the president's 49th trip to his Texas ranch since taking office. So far, he's spent 320 days, or about 20 percent of his presidency, in Crawford. And one of the people who's been there with him is CBS Radio News reporter Mark Knoller. He's known for keeping better records of presidential travel than the White House itself.

And, Mark, is that correct? We have our figures straight? Is it 320 days?

Mr. MARK KNOLLER (CBS Radio News): Actually not. I have updated them since those numbers came out. This is now the 51st visit by the president to his ranch here in Texas since taking office. And counting today, he has now spent all or part of 325 days at his ranch.

BRAND: So he's just 10 days shy of the record that President Reagan set--back when he spent his time at Santa Barbara--of 335 days?

KNOLLER: If you're trying to compare numbers, yeah, that would be correct. But that was a number for eight years in office, and President Bush is only in the fifth year of his presidency.

BRAND: Aha. So is there a feeling that he's taking just too much time off?

KNOLLER: Well, you know what? It's really unfair to call it time off. The president is really never able to take a vacation from his job. The problems and responsibilities of his office certainly follow him wherever he is, especially at his ranch. The White House taxpayers have installed all sorts of equipment and accommodations for him at his ranch, so he is just as much plugged in and in touch at his ranch.

BRAND: And he also famously clears brush. Does he really clear brush?

KNOLLER: He really does. I mean, he's got 1,600 acres, and there's a lot of cedar wood that he cleans up. It's all over the place. You would think that by this time in his presidency and through all the brush-clearing that he's done, there wouldn't be a stitch of it left, but that's not the case. And we have seen him with a power saw in his hand going after brush and dead trees that accumulate on his ranch.

BRAND: You'd think he could hire someone to do that for him.

KNOLLER: You know what? You'd think that, but he really likes doing it. He's--when it comes to his ranch, he takes pride in being a hands-on cowboy and rancher. And one of the first things he does whenever a foreign leader visits him at the ranch is pack him into his white pickup truck and drive him around the spread so that he can see and show off what Mr. Bush clearly loves.

BRAND: He doesn't enlist the foreign leader in brush-clearing, does he?

KNOLLER: That's unlikely, but I'm certain that if a foreign leader were to volunteer, Mr. Bush would be only too happy to accommodate him.

BRAND: So the White House says that the president also goes to Crawford to give him an opportunity to, quote, "meet with folks out in the heartland." Does he really go out and meet with folks?

KNOLLER: No, not really. Every now and then he'll go to the local coffee shop in Crawford, and he'll have what he regards as his annual cheeseburger, but he usually does that when he's here for his New Year's vacation and not during the summer. But, you know, it's certainly not beyond the pale that he could meet some folks locally, but he doesn't leave the ranch very often, or if he does, we don't know about it.

BRAND: So what do you guys do while he's out clearing brush?

KNOLLER: Well, we're not on vacation. We're on the job. Mr. Bush was up in Grapevine, Texas, giving a speech to The American Legislative Exchange Council. We covered that. Mr. Bush is welcoming the president of Colombia to his ranch for a visit. Press will be able to go into the ranch, watch the arrival, and the two leaders will have a brief news conference. Next week, Mr. Bush is on the road. His economic advisers will be here one day. And Defense Secretary Rumsfeld will be here another day.

BRAND: So for five weeks, you've got a lot to do.

KNOLLER: It's not as though we can put our feet up and relax. He is the one that's trying to take a little time off. In case our bosses are listening, we're still very much on the job.

BRAND: Mark Knoller is a reporter for CBS Radio News. He's traveling with the president, and he's currently ensconced in Crawford, Texas.

Thanks, Mark.

KNOLLER: You're welcome.

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