Bush Addresses Gas Prices, Iran Nukes

Alex Chadwick talks with Washington Post reporter Jim VandeHei about President Bush's impromptu news conference Friday on the White House lawn. The president touted his plans to lower gas prices and Iran's refusal to work with international nuclear inspectors.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

An unscheduled press conference at the White House earlier today for President Bush. Washington Post staff writer Jim Vandehei was there. He joins us. Jim, welcome. And the President comes out and starts talking to reporters, he must have something he wants to say. What was it?

Mr. JIM VANDEHEI (Washington Post): First off, good to be here, Alex. The message of the day was to talk about the economy. I think the White House is increasingly concerned that the President's poll numbers are falling despite the fact that we've had fairly robust economic growth, and unemployment is at, if you look over the course of history, at a very low point, you know, 4.7, and that the stock market has hovered at or above 11,000. Usually in that environment you're going to get a political boost because people are making money and the economy's growing, and there's jobs out there. But gas prices have really hurt this President.

CHADWICK: So the problem politically is you have very strong economic figures but still people saying they don't think the country's going in the right direction. That doesn't, those don't usually go together.

Mr. VANDEHEI: That's correct. And I think gas prices are to blame, especially on the domestic side of the equation, because for all but the rich, these gas prices are high, and people really notice it. It's probably one of the most notable expenses you have as a consumer because you're either buying gas each day or you're driving by gas stations and seeing that number rise higher everyday with no sign that it's, you know, we don't know where it's going to stop. I mean, they were $1.50 four and a half years ago and now they're $3.00. So people are concerned. Are we going to see, is it going to be like Europe, where we're going to have $5.00, $6.00 a gallon gas.

CHADWICK: Well, the President could talk about good figures for economic growth in the first quarter, but also he got questions, I guess, on gas prices. What was he saying about it?

Mr. VANDEHEI: His argument is that the American people need to keep this in perspective, that yes, gas prices are high, but that overall the economy is growing and that we should not really rock the boat as far as policy. We shouldn't start raising taxes. We should really keep spending down as low as possible to continue the economic growth and then work on a different front just to try to get those gas prices under control. In truth, he knows there's very little on gas prices that he can do from a policy perspective. You know, whether you're talking about fuel economy standards or jawboning the oil executives, none of these things have worked in the past, and none of them are really going to bring down prices in the short term. This is a supply and demand equation, and it's not working in the favor of consumers right now.

CHADWICK: Jim, a report today from the U.N. on Iran and the nuclear situation. The U.N. says the Iranians continue to enrich uranium. This is troubling. What did Mr. Bush have to say on that subject?

Mr. VANDEHEI: He really struck a very cautious and almost conciliatory tone in talking about Iran. He really wants to emphasize that this all about diplomacy. I think two or three different times he said, you know, we're in the early stages of diplomacy, and I don't care about what kind of rhetoric we're hearing from the Iranian leadership right now. We're going to work with our allies, and we're going to try to come to some sort of diplomatic solution that's short of war. And I think this is really a stark contrast to the rhetoric we heard before the Iraq war when, yes, they were talking about diplomacy but clearly making a lot of military preparations.

CHADWICK: Can I just ask, is it a surprise for you to see Mr. Bush coming out with one of the press conferences like this?

Mr. VANDEHEI: Not at all. I think they're trying to figure out how to get, sort of regain his political footing, if you will. And they're trying to really drive the message every day. We see him spending a lot more time talking to reporters, talking to us a lot more about policies that he's working on, and trying to interact, both with reporters and the general public, in part because they know that the television networks and the 24 hour cable news networks will cover this. And at the very least, you see the President talking about the issues the way he wants to be talking about them.

CHADWICK: Jim Vandehei of the Washington Post. Jim, thank you.

Mr. VANDEHEI: Have a good day.

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