Bush Defends SCHIP Veto, His Relevancy President Bush holds a press conference Wednesday defending his veto of the SCHIP bill. He also addresses his relevancy heading into the final year of his presidency.
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Bush Defends SCHIP Veto, His Relevancy

Hear NPR's Don Gonyea and Madeleine Brand

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ALEX COHEN, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Cohen.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

I'm Madeleine Brand.

President Bush held a White House news conference this morning. He defended his veto of a bill that would expand health care for poor and middle-class children. He also criticized Democrats for not working with the White House to fund that bill - that health care plan. It's also known as SCHIP.

The president spoke for nearly an hour. He took questions on a wide range of topics from growing tensions with Turkey and Iran to his own ability to get something done in the final 15 months of his presidency.

NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea is here now.

And Don, let's begin with the SCHIP program and let's start with the president's opening statement at the start of the news conference.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Tomorrow Congress will hold a vote attempting to override my veto of the SCHIP bill. It's unlikely that that override vote will succeed, which Congress knew when they sent me the bill. Now it's time to put politics aside and seek common ground to reauthorize this important program.

BRAND: Don, the president, as we have talked about, is swimming really against the tide of public opinion on this, opinion in Congress about this. Pretty much everyone likes this bill. What did he have to say about that?

DON GONYEA: He insists that he is standing on principle, that the bill that was sent to him is just too big. It's $35 billion than the previous bill. He wants no more than a $5 billion expansion. He, again, argues that he is expanding it, but his critics counter that the $5 billion additional that he wants wouldn't even cover those who are currently in the program.

So the argument still goes back and forth. He made the point today that Congress wasn't even really to work with him on this, wasn't open to his reaching out to them and the signal he sent, that they needed to get him a bill that he could sign. So you know, the battle lines are still drawn. We have to wait and see what happens once the attempted veto fails, as it's - veto override fails.

BRAND: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. And you know, he raised this issue of the veto. He described it in a way that he remains relevant. So if he's - is he thinking of himself as a lame duck?

GONYEA: That was one of the most interesting kind of little moments of this press conference, that he raised that word himself, stressing that he is relevant. Him raising it, clearly it's on his mind. Moments later, he was asked if he's losing leverage in dealing with Congress. He said - this is a quote - I've never felt more engaged. Well, he may be engaged, but that's not the same as having the leverage he once had.

BRAND: Okay. Let's talk about foreign policy.

And the U.S. has been engaged in increasingly strong rhetoric with Iran and its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Ahmadinejad. He was photographed smiling and posing with pictures, with him, and the president was asked about that as well.

GONYEA: One of the things the president wants to do is to really isolate Ahmadinejad, and they want Russian help in doing that. And then here come these pictures. Listen to what the president said when asked about them.

Pres. BUSH: I think it's hard to judge how their conversations went from a picture. Generally, leaders don't like to be photographed scowling at each other or making bad gestures at each other. So I'm not surprised that there is, you know, a nice picture of them walking along. You know, I try to make sure that when I'm with foreign leaders there's a pretty picture of the two of us walking down, you know, the colonnades or something like that to send a good message.

GONYEA: But Madeleine, I can also tell you he doesn't always make sure there is a good picture when he's meeting with someone. Sometimes there is no picture. Sometimes they want to send just the opposite, and they clearly did not like those photos of Putin and Ahmadinejad.

BRAND: All right. NPR's White House correspondent Don Gonyea, thank you very much.

GONYEA: My pleasure.

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