George Bush was a dynamo, getting to work early, staying late and saying there were no surprises to wipe the smile off his face. On the other hand, he didn't have to make any tough decisions in his first week as president.
"No one is naive enough to assume that what we think has been a good two days will define the 1,458 days between now and inauguration, 1993, but it is, I hope, the kind of quality that could be expected," White House chief of staff John Sununu said in an early assessment.While refusing to draw a comparison with the detached, hands-off style of Ronald Reagan, a White House official said one of the most interesting aspects of the first week was that Bush demonstrated a curiosity about what was happening.
"He's poked his head into several staff people to ask what they're doing, to see how projects are coming," said the official, who asked not to be identified by name. "Most of the people on the staff, by the end of the week, had received a note of one kind or another from him that either told of a phone call he had made on a subject of their interest or asked about a project in their area or somehow identified he was involved in a project they were working on."
Up before dawn, the new president was in the Oval Office around 7:15 a.m. each day and stayed until after 6 p.m. most nights.
"It's been a good, easy week," Bush said Friday at a relaxed, fast-moving news conference. "And I expect it will change dramatically in the days ahead."
Suffering from a cold that left him hoarse, Bush said, "If it weren't for the cold - smile and enjoy it while you can because I can already sense, you know, looking forward to a little more - little more confrontation out there."
The news conference provided a sharp contrast between the styles of Bush and Reagan. For his infrequent meetings with reporters, Reagan studied briefing papers and sample questions for days and then held at least two dress rehearsals with his staff. Sometimes Bush was among those in the audience to critique the answers.
At the actual news conferences, Reagan often seemed ill at ease and the sessions often turned out to have little news value.
Bush, a veteran of more than two decades of government service and a specialist on foreign policy matters, did not need much preparation for his news conference, aides said. He was given a list of some of the questions that had come up in the daily briefings of press secretary Marlin Fitzwater, but there were no practice sessions.
Standing in the press room, Bush seemed confident and in high spirits, calling on many reporters by name and interrupting the news conference at one point to turn the table on reporters and grill them about the practice of asking follow-up questions.
There were early tastes of trouble with a new controversy over the abortion views of Dr. Louis Sullivan, his nominee for secretary of health and human services, and an uproar over a Treasury Department proposal to rescue the savings and loan industry by charging a depositor fee. Bush brushed aside the flaps as "little ripples on the surface of an otherwise calm pond."
The ripples are likely to get bigger - soon.
By Feb. 9, the date of his address before a joint session of Congress, Bush has to decide who wins and who loses in the battle for federal funds, as he divides up a shrinking budget pie and struggles to cut the deficit.
Privately, White House officials are passing the word that there won't be enough money for Bush to keep all his campaign promises for education and other programs for his "kinder and gentler" nation.
"Look, I don't expect it's going to be all sweetness and harmony and light," Bush said. "The minute we get those proposals up there on Feb. 9, I expect we're going to have other firestorms swirling around."
House Majority Whip Tony Coelho, D-Calif., came away from Bush's meeting with congressional leaders saying, "We're going to get tough when we get the specifics (on the budget) but there's no need to get the specifics today."
Bush said at midweek he was putting in a lot of time on the budget but that progress was slow. "I think it's a little early to make conclusions one way or another on all that," he said.
House Minority Whip Dick Cheney, R-Wyo., said, "The honeymoon is still on - two more days, three more days. Enjoy it while it lasts."
A brisk presidential pace President Bush conducted his first week in office at a brisk pace:
- He delighted congressional leaders of both parties with a meeting that sparked talk of a honeymoon.
- He called dozens of foreign leaders.
- He scheduled trips over the next month to Canada, Japan, China and South Korea.
- He stressed ethics in government.
- He met with the press three times.
- He went jogging and turned up at the Washington Cathedral, the State Department and Constitution Hall.