President Bush, meeting with top advisers Saturday, culminated a rejuvenated, weeklong effort to take the policy initiative and put his agenda out front.
His presidency two months old and under fire for a lack of clear direction, Bush called top aides to the White House to ponder another decision facing his administration: how best to move forward with a joint U.S.-Japanese venture to build a billion-dollar fighter jet.The weekend session wrapped up a week focused on proving his administration was marching forward, combining speeches about his longterm plans for the country with a look to the next century for proof he converted campaign promises into concrete action.
"The proof will come when we look back from the year 2000," Bush contended several times.
White House chief of staff John Sununu, in an interview with United Press International, said the president was satisfied with the pace of his policy-making and charges the administration was adrift were "a serious distortion about what has happened in the first two months."
"Obviously you always want to do better, you always want things to go faster," Sununu said. "But he's satisfied with the way things are going. They're going right along the agenda, the timeline that was put together just before and after the election. And things are on track."
Moving to soothe concerns that the White House lacks overall strategic planning, aides said Bush made a determined push for a higher profile and a display of an administration on the move.
Returning at one point to his adopted hometown of Houston, Bush said, "I've come home to Texas to tell you we're hard at work in Washington and we're making progress.
"This is my agenda for the long-term," he declared. "We aren't going to clean up the environment, turn our education system around or create a more responsive business climate in a single day. But if we begin today and make steady progress, we will succeed."
He mixed that message with some tentative moves on his "kinder-gentler" agenda, sending child care legislation to Congress, moving toward a decision on ethics guidelines, and promising much more in the coming days and weeks.
But he continued to seemingly put out fires, taking on issues as they arose and at several points conceded he was defusing "ticking time bombs" while trying to move forward with larger-scale plans.
He spent Saturday meeting with his top advisers, including his new secretary of defense, Richard Cheney, and Vice President Dan Quayle, who struck a similar defensive tone through the week on the question of safeguarding U.S. technology while moving ahead with the U.S.-Japanese production venture of the FSX fighter jet. Aides expected a final decision by next week.
"Knowing how restless he is, he will not be able to keep away from bringing the staff in to talk about whatever he wants to talk about," Sununu said of the president.
His secretary of state, James Baker, also worked at putting together a package of support for the Nicaraguan rebels that can win bipartisan approval on Capitol Hill. Aides had hoped it would ready by Friday.
But while at least one of those in his Cabinet seemed to surge out of the starting gate, with drug czar William Bennett moving quickly on semiautomatic guns and drugs in the district, Bush spent the week on the defensive.
He proffered a laundry list of domestic policy initiatives undertaken since Inauguration Day, ranging from a Third World debt plan he signed Tuesday, to the budget he submitted to Congress and his plan for a bailout of the thrifts.
Although he inched forward in some areas, starting budget talks in earnest and advancing modest new ideas on the Middle East, the sweeping policy reviews needed for movement on arms control or U.S.-Soviet relations continued and a glaring number of administration posts remained unfilled.
"You don't believe all that you read in the newspapers, do you?" Sununu responded jokingly when questioned about a lack of action.
Pointing to the same laundry list, as well as Bush's meetings to date with foreign leaders, he, too, promised movement in the future. "It was clear to them all that he knows foreign policy well, and they're looking to him for their guidance. And it will be forthcoming."