One of the most exasperating things about watching Bush's press conferences is that he can get off the hook by calling on the next reporter. They never follow up on their colleagues' questions, but instead ask their own pre-prepared question on some other topic. Bush is never pinned down when he does not respond.
So, three cheers for David Gregory. Fresh off his dogged, but so far futile, insistence Tuesday that Scott McClellan disclose Jack Abramoff's contacts with the White House, Gregory pressed the President this morning to answer the previous question about Palestine before asking his own question about New Orleans.
Gregory's New Orleans question had some teeth also, suggesting that there was "a certain betrayal of your promise that New Orleans would rise again" because the "poorest of the poor' are excluded from reconstruction plans. Neither Bush answer was particularly satisfactory, but if others follow Gregory's example, maybe these press conferences will cease to resemble the set-up town meetings.
[UPDATE: picture from whitehouse.gov at bottom of post]
Here is the exchange from the White House transcript. I am not certain if the final attempt to push further was from Gregory:
Q (not by Gregory) Will this affect aid to the Palestinians? Will you be able to work with Hamas if they're -- assuming they take on a large share of the government?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I made it very clear that the United States does not support political parties that want to destroy our ally, Israel, and that people must renounce that part of their platform. But the government hasn't formed yet. They're beginning to talk about how to form the government. And your question on Abbas was a good one. And our message to him was, we would hope he would stay in office and work to move the process forward.
Again, I remind people, the elections -- democracy is -- can open up the world's eyes to reality by listening to people. . . . If there is corruption, I'm not surprised that people say, let's get rid of corruption. If government hadn't been responsive, I'm not the least bit surprised that people said, I want government to be responsive.
And so that was an interesting day yesterday in the -- as we're watching liberty begin to spread across the Middle East.
Let's see here. Yes, David.
Q (by Gregory) Mr. President, good morning. I have a different question, but I'd like to pin you down on this point about Hamas because I don't think you've completely answered it. Are you ruling out dealing with a Palestinian government comprised, in part, of Hamas?
THE PRESIDENT: Dave, they don't have a government yet, so you're asking me to speculate on what the government will look like. I have made it very clear, however, that a political party that articulates the destruction of Israel as part of its platform is a party with which we will not deal.
Q Okay, can I --
THE PRESIDENT: No, it's --
Q But, sir, I'm sorry --
THE PRESIDENT: Well, it's unfair to the other people.
Q No, I'm just -- I'm just following up --
THE PRESIDENT: You're trying to hoard. (Laughter.)
Q I'm not trying -- I have a question about New Orleans, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: This is -- I agree with you. I can see the expressions on your colleagues' faces that it's --
Q Well, I hope it will be worth your time. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: They don't think so. (Laughter.)
Q The administration has rejected a local plan to rebuild New Orleans, and your administrator down there, Don Powell, said that the focus for federal money should be to rebuild for those 20,000 homeowners who were outside the flood plain. Critics, local officials say that that ignores so many people in New Orleans, the poorest of the poor, the hardest hit areas, people who didn't have flood insurance or didn't expect the levees to break. And they feel, sir, that this is a certain betrayal of your promise that New Orleans would rise again. So why did you reject it? And do you think that the people of New Orleans have to expect that there is a limit for the extent to which the city can be rebuilt?
THE PRESIDENT: The Congress has appropriated $85 billion to help rebuild the Gulf Coast. And that is a good start; it's a strong start; it's a significant commitment to the people whose lives were turned upside down by that -- by those -- by that hurricane.
Secondly, [states need to develop recovery plans]
Now, having said that, I recognize there were some early things we needed to do to instill confidence. One of them was to say that we will make the levees stronger and better than before, and study further strengthening of the levees. In other words, I recognize that people needed to be able to say, well, gosh, we can't even get started until we got a commitment from the federal government on the levees.
A lot of the money we're spending is prescribed by law, but we also went a step further and proposed to Congress, and they accepted, the CDGB money so that monies can actually go directly to individual families that need help. We'll continue to work with the folks down there. But I want to remind the people in that part of the world, $85 billion is a lot, and secondly, we were concerned about creating additional federal bureaucracies, which might make it harder to get money to the people.
Q But is there a limit, sir?
David Gregory tries out for the Sam Donaldson Chair. Didn't Sam used to stand?
Follow Stephen Kaus on Twitter: www.twitter.com/stephenkaus