President Bush began his post-Christmas vacation Sunday contemplating a hefty second-term agenda on both global and domestic fronts, including expectations of continued violence against U.S. troops in Iraq.
“This week is going to be about thinking about what he wants to tell the American people for the inauguration speech as well as the State of the Union,” Deputy White House Press Secretary Trent Duffy told reporters.
En route to Texas from Washington, the president was briefed on the latest developments from the massive earthquake and tidal waves that killed thousands of people in southern and southeast Asia.
“The president expresses his sincere condolences” over the “terrible loss of life and suffering,” said Duffy. He said the United States “stands ready to offer all appropriate assistance to those nations most affected.”
Duffy said preparations for relief efforts were already underway, although he provided no details.
Ironically, a year ago when Bush left for his post-Christmas trip to the ranch, a massive earthquake had just struck Iran, prompting his administration also to quickly scramble to formulate a humanitarian aid package.
On Sunday morning, the president flew by helicopter from the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland — where he spent Christmas — to Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington where he boarded Air Force One for the flight to Texas.
Bush is spending the last week of 2004 formulating his second-term goals, which include tax and Social Security reforms, dealing with an increasingly expensive war in Iraq, possible nominations to the Supreme Court, an Israeli-Palestinian peace effort that remains in flux and tensions with Iran and North Korea over nuclear weapons.
“He’s looking forward to spending time with his family and with Mrs. Bush and he’ll be thinking about what he wants to tell the American people about what he wants to accomplish in a second term,” Duffy said.
The president made no public comments on Sunday.
Bush planned a low-key visit to the ranch in Crawford with few, if any, public appearances planned before his return to Washington on the weekend after New Year’s Day.
When he landed in Texas, Bush posed for a photograph with 67 players and coaches and trainers of the Crawford High School Pirates, who won the state 2A, Division II championship — a local event Bush noted in his most recent news conference on Dec. 20.
He and first lady Laura Bush autographed two of the school’s black-white-and-gold football jerseys. One carried the number 43, Bush’s presidential slot in history, and the other the number 1, presumably for commander in chief.
The president and Mrs. Bush were accompanied to Texas by the first lady’s mother, Jenna Welch.
Earlier at Andrews, the president had trouble convincing the family dog, Barney, to board the presidential jet. Barney strode toward the terminal building, causing Bush to walk across the tarmac, scoop him up and carry him to the steps of the Air Force One.
Then, despite a few presidential pats on his rear, Barney refused to climb the stairs, forcing the president to pick him up again and carry him aboard.