CRAWFORD, Texas — President Bush has spent nearly a year of his presidency at his ranch in Crawford — and wherever he goes, the White House press corps follows.
This summer’s visit is a five-week “working vacation,” as his advisors call it. The president is never really on vacation even when he has few or no public events. The tools of his office travel easily making him the ultimate telecommuter.
For those of us assigned to the White House, summer means a ticket to central Texas complete with 90-plus degree heat, turbo winds and healthy sized bugs.
‘Katie’s Custard’ between stories
Instead of the cramped media offices back in the West Wing, a press center is set up for each visit inside the gym of a Crawford public school several miles from the Bush’s 1,600 acre “Prairie Chapel Ranch.”
The media provide security at the school and only credentialed journalists are permitted.
White House reporters do not have free access to the president’s property. Each day a small, rotating group of reporters representing the different types of media: wire services, newspapers, magazines, radio and television is assembled as a “pool.”
The pool is called to the ranch if there are news events or photo opportunities and the material gathered is shared with the rest of the White House Press Corps. This means most of our time is spent under the basketball nets and lighted scoreboard of the Crawford gym.
TV transmission gear is set up to broadcast videotape to all the networks. Folding tables and chairs create computer workstations for dozens of journalists.
Local restaurants deliver a buffet of breakfasts, lunches and arguably too many treats.
One group favorite is Katie’s Custard. Many here have passed long hours enjoying the rich, creamy custard and abundant toppings brought in by Katie, the custard company’s namesake.
Katie is an adorable little girl who visits each day under the watchful eye of her mom.
Not the president’s hay bales
For up to 14 hours a day, journalists are on watch for any news or world events that relate to the president. Deadlines are tight as ever and many stories are written and broadcast on wide ranging subjects daily from Crawford.
Outside a series of large tents is set up on the school property housing the camera equipment, monitors, microphones and lights needed for live broadcasts.
The visible backdrop is a pastoral setting but the hay bails do not belong to the president. The ranch seen behind us belongs to a Crawford neighbor.
Crawford is too small a town to accommodate the number of traveling reporters and administration staff so dozens stay at hotels in Waco. Each day the commute to Crawford is a good 30 miles with the last stretch on a winding two-lane country road.
The president flies Air Force One in and out of Waco, as well for the short trips he takes off the ranch. Bush is scheduled to visit several states as he signs legislation and makes appearances during his Crawford stay.
This summer Crawford has become a destination for anti-war protesters who support the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq.
Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed while serving in Iraq last year, has demanded to meet with the president personally and her protest of the war has turned into a makeshift camp not far from the president’s ranch.
Sheehan did meet the president last year with other families who lost a loved one in war, but she says she deserves a second visit to express her opposition and concerns. Bush has offered his sympathies, but has not agreed to a meeting.
The president regularly receives world leaders, members of his cabinet and advisors to the ranch. He takes time to bicycle, drive his pick up and says he enjoys the physical work on the ranch like clearing brush.
He is scheduled to return to Washington on Sept. 3. Then his press corps will return to full business attire and Katie’s Custard will be a pleasant summer memory.