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August 08, 2005

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch, Redefining 'Vacation'

What a fucking joke:

By ELISABETH BUMILLER Published: August 8, 2005 WASHINGTON

President Bush left for his summer vacation last week, and so did a lot of the White House senior staff.

Karl Rove, the president's chief political adviser, headed for his house in the Florida Panhandle. Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff, was with his family in Poland Spring, Me. Nicolle Devenish, the White House communications director, had plans to leave late in the month for her September wedding on Mykonos, in the Greek islands.

Mr. Bush, of course, was in the less exotic blast furnace of his Texas ranch, settling in for a five-week stay on the prairie that will be his longest time away from Washington as president. His return to his full August idyll - Mr. Bush cut short his time at the ranch last summer because of his re-election campaign - is not only the length of a classic French vacation, but grist for some Democrats, who have accused the president of fleeing Washington to escape the federal investigation into who leaked the name of a Central Intelligence Agency officer to reporters, a potential crime.

But in his first days away, Mr. Bush was relatively busy. He gave a speech on Wednesday in Grapevine, Tex., and met with the president of Colombia at the ranch on Thursday. He is to travel to New Mexico today, meet with his economic advisers and hold a news conference at the ranch tomorrow, travel to Illinois on Wednesday, meet with his foreign policy team and hold another news conference back at the ranch on Thursday, go to a Republican fund-raising lunch at a neighboring ranch on Friday and attend a Little League championship game in Waco, Tex., on Saturday.

One reason for the activity might be the desire to be in purposeful motion on another anniversary of the now-infamous C.I.A. briefing that Mr. Bush received at the ranch on Aug. 6, 2001. That briefing, which informed the new president that the terrorist network Al Qaeda had maintained an active presence in the United States for years and could be preparing for hijackings here, created a political uproar when its contents were eventually made public.

Critics have long called it a symbol of the administration's complacency in the slow summer days before the catastrophe of Sept. 11, 2001. Administration officials have countered that there was no specific information to act on, and that the briefing never warned that planes could be used as missiles.

Then as now, White House officials take turns doing Crawford duty, which nobody fights for. This past week, Joe Hagin, a deputy White House chief of staff, was settled into his double-wide trailer across the road from the entrance to the ranch, where his job includes chainsaw time with the president.

At some point this summer Mr. Hagin will switch off with Mr. Rove, who has testified to a grand jury in the leak investigation and who in the past has not done long stretches of ranch time. But when Mr. Rove was elevated to White House deputy chief of staff after Mr. Bush's re-election, the promotion came with summer Crawford duty.

Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, will split his ranch duty with his deputy, J. D. Crouch. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was freed from ranch duty when she moved on from national security adviser, will visit anyway, first for the foreign policy meeting this week, then for more of a social visit later in the month.

Mr. Card does not do ranch duty, although he is expected briefly for the economic meeting on Tuesday, as are Joshua B. Bolten, the White House budget director, and Treasury Secretary John Snow. If the past is any guide, the men will meet with Mr. Bush, stand at his side during a news conference under a blistering sun, then race for the airport.

Meanwhile, back at a sleepy White House, major August repairs were under way.

The walnut and oak floor of the Oval Office, installed during the Reagan administration and now thin from constant refinishing, was to be ripped up and replaced. The irrigation system on the White House grounds was to be replaced, too. The masonry and stucco in the West and East Colonnades was under restoration, and the windows along the East Colonnade were being repaired.

But for the staff members left behind, it was not entirely quiet. "It's always something," said one administration official who asked not to be named because he did not want to be seen as complaining about the job. "Somebody's dying or something blows up or somebody issues a tape. We never really cool off that much."

On the other hand, it was definitely August. "It's a nice pace," said Susan Whitson, Laura Bush's press secretary. "You can come in around 8 o'clock and still find parking."

This is a news story? YEEARGHH!!!