Bush uses discipline, routine to keep his time manageable

Observers contrast president's even pace with frenetic Clinton

March 04, 2001|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - He's up early, feeding the pets and bringing a cup of coffee to his wife. By 7:30 he's in the office for early-morning meetings and phone calls. A midday workout or run - he doesn't want his 7 1/2 -minute mile to slip - is not debatable.

There will be lunch, several more hours of solid work, a social event or quiet evening at home after dinner, maybe swatting tennis balls outside for his springer spaniel, Spot, to fetch. Bed is generally no later than 10. If guests are over, they're politely nudged to the door. Eight hours of sleep is also inviolable.

A creature of habit and routines, George W. Bush has settled into a comfortable, well-paced schedule in his new job and new home, frequently packing the awesome pressures and duties of the presidency into an eight-hour day and continuing the enviably balanced life he seems determined to maintain.

It is a life in which time is carved out for bench presses, naps, weekends away with the family, where work is work and play is play and, come bombings or Boy Scout photo ops, there will be time for both.

"That's the life we all ought to live," says Terral Smith, who served as Bush's legislative director in Texas.

The relaxed lifestyle and disciplined work habits that Bush has exhibited in the early days of his presidency contrast sharply with former President Bill Clinton's marathon days, where bags under the eyes were seen as a badge of honor.

Clinton was so often late for events and appointments that reporters covering him joked that he followed CST, or Clinton Standard Time, but Bush is obsessively punctual. Meetings do not spill over into the next one. Discussions are brief and to the point. He has even arrived a minute or two early to some events, and once felt the need to explain to reporters why he was three minutes late.

"He's a fanatic about being on time," says Mark McKinnon, a Bush adviser who produced the president's campaign ads. "His view is that it's rude if you're not on time."

In his first six weeks in office, with no great crisis to absorb him, Bush has kept to a public schedule and private lifestyle that are controlled and even low-key. So far, on days he has traveled outside Washington, he has often returned by midafternoon.

"We figured if it had been Clinton, we would have had one more event later in the day," says CBS News reporter Mark Knoller, who has covered both presidents. "It's a little less frenzied."

While Clinton used Camp David sparingly, Bush has spent four of the six weekends since his inauguration there, including this one, and took another weekend off to return to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, outside Waco.

On that trip, though, he first flew across the border to spend a few hours with Mexican President Vicente Fox.

"It's a good place to relax, and it's also a good place to catch up on my work," he said of Camp David on Friday, shortly before his midafternoon departure for the presidential retreat. "Every chance I get to go, if I'm not going to Crawford, and I don't have to give a speech here on the weekend, I'm going to go to Camp David."

Bush makes no secret of his desire to pace himself. Indeed, one Sunday last month, Bush traveled to a retreat of House Democrats in Farmington, Pa., saying as he entered that he planned to answer a few questions, then "head home and take a nap."

A few days later, when a gunman fired shots outside the White House at 11:30 a.m. - prime time for most of the working world - Vice President Dick Cheney was in his West Wing office while the president, it turned out, was in the White House residence exercising.

Again a week ago, Bush announced at his Camp David press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair that he was headed straight from that event to the gym.

But the image of a president taking a snooze or clocking his mph on the treadmill while the West Wing hums with activity and the woes of the world may be misleading.

Aides, past and present, say his compact, well-rounded day is a sign of efficiency.

In meetings with Bush, for instance, participants are expected to state their opinions or proposals clearly, without "a lot of navel gazing," says McKinnon.

"I bet he gets more done in eight or 10 hours than other people do in 20," says the Bush adviser.

And the new president has engaged in enough official activity in his first weeks in office to dispel any notion of idleness.

Since becoming president, Bush has met with more than 200 members of Congress, singly and in groups, unveiled proposals on such issues as education reform and faith-based programs, journeyed to nearly a dozen states as well as Mexico, met with several foreign leaders, was host of a National Governors' Association dinner and meeting, held two news conferences, promoted his $1.6 trillion tax cut plan in a televised prime-time address to Congress, sent his budget blueprint to Capitol Hill and, of course, continued staffing his administration.

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