An upbeat President Bush gave himself and Congress high marks Thursday for "making great progress" during his first six months in office, even as he and the lawmakers prepare to take an August break--and leave behind an array of unfinished business over which they remain at loggerheads.
"I feel great. Listen, I think we've had one of the most constructive first six months of any presidency," Bush said. "And we're making great progress on a lot of issues."
That assessment came near the end of a photo opportunity that turned into a mini-news conference as Bush showed off two new beige couches that First Lady Laura Bush had helped select for the Oval Office.
The president, in an uncharacteristically voluble mood, launched into his remarks after a reporter asked if a painting of the Alamo on the wall was "an indication of how you feel in the White House right now."
In his comments, the president also claimed some credit for China's release of two U.S.-based scholars, urged Congress to act on his faith-based initiative and pass a patients' rights bill he can support, and mused playfully about being "a dictator."
"A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it," Bush told reporters. "But dealing with Congress is a matter of give and take. The president doesn't get everything he wants, the Congress doesn't get everything they want. But we're finding good common ground."
Bush's upbeat remarks came just days after former President Carter harshly criticized him in a newspaper interview. Carter said he had been "disappointed in almost everything" the new administration had done. Carter's comments represented an unusual break from the solidarity past presidents generally maintain with their successors.
Bush, in touting his record, cited passage of the sweeping tax cut plan that was his campaign's centerpiece. At the same time, he acknowledged his difficulties in persuading Congress to agree to some of his other legislative priorities, two of which preoccupied him Thursday.
The president met twice, once at the White House and once on Capitol Hill, with House Republicans in hopes of persuading them to support his preferred version of patients' bill of rights legislation.
Bush also met at the White House with Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) in hopes of improving the prospects in the Senate of his proposal to channel greater federal funds to religious charities that provide social services.
Bush said he was open to changes in the bill, which the House passed last week, to overcome objections that the legislation might permit federally funded discrimination in charitable efforts.
On China's release this week of two U.S.-based scholars, Bush suggested that he deserves some of the credit.
"Well, I would hope that part of it is because of the pressure our government has put on China," he said. "I spoke directly to Jiang Zemin on this very subject. . . . Perhaps China is beginning to realize that as she begins to deal with Western nations, she's going to have to make better decisions on human rights."
While on Capitol Hill, Bush presented the Congressional Gold Medal to four Navajo "code talkers" who baffled the Japanese during World War II by sending secret military messages in their native language.
One of the recipients, Chester Nez, snapped a salute as Bush presented him the medal, and the president responded in kind.