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The ‘Appreciation’ That Keeps Giving

In his 49 months at the White House, President Bush has developed a complex relationship with Congress, shaped by ideological divides, a far-reaching agenda and shifting coalitions of support.

But Bush himself can usually sum up his feelings toward Members of Congress in just one word. He “appreciates” them.

Bush’s appreciation of the legislative branch was in full bloom at a luncheon during the January bicameral GOP retreat in West Virginia. After thanking Speaker Dennis Hastert (Ill.) for his service, Bush launched into an extended bout of appreciation, reproduced here from the official transcript, minus applause:

“Appreciate Sen. Ted Stevens [Alaska] — thank you for your tenure and your leadership, as well. I’m glad you’re here. I thank my friend from the great state of Texas, Tom DeLay, for his leadership. I appreciate you, Mr. Leader. Mitch McConnell [Ky.], the Senate Majority Whip — Sen. McConnell, thank you, sir, appreciate you. Congressman [Roy] Blunt [Mo.], the House Whip. Thank you, Congressman, glad you’re here, appreciate you. How is your son doing?”

Perhaps because of his seniority in the Senate, Stevens has reaped plenty of appreciation from Bush in recent years,

At a 2002 reception to benefit Stevens’ campaign, Bush confessed, “I appreciate a lot about him. I appreciate he’s a straightforward fellow. … I appreciate Ted’s love of his children. … I appreciate his understanding that the strategic threats to the United States are changing. … The thing I appreciate about Ted Stevens is, he understands that we’re in for a long struggle, that — you know, that we don’t have a calendar.”

Stevens spokeswoman Courtney Boone said her boss was grateful for Bush’s gratitude.

“Sen. Stevens truly likes President Bush, believes that he’s a great leader and a great president, and is touched that the president appreciates him so much,” Boone said.

Bush is also frequently appreciative of Hastert, mentioning him as often as any lawmaker.

“I appreciate so very much the Speaker of the House, Denny Hastert,” Bush said at the 2003 President’s Dinner. “He is such a good Speaker; we want to keep him as the Speaker.”

Steven Keller, an assistant professor at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs, said that Bush’s frequent use of the the word allows him to take a break from soaring presidential rhetoric and project some simple humility.

“In a sense, what he’s saying is, ‘If I’m appreciating you, imagine how you should feel about me, because I’m president,’” said Keller. “If such a great man appreciates your presence that is an enormous compliment.”

Ziad Ojakli, a former White House legislative aide who now works for Ford Motor Co., jokingly suggested that Bush’s appreciation may have a more practical purpose.

“It’s a subliminal message to pass his legislative agenda,” Ojakli said.

In November 2002, Bush expressed his gratitude to then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) during a conference call with GOP leaders.

“Well, I appreciate that, Trent,” Bush said in response to an untranscribed comment by Lott. Bush then added, “The people of Europe appreciate America, they appreciate our strength and, most importantly, they appreciate our compassion and our love for freedom.”

Bush again singled Lott out for appreciation at a Statuary Hall luncheon with the Joint Inaugural Committee on Jan. 20. While he was at it, the president even threw a bone to the third branch of government, saying, “I appreciate the Justices of the Supreme Court being here.”

Bush will occasionally express his appreciation for lawmakers in multiple languages. At an event last September celebrating Hispanic heritage month, the president thanked a handful of Senators and then added, “I also appreciate Congressmen Weller, Diaz-Balart de Florida, y tambien Steve Pearce from New Mexico.”

Or Bush will go Spanish-only, as when he thanked the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for demonstrating the attainability of the American dream, “y aprecio su amor por esta gran nacion.”

Bush was particularly appreciative at a series of “Ask President Bush” events that were staged during the 2004 campaign. At a gathering in Sedalia, Mo., Bush went the extra mile to appreciate the town’s mayor, Robert Wasson.

“I appreciate the mayor being here, Mayor Wasson. Thanks for coming. Where are you, mayor? I appreciate you,” Bush said.

At the same event, Bush expressed his appreciation for three consecutive questions from the audience — about relations with France and Germany, about the families of fallen soldiers and about learning-disabled children.

Sometimes Bush can rub off on his audience, as when one of the assembled Missourians told the president, “I appreciate so much the choice of your running mate.”

At some events it would be impractical to single out each honored guest, so Bush is forced into collective appreciation. “I appreciate you serving your respective countries and working together to make the world a better place,” Bush told an assembly of heads of state last September.

On other occasions, Bush is able to appreciate foreign dignitaries on an individual basis, including King Abdullah of Jordan (“I appreciate your leadership”), Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski (“I appreciate your efforts”), NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer (“I appreciate the invitation”) and Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi (“I appreciate your courage. I appreciate your leadership. … And I appreciate your will. And I appreciate your strength”).

Bush also appreciates the arts. Blues Traveler frontman John Popper, jazz composer Dick Baker, Opera singer Angela Pregano-Knight and “Law and Order” star Sam Waterston have all been singled out for appreciation.

Bush’s appreciation extends to family members, including his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R).

“Jeb is doing a really fine job down here, and I appreciate, Jeb, you and your staff working so hard on behalf of the people of this state,” Bush said in remarks at the National Hurricane Center last year.

The president’s daughters are similarly well-regarded.

“I appreciate Barbara and Jenna,” Bush said at the inaugural luncheon. “I love them dearly.”

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