Bush renewed his objection to calls that the government discontinue keeping up the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve supply while oil prices are so high. "If I thought it would affect the price of oil significantly, I would seriously consider it," he said of an idea embraced by many Democrats and some Republicans.
Bush also said that it was important to keep filling the reserve, in underground salt domes in Texas and Louisiana, in case there is a terror attack on the nation's oil supplies. He also once again called for Congress to permit drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a proposal he has made repeatedly since he first took office in 2001, and to pave the way for the building of new refineries.
The president revived an earlier proposal that shuttered military bases be used as sites for new refineries. In the past, oil and energy experts have expressed little interest in that, saying military bases often aren't situated where the oil pipelines are anyhow.
He sidestepped a question on whether there should be a second stimulus package. Rebates started to go out this week as part of a $168 billion stimulus package enacted in February. The checks will range to up $600 for an individual, $1,200 for a couple and an additional $300 for each eligible dependent child.
Bush also called on Congress to act more quickly on legislation he supports to address the housing and credit crunch by making student loans more available and to help homeowners facing foreclosure.
The president's biggest target was Congress.
"These are difficult times. And the American people know it and they want to know whether or not Congress knows it," Bush said.
Bush raised the anti-Congress theme repeatedly. "I believe that they're letting the American people down, is what I believe," he said. "It's either a lack of leadership or a lack of understanding of the issue. And either way, it's not good for the country."
On other subjects, Bush:
-- Said he believes the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan is making strides in tamping down "a very resilient enemy." Bush is scheduled to meet later with the special representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Afghanistan, said that he believes the NATO-led mission in the country is succeeding. "We're making progress, but it's also a tough battle," Bush said. "We're facing people who are willing to strap bombs on themselves and walk into places where the innocent dwell."
-- Declined to openly criticize former President Carter for his meetings last week with representatives of Hamas, the Palestinian group the State Department considers a terrorist organization. "Anybody can talk to whomever they want, but I want people to understand the problem is Hamas," said Bush. "Foreign policy and peace is undermined by Hamas. ... That's the reason I'm not talking with them," he said.
-- Spoke about intelligence that was released alleging that Syria and North Korea were cooperating on a clandestine nuclear reactor. He said the intelligence was made public to step up pressure on North Korea to end its own nuclear program and to pressure Syria to stop destabilizing the Middle East by aiding insurgents in Iraq and Hamas in Lebanon. He said it was also meant to send a message to Iran.
-- Said that, despite lack of much visible progress toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, "I'm still hopeful we'll get an agreement by the end of my presidency." Bush visits the Middle East next month.