White House Treads Lightly in Presidential Politics

There's no question President Bush has moved out of the spotlight as Americans have focused their attention on the two men campaigning to be elected the new commander in chief.

It's a common trend, not just for this president but for presidents in the past who have just a few short months before they wave goodbye to the Oval Office.

But tiptoeing can be tricky when a major crisis arises and the president is expected to reassure the public. The economy this week is a case in point.

In the past, Bush has used the phrase, "the economic fundamentals are strong," when trying to reassure Americans about the economy.

But when pressed about how strong the president felt those fundamentals were today, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino quickly caught that it was the same phrase that made a splash in the headlines when it came from the lips of Republican presidential candidate John McCain earlier this week.

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"I recognize that this issue of strength has come into the 2008 election; I'm not going to try to get involved in it," Perino said.

On Monday, when grim economic news was at the forefront, McCain was attacked by Democrats for his recent statements that "the fundamentals of our economy are strong."

The Arizona senator quickly tried to set the record straight later that day, saying the economy was in a "crisis." He appeared the next morning on network news outlets with the same message.

At the White House today, Perino tried to clarify the president's position, but also tried to avoid politicizing the issue.

"What I said is that we have the strength to be able to deal with this crisis in our economy," she said. "And I know that you're not asking the question in the forum of a 2008 campaign, but I know as soon as I say something you're going to turn it around and it will be a part of the 2008 campaign, and I'm not going to play the game."

Defending Billion-Dollar Moves

Although Bush hasn't spoken publicly on specific government moves to rescue some companies and let others meet their fate, Perino briefed reporters on the process of the most recent bailout, the $85 billion government loan to insurance giant AIG.

"[Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson] came in with a recommendation, and the president agreed with that recommendation, and he told Secretary Paulson and [Federal Reserve chief] Ben Bernanke to go forward and implement their plan as they saw fit," Perino said.

When pressed on the impact taxpayers will feel as a result of the government bridge loan to AIG, she explained, "I believe that Treasury thinks that they will be able to pay the taxpayers back, but it's just going to take us some time to work through this crisis."

Perino added there is a "mixed picture" when it comes to the economy and spoke of "the resiliency and the flexibility" of the market.

"We'll weather the storm and we'll be better for it," she reassured.

Since news of Lehman Brothers' demise and the sale of Merrill Lynch to Bank of America broke during the weekend, the president has stayed relatively mum in public. He gave a brief public statement on the markets Monday at a joint statement with the president of Ghana.

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