Happy Birthday, Mr. President

(CBS)
Mark Knoller is a White House Correspondent for CBS News.
There seemed to be a spring in the step of President Bush as he and the First Lady walked to Marine One this morning for the flight to Camp David.

It's his 61st birthday – and about a hundred guests of White House staffers had been invited to give him a friendly send-off as he got a head-start on his weekend at 9:15 A.M.

As birthday gifts go, there was good economic news for him this day. The Bureau of Labor Statistics was out this morning with its job numbers for June.

It reported 132,000 new payroll jobs last month – more than most analysts expected. And the national unemployment rate was steady at a healthy 4.5%.

"We are happy about that," White House spokesman Tony Fratto was quick to volunteer at the start of his morning briefing for reporters.

The White House trumpets the figures, saying they bring to more than two million – the number of new jobs created over the past year. Further, said Fratto, the nation has now enjoyed "46 consecutive months of strong job growth." He said there's been "strong wage growth" as well.

But on this birthday, Mr. Bush presides over a war in Iraq that's now well into its fifth year. And he's losing the support of key Republicans.

Just yesterday, Sen. Pete Domenici, (R-N.M.), announced his loss of confidence in the president's Iraq strategy and embraced a plan to get U.S. troops out of combat there by spring.

With that, Domenici joined the ranks of fellow Republican Senators Dick Lugar and George Voinovich, who went public recently with their doubts and concerns about the President's handling of Iraq.

The White House said today that it has enormous respect for Domenici and regards him as thoughtful and someone to listen to. But spokesman Fratto disputed reporters' assertions that Pres. Bush now faces a hemorrhage of republican support.

There can be no disputing the plunge of support for Mr. Bush in the polls. The lastest CBS News survey shows him with a pitiful 27% approval rating and 65% disapproval. They're the worst poll numbers of his presidency.

Yet, Mr. Bush is standing his ground on Iraq.

"It's a tough fight," he said in his Fourth of July speech Wednesday to National Guard personnel in West Virginia, "but I wouldn't have asked troops to go into harm's way if the fight was not essential to the security of the United States of America."

However difficult the fight is in Iraq, he said "we must win it."

And a week ago yesterday, he suffered a devastating political blow, when his so-called Immigration Reform plan died in Congress. It was the top item on his legislative agenda this year.

So it's not the setting for a really happy birthday – though he has just over 18 months left in office to turn things around.

He gave himself a present last evening, going to the Nationals-Cubs game at R.F.K. Stadium. As presidents do, he arrived a little late and left during the 7th inning stretch, but he seemed to enjoy himself - watching the game from the owner's box and munching on hot dogs, nachos and chicken tenders.

And we know he gets a lift by going to Camp David this weekend.

By my count, it's his 124th visit to the presidential retreat in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains. And counting today, he's spent all or part of 386 days there.

As recently as last Sunday at his folks place in Kennebunkport, Maine – he needled me for keeping track of his time at Camp David and his Texas ranch.

Sorry, Mr. President – but Happy Birthday just the same.

  • Mark Knoller On Twitter»

    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.

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