The President's Feisty News Conference

Written by CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller

It can be said President Bush was in a feisty mood as he appeared before reporters in the Rose Garden this morning.

It was the 25th formal, solo White House news conference of his presidency, though if you count his joint q-&-a sessions with foreign leaders at home and abroad, the number is 143.

As a setting for the event, the Rose Garden was a far cry from the site of last month's get-together with reporters: the temporary and decidedly makeshift press briefing room across the street from the White House on Jackson Place.

It is now the home of the White House press corps while its usual workspace in the West Wing is being rid of asbestos and refurbished.

Some think the White House will come up with a reason to keep the press corps down the street, but that's another story.

Today, Mr. Bush sought to recover from the defeat he sustained yesterday in the Senate Armed Services Committee. It approved terrorism legislation he says is unacceptable and will not sign.

He used his opening statement to forcefully make the case that Congress must give him a bill that provides for Military Commissions to try accused terrorists in U.S. custody.

And he was positively insistent in calling for Congress to define the meaning of the Geneva Convention's ban on cruel and degrading treatment of prisoners - as it applies to the CIA program of interrogating terror suspects.

Mr. Bush described the program as vital to the national security. And he said without clarity in the law, the CIA program would have to be shut down.

He also took obvious umbrage when asked about a written comment from his former Secretary of State Colin Powell. In a letter to Sen. John McCain, R-AZ., a member of the Armed Services Committee, Powell wrote that "the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism."

As if he found the statement insulting, Mr. Bush responded forcefully by denouncing any comparison between America's conduct and "the terrorist tactics of extremists."

He said, "It's flawed logic. I simply can't accept that. It's unacceptable to think that there's any kind of comparison between the behavior of the United States of America and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children to achieve an objective."

Powell never made such a comparison in his letter, but Mr. Bush was adamant.

On other issues, Mr. Bush was equally pointed. When asked about the United Nations, at which he'll address the General Assembly next Tuesday, he expressed frustration with its response to the bloody situation in Darfur. He again called it genocide and criticized the U.N. for failing to send peacekeeping troops to stop the killing.

"I'd like to see more robust United Nations action," he said.

But there were light moments as well from Mr. Bush, principally at the expense of reporters.

  • James Klatell

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