Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch...

Mark Knoller is a White House Correspondent for CBS News.
CRAWFORD, Texas (CBS) – It's 99-degrees at two in the afternoon here today and the President revels in it.

"What the President loves to do when he's at his ranch is to spend time outdoors," says Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino.

Outdoors? Really? Maybe swinging in a hammock between two shady oaks, right?

Wrong, oh pale and flabby reporter.

Today, she says Mr. Bush was building a new bike trail he can ride at his 1600-acre spread.

"And I wouldn't be surprised if the President got in some fishing as well," said Perino at her first press briefing of this year's annual August ranch visit.

She says he loves to get his exercise and expects he'd also be spending some time cutting brush on the hot, dry and dusty plains that are his property.

"The President, obviously, likes the heat, so maybe everyone else is just going to have to suffer through it," Perino said.

In fact, the President gets a hoot out of the idea that some in the press, (not me of course), might rather be back in Kennebunkport, Maine where he was visiting his folk's place last week.

The ocean breezes kept the temperature there a balmy 80-degrees. Why would anyone prefer that?

"I'm a Texan," he boasted to reporters with him in Maine on Saturday, making the point that he couldn't wait to get to his ranch.

"I like my place down there. I like to go down there as much as I can. It's where I can relax," he said.

And he defines relaxation as clearing brush, building trails and fishing on a pond with the heat index in triple digits.

Our CBS News count shows this is the President's 66th visit to his ranch. As of today, he has spent all or part of 420 days here. That's just shy of a year and two months.

Neither the President nor his aides like to call this a vacation. As Mr. Bush pointed out over the weekend, a President can never really take a vacation.

"The job follows you wherever you go," he said. "You're always President."

True enough.

The responsibilities of the job are with him no matter where he goes. And his day almost always includes some presidential work.

Each morning he gets a verbal or written national security briefing from an NSC official with him at the ranch.

And today he had separate phone calls with three foreign leaders including Presidents Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan.

He congratulated them on the "successful conclusion" of their joint peace council or "jirga," aimed at ending rising bloodshed among rival tribes in the border regions of their countries.

Mr. Bush also spoke with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India – which tomorrow marks the 60th anniversary of its independence. Perino says the two leaders also discussed trade, climate change and the new civil nuclear cooperation agreement between the U.S. and India.

From the start of his presidency, his aides have called the Bush ranch "The Western White House."

They point out that most of what he can do in the West Wing, he can do at his Texas spread – including secure video teleconferences (known by the acronym SVTC (pronounced sih'-vitz).

Clearly the White House doesn't have what he likes about the ranch. However, it can be said that the political heat in the Oval Office often rivals the sun's blaze at his home on the range.

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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.