Bush's First Press Conference vs. Obama's: Will They Be as Tough?

February 9th, 2009 4:21 PM

Helen Thomas | NewsBusters.orgWith Barack Obama’s first press conference as president scheduled on Monday night, one obvious question that comes up is what kind of questions he will receive from the White House press corps. His predecessor, George W. Bush, faced some pressing questions during his first press conference on February 22, 2001.

Liberal firebrand Helen Thomas offered the most politically-charged question: “Mr. President, why do you refuse to respect the wall between the church and state? And you know that the mixing of religion and government, for centuries, has led to slaughter. The very fact that our country has stood in good stead by having this separation -- why do you break it down?” When President Bush answered that he did “respect the separation of church and state,” Thomas blasted back: “Well, you wouldn't have a religious office in the White House if you did.” Since President Obama has decided to retain Bush’s faith-based initiative (although with a new name and slightly new mission), one wonders if Thomas will press the Democrat on the issue.

Three reporters prodded President Bush on his tax-cut plan. Frank Bruni of The New York Times submitted the following question: “You said that your $1.6 trillion tax cut is reasonable and responsible within the outlines of the budget you’re going to present. If, when that gets to Congress, things start getting layered onto it like corporate tax cuts, capital gains, would you still support it, and if it reached your desk at a higher number, would you sign it?” Later, Lawrence McQuillan, a correspondent for USA Today at the time, returned to the issue: “Mr. President, to follow up on your answer on the tax question, perhaps looking at it through the other way, some people are saying that perhaps it’s too large a tax cut....You were not willing to be flexible in terms of people who want to increase the size. Are you willing to be flexible with people who want to lower the size of your tax cut?”

Bill Plante of CBS News immediately followed up after McQuillan: “Mr. President, on that same subject, your tax and budget package, how can you be sure that, as you put it, there'll be money left over?”

Earlier, NBC News’s David Gregory, after asking President Bush if he believed that “pardons were for sale in the Clinton White House,” followed up bringing up how “other presidents are commenting on this matter,” including Former President Carter, who labeled the Marc Rich pardon “disgraceful.” Reporters devoted the most questions to the Clinton presidential pardons issue during this press conference.

We’ll have to see how pressing the White House correspondents will be at this upcoming press conference, particularly on the issue of the so-called stimulus package, since it is the top issue of the moment.