Kelly Wallace: Short Bush vacation means work still gets done
CNN White House Correspondent Kelly Wallace talks about President-elect George W. Bush's Christmas break, his continuing transition work, and his plans for the remainder of the holiday week.
Q: The president-elect is slowing his whirlwind schedule just a bit over the next couple of days. What does he have planned?
WALLACE: He's going fishing. Bush left Austin en route to his vacation spot just a little over an hour ago, with a stop scheduled for Houston, where he will pick up his parents, former President George Bush and his wife Barbara, who will be accompanying him and other family members on the trip. They are all going to Boca Grande, Florida, which is on the Gulf Coast, and is said to be a favorite family vacation spot.
Q: Fishing? What else does he have on tap?
WALLACE: He has said he would spend the time fishing and relaxing, but he has also said that he will be spending a great deal of time on the telephone talking to a number of people about his administration and his transition. He has made it very clear in recent days, and told reporters today, that time is running short. Inauguration Day is almost here, and he has a lot of work to get done. So, he will likely be talking to his designated White House chief of staff, Andrew Card, and to Dick Cheney, the vice president-elect who is also in charge of the transition team.
Q: What are his immediate plans to keep the transition moving forward?
WALLACE: He'll be in Washington late in the week to continue the process. He'll have a number of face-to-face meetings, and sources within the Bush camp have indicated to us that his next personnel announcements could come later this week.
Q: And how is the administration coming together? What important positions are left to be filled?
WALLACE: The president-elect has filled in about half of his Cabinet so far, but there are some very key positions still open, so any announcements made this week could conceivably include nominees for Secretary of Education, Secretary of Defense, or Energy Secretary. A number of sources told CNN last week that Bush had offered the position of Secretary of Health and Human Services to Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, who was said to have accepted, but wanted to take some time over the Christmas holiday to get his affairs in order. That announcement could, conceivably, also come this week.
Q: And how did the president-elect spend the long Christmas weekend? There was a little bit of a family medical scare. How has everything turned out?
WALLACE: Christmas was fairly low-key for the Bushes until yesterday. They spent the first part of their long holiday weekend out at the ranch in Crawford, Texas, with family. Then, they came back to the governor's mansion here in Austin on Sunday, where they attended church with family and friends. But things changed a bit for them on Christmas day afternoon, when one of Bush's 19-year-old twin daughters, Jenna, complained of abdominal pain while they were visiting a friend's house. She was taken to the hospital, where the doctors performed an emergency appendectomy before her appendix ruptured.
Q: And she's doing well now?
WALLACE: The president-elect visited his daughter in the hospital last night, and he told reporters this morning that she is doing just fine, and he hoped that she would join the rest of the family in Florida, maybe as early as tomorrow -- she should be released from the hospital later today. He did say, and he was joking a bit, that if she decided not to go along, that she could stay in Austin and clean out her room at the governor's mansion. He was joking just like a father would.
Q: Sounds like Jenna will be missing out on a lot if she can't go.
WALLACE: A lot of the family will be there in Florida, including the president-elect's siblings, his brothers and his sister. The interesting thing about this trip is that this is the first time that George W. will meet face-to-face with his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, since the 36-day Florida recount ordeal came to an end. They haven't seen each other since all of that started.
Q: But then it's back to business on Thursday. Has the staff given you a rundown of how busy that day will be for Mr. Bush?
WALLACE: His Thursday schedule is busy. According the plans we have been given, the president-elect will leave Florida at 8 a.m. Thursday and fly straight to Washington, where he will immediately focus intently in his transition. Before he leaves on Friday, he will likely introduce more Cabinet appointees, but not before more meetings. These meetings appear to be very important to the president-elect. You'll remember that the last time he was in Washington, he held meetings with a number of prospective candidates before giving any hint of his choices. Those included a meeting with Paul O'Neill, who is now his nominee for Treasury Secretary, and with New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman, who is now his nominee for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. He heads back to Austin late in the afternoon on Friday.