Bush Gives Rice Testimony a Thumbs-Up

Sitting in his white pickup truck, President Bush called national security adviser Condoleezza Rice (search) Thursday to tell her she had done a "great job" testifying before the Sept. 11 commission.

Later, Bush roamed his 1,600-acre ranch with about 20 representatives of hunting and fishing groups.

The president and his wife, Laura, sitting in the living room of their ranch home here, watched all three hours of Rice's testimony, White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said.

Bush thought that Rice "did a terrific job" and that she articulated "the responsible actions the administration took before Sept. 11 and the aggressive actions the administration took after Sept. 11," Buchan said.

The president began the day by speaking with Russian President Vladimir Putin (search) about Iraq and other issues.

The Kremlin said Bush initiated the 20-minute call, which came at a time of spiraling violence in Iraq. Russia has no troops in Iraq.

The Kremlin said "serious distress was expressed about the absence of progress in regulating regional problems and the escalation of violence." White House officials would reveal no details of the conversation.

The official agenda of his tour and meeting with hunting and fishing advocates was a discussion of Bush's "conservation agenda," aides said, but the invitation was also an election-year bid for gun owners' votes.

BASS Vice President and General Manager Dean Kessel said Bush mentioned that he'd had a chance to watch Rice's testimony on television, but that "really we stuck to bass fishing and turkey and deer population and some of the clear-cutting of his property."

Bush took his guests on a tour that included an 11-acre pond the president built and stocked with bass.

"When the president of the United States calls, you make yourself available," said Kessel. "It was a good opportunity to talk to the president and talk some issues."

Other groups represented included Ducks Unlimited, Quail Unlimited, the Safari Club International, the National Rifle Association (search), the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

Also on the visit were the Coastal Conservation Alliance, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the National Wild Turkey Federation and the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

Some of Bush's guests for the one-hour visit were leaders of the organizations, while others were journalists from their affiliated magazines who interviewed Bush. The visitors also met with James Connaughton, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Bush is an avid fisherman and occasionally casts into the bass pond just steps from his Crawford ranch home. On New Year's Day, he went quail hunting in southern Texas with his father, George H.W. Bush -- as a former president the most celebrated member of Ducks Unlimited.

But one of the current president's own aides has strongly criticized the practices of one of the hunting groups visiting the ranch on Thursday.

Matthew Scully, a presidential speechwriter, accused Safari Club International of mistreating animals in his 2002 book, "Dominion."

The club's members pay up to $20,000 to hunt elephants, lions or other animals, either abroad or in American "safari ranches," where the animals are penned in by fences. Scully said the organization turned nature "into an endless theme park and the creatures into so many animatronic figures."

Scully did not return a phone call from The Associated Press seeking comment.

A spokesman for Democrat John Kerry (search) used the ranch tour to charge that the president is "systematically dismantling, neutralizing or de-funding virtually every meaningful law, regulation and program that protects or restores fish and wildlife." The administration has broken a promise to fully finance conservation programs, Kerry spokesman Phil Singer said.