WASHINGTON – President Bush will get back to business on the homefront after his trip to Latin America and will have a few days to tend to problems at home before taking off for distant lands again.
Bush returned from Panama late Monday at the end of a five-day trip that included a hemispheric summit in Argentina and was leaving for an eight-day trip to Asia on Nov. 14. That gives him precious little time to work on his domestic agenda, help win support for replacement Supreme Court nominee Sam Alito and deal with the fallout from the CIA leak case that involved two of his top aides.
Between his foreign visits, a trip home to Texas for the Thanksgiving holiday and other domestic travel in between, Bush will spend roughly two-thirds of November away from the White House.
The trips largely will keep Bush's focus overseas while problems are mounting at home. But the president does not get to escape his woes by traveling abroad, as was obvious in Latin America. Protesters in Argentina drew attention to anti-Bush sentiment in the region, and leading South American nations were reluctant to move ahead with Bush's call for opening trade.
Meanwhile, reporters traveling with Bush dogged him about the CIA leak case that is contributing to his all-time low approval rating.
While he was away, Bush ordered mandatory ethics briefings for all staff with security clearances. The sessions come in the wake of the indictment against Vice President Dick Cheney's now-resigned chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
Top Bush political confidant Karl Rove also remains under investigation for his role in revealing the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame, wife of an outspoken critic of the war against Iraq.
But while Libby has been charged with lying to investigators and a federal grand jury, Rove has not been charged with anything, and neither man has been accused of breaking the law against revealing the identity of an undercover officer.
On his trip, Bush would not respond to reporters' inquiries about whether he should apologize to Americans for his administration's assertion that Rove and Libby weren't involved or answer questions about whether Rove told him the truth or should remain in his job.
While there is an ongoing investigation, he will not comment, the president said.
Bush refused even to say whether he had lived up to his 2000 campaign promise that, "We will ask not only what is legal but what is right, not what the lawyers allow but what the public deserves."
Bush's foreign travel on this month's calendar were scheduled long ago to coincide with vital international summits. The Asia visit surrounds the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting and the Latin American trip began with the Summit of the Americas.
During his Asia trip, Bush plans stops in Korea, Mongolia, China and Japan. He will be the first sitting U.S. president to visit Mongolia.
The APEC summit is in Busan, South Korea, and will include discussion on economic growth, security cooperation and once again the thorny issue of free trade.