CRAWFORD, Texas -- Sitting in his white pickup truck, President Bush called national security adviser Condoleezza Rice yesterday 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, 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 his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, 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. The groups represented on the election-year tour included Ducks Unlimited, Quail Unlimited, the Safari Club International, the National Rifle Association, the US 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.
Bush is an avid fisherman and occasionally casts into the bass pond just steps from his ranch home. But one of the current president's own aides has strongly criticized the practices of one of the hunting groups visiting the ranch yesterday.
Matthew Scully, a presidential speechwriter, criticized Safari Club International 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 contained by fences. In his book, 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 Senator John F. Kerry used the ranch tour to charge that the president is "systematically dismantling, neutralizing, or defunding 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, said Phil Singer, a spokesman for the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
The president has no public appearances until Sunday, when his parents, mother-in-law, and daughters, along with Rice, are scheduled to gather at the ranch to observe Easter.