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The Face Is Familiar, but ...

November 21, 2002|Edwin Chen | Times Staff Writer

PRAGUE, Czech Republic — Blanking on an acquaintance's name can happen at the most inopportune moments, as President Bush discovered Wednesday.

Bush was introducing a four-member U.S. congressional delegation before giving his speech on the future of NATO when he just could not remember the name of a California congressman -- and a fellow Republican, no less.

The lawmaker in question was Rep. Elton Gallegly of Simi Valley, who plays a prominent role in U.S.-European affairs as chairman of the House International Relations subcommittee on Europe. In fact, a news release from Gallegly's office said he was attending the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Prague "at the invitation" of the president.

Gallegly and the other members of the delegation had flown all night to arrive in time for Bush's speech. In his introductory remarks, Bush singled out by name Sens. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo). He then pointed toward Gallegly but said nothing.

Gallegly broke the fleeting but awkward silence by shouting out his name, which Bush repeated.

Afterward, White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett cited the bright lights in the president's eyes as the reason for the lapse.

Gallegly had his own explanation. "He thinks of me as Elton, and I don't think he wanted to call me by my first name."

After the speech, the president quickly apologized to Gallegly. "God, I'm sorry, Elton," Gallegly quoted Bush as saying.

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