The Bush administration reacted to John Prescott's frank assessment of the President's abilities by saying he had been called worse in the past and would likely be called worse in the future.
In what may have been the only time that John Prescott's name was mentioned at a White House press briefing, the President's spokesman, Tony Snow, was asked to comment on the remarks of the man "filling in for Tony Blair while he's on vacation".
The reporter from ABC News continued: "He may have said in a meeting - used an expletive to describe the President's work on the Middle East road map and called him a cowboy in a Stetson hat who's just not doing the job. Any reaction to those comments?" Mr Snow replied: "The President's been called a lot worse and, I suspect, will be. And there will be piquant names, sort of, hurled his way from time to time, but, you know, that's part of the burden of leadership."
Mr Snow also responded to an additional question about falling support among the British public for the US position in the Middle East and the Prime Minister's alliance with Mr Bush on Middle East policy. "Prime Minister Blair understands, just as the President does, wars create anxiety," said Mr Snow. "And he understands that that is an unpopular thing. People don't like to be anxious. They don't like to worry about it."
Though Mr Prescott's comments about a failure to achieve a settlement in the Middle East could also be interpreted as an insult to the diplomats at the US State Department, a spokesman there declined to become embroiled. "I think I'll leave it to Mr Snow [to comment]," he said. "Both the President and Secretary of State Rice have repeatedly commented on our relationship with Britain and what a good and valued ally they are."
While Mr Prescott has the slightest of political profiles in official Washington, his scatological assessment of the President's diplomatic efforts were widely picked up. The muck-raking Drudge Report website ran a link to a story in The Independent on Wednesday night. It was one of a number of websites that featured the story. The story was also pursued by CNN, which headlined its online report, "Blair deputy in Bush insult storm".
CNN said it was "given wider credence having been reported by Independent political writer Colin Brown, who is also Prescott's biographer." It also noted: "Recently Prescott, a no-nonsense working class politician who was once a steward on a cruise liner, has been the subject of a media storm in Britain."
Associated Press quoted the Labour MP Harry Cohen, who stood by his report of the private meeting he attended when Mr Prescott made his comment.
Washington's take on remarks
ABC REPORTER "The Deputy Prime Minister may have used an expletive to describe the President's work on the Middle East road map and called him a cowboy in a Stetson hat who's not doing the job. Any reaction to those comments? More broadly, how concerned is the President that in Britain there is plummeting public support for the US position and Blair's alliance with Bush on Middle East policy?"
TONY SNOW "Well, the President talks regularly with Blair. So I will restrict my comments to the Prime Minister. Blair understands, as the President does, wars create anxiety. And he understands that that is an unpopular thing. We've just come through a week where the British were reminded, along with the Americans and Pakistanis, that terrorists are not going to stand down because there's anxiety. The Prime Minister and the President have taken hits in the polls, but they see national security as their primary obligation. The President's been called a lot worse and, I suspect, will be - but that's part of the burden of leadership."Reuse content