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From the Archives: Bush Threatens Veto Unless Reid and Pelosi Can Guess How Many Fingers He’s Holding Up

Washington – President Bush threatened to veto a workplace health care bill proposed by leading Democrats Friday, unless those Democrats were able to guess how many fingers the president had held up behind his back. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada co-sponsored the so-called Workplace Wellness Bill, which would make it easier for employees to change health care providers if they wish to do so. The bill was approved by the House, and looks headed for approval by a slim margin in the Senate. However, President Bush holds veto power, and it doesn’t appear there are enough votes to override such a veto. “But I’m giving them a chance,” the president said Friday morning, from the Oval Office. “All they need to do is guess how many fingers I’m holding up behind my back.”

Pelosi and Reid first dismissed the president’s offer as a joke of some kind. But by Friday afternoon, realizing that the president was, in fact, serious, they had canceled other appointments and had arrived at the White House, hoping to take up the president’s challenge. They shared the Oval Office with reporters and White House staff members, and of course, the president himself, who remained seated at his desk.

“So, here we are,” the president said, his hands resting on the desk in front of him. He then sat back slowly, and rather dramatically put his hands behind his back. He began to concentrate intently, his tongue fishing around the side of his mouth. Then, apparently finished with what he was doing, he smiled and said, “Now it’s up to you.”

Pelosi looked to Reid, and then they both looked back at the president. Pelosi then cleared her throat and said, “Uh, is it…is it seven, Mr. President?”

Mr. Bush smiled and shook his head and said, “Nope.” He then looked to Reid and nodded. “Go ahead. You get a chance, too.”

“Uh, is it five?” Reid asked.

Mr. Bush smiled more widely, brought his arms back around front, and said, “My friends, I’m sorry to say, you are both incorrect. The correct answer is 27. 27 fingers.”

Pelosi and Reid looked at each other with puzzled amazement.

“But, Mr. President,” Speaker Pelosi said, “You don’t have 27 fingers.”

“Ah, yes. I’m aware of that,” the president responded with a grin. “You see, there are other people in this room. And those people–most of them, I’m assuming–have fingers. So before you arrived, I asked some of them to hold up some of their fingers. No rule against that. I don’t see any rule anywhere that says, ‘In the finger-holding-up-behind-the-back game, you can’t use someone else’s fingers.’ Do you see that anywhere?”

Reid and Pelosi shook their heads in unison to say, No.

“Exactly,” the president said. “So, they held up a total of 17, these other folks. Add that to my four that I was holding up, and you have 27.”

Senator Reid said, “But Mr. President, 17 plus 4 is 21, not 27.”

Mr. Bush’s smile vanished and he looked a bit stunned. He rolled his eyes upwards and appeared to be counting in his head. When he finished, he glared at Pelosi and Reid, then scowled. After a pause, he said flatly, “Your bill will be vetoed. And in the future, I suggest you think about extra fingers. When trying to get a bill passed. I suggest it very much.”