It did so once more on Tuesday, when the president made a four-minute appearance in the White House press room to announce that he was giving in to demands from the 9/11 commission that he had resisted for months.
His decision to reverse course, dropping his claim of executive privilege preventing public, sworn testimony by his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, was part of a distinct pattern that has emerged inside this highly secretive White House.
The first reaction to most demands for outside inquiries, or for details about energy policy decisions or intelligence concerning Iraqi weapons or Nigerian uranium, has been to build walls: Mr. Bush, or more often Mr. Cheney in his stead, asserts a clear, inviolate principle that the president and his advisers need the freedom to gather information, develop policy and exchange ideas in private.
But eventually other forces come into play. Gradually pressure builds until Mr. Bush’s advisers — including Ms. Rice herself in this case, several officials said — determine that the cost is too high.
“It was only in the last few days, down at the ranch, that the president began to think that the public wasn’t getting the right impression about our cooperation with the commission,” one of Mr. Bush’s most influential advisers, Dan Bartlett, his director of communications, said Tuesday. “It was a debate all about process, and he wanted to shift it back to the substance.”
Mr. Bartlett did not explain why that decision had taken so long, since the sparring with the commission had been going on for months. Other administration aides say it takes time to move the president and Mr. Cheney, citing an ingrained reluctance on their part to give ground.