Bush, Schwarzenegger Share a Stage
Saturday, April 22, 2006
SAN JOSE, Calif., April 21 -- Two of the nation's best-known and most embattled Republicans -- President Bush and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- teamed up Friday as both seek a political rebound in an increasingly hostile environment.
Bush, facing his lowest approval ratings and record gas prices, came to the high-tech hotbed of Cisco Systems in Silicon Valley to pitch his plan to increase spending on math and science training to make the United States more competitive globally.
With his domestic agenda floundering, the president will spend the next few days juggling local, state and national politics by emphasizing domestic energy production and improving the U.S. economy. "I know people here are suffering at the gas pump," Bush said during an afternoon roundtable discussion that included Schwarzenegger.
"I pledge to the people here that if we find any price gouging, it will be dealt with firmly," the president said. Gas prices have surpassed $3 a gallon throughout the state and even $4 for premium in some areas. Crude oil prices have hit an all-time high $75 per barrel.
The president's I-feel-your-pain message was aimed at the growing number of Americans expressing a sour view of the economy, despite a robust stock market and solid growth in most sectors. Bush is pushing Congress for speedy action on his energy and competitiveness plans, though disputes over the budget and immigration could dominate the summer. The White House staff shakeup has also delayed planning on a strategy to revive the president's domestic agenda, according to a senior aide.
After days of contentious negotiations between the administration and California officials, Bush on Friday moved to defuse tensions with Schwarzenegger over fortifying the state's levee system.
The governor, who like Bush has seen his popularity plummet in the past year, complained before the visit that the White House was resisting his urgent plea for federal assistance. Without help, Schwarzenegger has warned, California's levees, if hit with a natural disaster, could meet the same fate as those in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The governor and other state officials are asking for more than $56 million to repair the foundations of several levees and $3 billion more for flood control.
Shortly before Bush landed, the White House announced that the president will not meet the governor's demand for a natural disaster declaration. Instead, it issued an unusual waiver and took other steps that the administration said will expedite the repair process, a portion of which could be covered by federal money.
James L. Connaughton, chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality, said in a statement that Bush is "firmly committed" to help the state repair the levees.
It was not a total victory for Schwarzenegger, but Republicans hope it will provide some political protection for the governor, who is running for another term.
If nothing else, the two GOP leaders avoided an embarrassing public spat in their rare joint appearance. The president and governor, who disagree on social issues such as abortion, did not make joint appearances during Bush's prior two visits.
Polls show the first-term Schwarzenegger will face a tough reelection race this fall. State Controller Steve Westly is considered the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. Bush will host a fundraiser this weekend, as part of an effort to give the GOP a financial advantage here and nationwide.
Bush called the incumbent "a really interesting man" who "did not have to run for office but chose to do so, and I admire that in him." Domestic issues are on the public agenda for the visit, but Bush will be talking about Iraq in private.
Bush traveled Friday night to Stanford University, where he met privately with members of the libertarian Hoover Institution to discuss the war. He concluded the day with a private dinner held by George P. Shultz, a Hoover fellow and former secretary of state. Bush will have lunch Sunday with Marine Corps and Navy families.