Bush's Focus in Florida Is on Domestic Agenda

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 31, 2006

MIAMI, July 30 -- With crucial midterm congressional elections just three months away, President Bush tried Sunday to return to his domestic agenda even while the latest eruption in the Middle East continued to dominate his administration's attention.

Bush flew here after going for a Sunday bicycle ride and hosting a children's T-ball game on the South Lawn of the White House to have dinner with Miami community leaders.

He plans a day of activities Monday in the Miami area, visiting the National Hurricane Center, delivering an economic speech, touring the Port of Miami and headlining a Republican fundraiser.

The studied appearance of political normalcy, however, could not compete with the pictures of destruction from southern Lebanon.

The president appeared at the White House twice before flying to Miami to express sympathy for the victims of the Israeli bombing of the Lebanese town of Qana while repeating his insistence that any cease-fire plan address root causes of the crisis first. Bush also consulted by telephone with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is returning to Washington on Monday from the Middle East after the Israeli bombing forced her to cancel a planned visit to Lebanon.

"America mourns the loss of innocent life," Bush said before heading out on Marine One, the presidential helicopter, adding: "The United States is resolved to work with members of the United Nations Security Council to develop a resolution that will enable the region to have a sustainable peace, a peace that lasts, a peace that will enable mothers and fathers to raise their children in a hopeful world. May God bless those who lost their lives."

The president's visit here to the home state of his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, suggested the depth of White House concern over his political standing as Republicans head into the campaign with a leader whose approval ratings remain stuck in the 30s. The president rarely travels domestically on the weekend and almost never spends the night in a city within easy flying time of Washington.

White House strategists, however, are trying a new approach that has Bush lingering during targeted trips around the country, rather than popping in for a single speech and leaving within hours. He began these "drill-down" visits earlier this month in Chicago, where he also spent the night, celebrated his 60th birthday with Mayor Richard M. Daley and held his first full-fledged domestic news conference outside of Washington.

With his brother at his side, the president will focus his Miami trip on a series of issues of regional and national concern: hurricane preparedness a year after Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast; the economy at a time when growth appears to be slowing; and port security after the Republican revolt over plans to allow an Arab company to take over management of several U.S. ports.

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