Bush's whirlwind visit
Seattle Times staff reporters
KEN LAMBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES
KEN LAMBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES
JOHN LOK / THE SEATTLE TIMES
On a day when his top law-enforcement officer resigned, President Bush swooped in and out of the Puget Sound region Monday without acknowledging the latest blow to his administration.
Here to raise money for Republican Congressman Dave Reichert, Bush spent about two hours on the ground, and didn't mention the day's biggest news: the imminent departure of his embattled attorney general, Alberto Gonzales.
The president, who traveled with soon-departing adviser Karl Rove, posed for photographs at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue with donors who paid $10,000 for the privilege. Then he spoke to about 300 supporters, most of whom paid $1,000 each.
In a 23-minute speech, Bush praised his tax cuts, described how ethanol and nuclear power could help wean the country off oil, and spoke of progress in Iraq.
He also urged voters to send Reichert, the former King County sheriff, back to Congress in next year's election.
Reichert knows that governments can "balance the need to understand the enemy [with] civil liberties, and we're doing just that," Bush said. "He knows what I know — that we need to use all assets at our power to protect you."
Bush's handling of the Iraq war fueled about 400 demonstrators, who gathered outside the hotel toting "Impeach Bush" signs, pounding drums and carrying "lame duck" puppets.
"Enough is enough. We want our government back, and we will not tolerate the war-criminal-in-chief here to pollute our city," Linda Boyd, director of Washington for Impeachment, told the crowd.
Three Inglemoor High School students dressed up like beauty queens and wore sashes that said "I Miss America."
"We miss the America the major powers used to look up to, the diplomacy, the democracy," said 17-year-old Katherine Wilcox.
Pockets of military supporters carrying pro-Reichert signs showed up to counter the demonstrators.
Bush's visit was his first to the Seattle area since a June 2006 fundraiser for Reichert in Medina, which raised $800,000 and drew 90 protesters. On Monday, Bush raised about $500,000 for Reichert and the state Republican party.
"August in an off year is certainly not the best time" to raise money, said former state GOP Chairman Chris Vance.
Protesters maintained that hostility toward Bush's presidency has grown. The latest Gallup Poll has Bush's approval rating at 32 percent.
Bush made no mention of his administration's problems, focusing instead on familiar themes of financial independence and fighting terrorism overseas.
He said the U.S. faces "cold-blooded killers" who must be fought in places like Iraq, he said. If coalition forces left Iraq, Bush said, it "would cause the enemy not to retreat but to follow us to America."
The president said Reichert should be re-elected to a third term because he's strong on defense and won't raise taxes. The men embraced before his speech, and Reichert followed as Bush shook hands with supporters.
Before the speech, Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and fullback Mack Strong appeared on stage to give Bush a team jersey, with the number 43 signifying the country's 43rd president.
Tricia Richards, 55, of Bellevue, said she's a strong Bush supporter and thought the speech was "phenomenal."
"He explained to his constituents why he makes the decisions he does," Richards said. "You at least understand his thought process."
Democrats hoping to unseat Reichert in the 2008 election tried to capitalize on the presidential visit.
Candidate Darcy Burner hosted an online forum with former military leaders and others opposed to Bush's handling of the war — which she took pains to link to Reichert.
"Even as the constituents of this district and the country at large are saying it's time to bring this war to a responsible close, Congressman Reichert favors being there indefinitely, with no plans to leave," Burner said.
Reichert has backed Bush on the war, but said changes may prove necessary. He has said he is withholding judgment until next month, when top U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus gives a progress report on Bush's troop increase.
Burner also held her own fundraiser online, urging voters to "send a message" to Bush and Reichert by contributing to her campaign. The Burner campaign said it had raised $108,000.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, who will challenge Burner in the Democratic primary, said Bush's visit could hurt Reichert, given the president's low approval ratings.
"It kind of surprises me that Reichert would so visibly associate himself with President Bush," Tom said. "I was like, 'go Dave go.' "
Bush's whirlwind visit began about 3:15 p.m., when Air Force One landed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. He greeted supporters and presented a medal recognizing Bernie Krane, 74, of Kirkland, for his volunteer service with the Bellevue Police Department.
As the president's motorcade reached the Hyatt, angry protesters jammed all four corners of Bellevue Way and Northeast Eighth Street, shouting "Bush out now! Bush out now!" Six teenagers with handkerchiefs over their mouths and "smash the state" T-shirts carried signs that read "Welcome to Bellevue, Mr. President."
Several dozen King County sheriff's deputies in helmets and riot gear kept a watchful eye. They were joined by police from Bellevue and Seattle. But the crowd, while loud and at times discordant, only occasionally seemed unruly. There were no arrests.
When a group showed up carrying American flags and pro-Reichert signs, some verbal sparring ensued.
"This 'Impeach Bush' talk is wasting our time and they're dividing our country," said Nadine Gulit, of Issaquah, with Operation Support Our Troops. She said she was particularly offended by protesters who carried a replica of a flag-draped coffin.
When D.J. Mahon, 16, of Woodinville, saw the crowds of protesters, he bought poster board and scrawled "pro-Bush" on it with a black marker to counter what he saw as a disrespectful display.
"I think some people are making fun of the fact that people are dying," he said.
Bush came to the Northwest from a similar fundraiser for Sen. Pete Domenici in New Mexico, where a police officer in the president's motorcade crashed his motorcycle and died.
Bush was back on Air Force One at Sea-Tac by about 5:30 p.m. and headed to Reno, where he's to speak today.
Seattle Times staff reporters Amy Roe, Jack Broom and Manuel Valdes contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company