- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2001

CRAWFORD, Texas President Bush spent a quiet weekend out of the public eye relaxing at his secluded ranch, his first visit home since becoming president.

"Home is important. It's important to have a home," Mr. Bush told a group of Crawford residents at a ball in his honor late Saturday. "I love my job … but I'll always remember where my home is."

Mr. Bush is preparing for a long week of travel, designed to highlight his education proposals and dampen Democratic criticism over his tax-cut plan, and will host British Prime Minister Tony Blair at Camp David next weekend.

Mr. Bush, who is a self-acknowledged homebody, spent most weekends at his Crawford ranch during the long presidential campaign, but the pressures of the presidency have kept him away since taking the oath of office on Jan. 20.

"I'm going to come back as often as I can, for a lot of reasons," he told the Saturday night revelers, who included 1970s rock star Ted Nugent. "For one, I want to stay in touch with real Americans."

The news media were excluded from the ball, but Mr. Bush's comments were broadcast on a local television station which got ahold of amateur video shot at the event.

Mr. Bush bought the 1,600-acre ranch at the start of his presidential bid and made clear he would use it as his informal retreat, much as his father used the family home at Kennebunkport, Maine, as his vacation spot.

The ranch restores a long-standing tradition of presidents having a private retreat or "summer White House."

Unlike most of his recent predecessors, former President Clinton did not own his own home separate from the White House and relied on friends and political supporters to provide places to stay while on vacation. Mr. Clinton bought a home in Chappaqua, N.Y., only last year, as Hillary Rodham Clinton began her successful campaign to win a Senate seat in that state.

The residents of the tiny town of Crawford, about seven miles from the Bush ranch, have embraced the new president and appear to be relishing the national attention his presence brings.

At Crawford's tiny schoolhouse, where the national press corps is headquartered during the day, the walls are lined with presidentially themed artwork. A group of elementary school students, for example, wrote essays titled, "If I were president."

"I would lower taxes and listen to everyone," one student wrote.

"I would put metal detectors in every bank in the United States of America," another student promised.

Mr. Bush travels today to Oklahoma City to dedicate the Oklahoma City National Memorial Learning Museum, which commemorates the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. Convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh faces execution for that crime, which killed 168, on May 16. He will be the first federal prisoner executed in almost 40 years.

Mr. Bush and his wife, Laura, will travel later in the week to Ohio, Missouri and Tennessee touring schools. He is pressing his education plan, which calls for increased local flexibility in spending federal money, but requires annual testing to track the performance of each school. Democrats have balked at reducing federal authority over the money, while local school systems say they are worried about the expense and difficulty of administering annual tests.

Mr. Bush, however, has held firm to his plan, saying testing is the only way to know whether schools are performing well or improving. He says schools will have the freedom to design their own tests, rather than having to accept one mandated by Washington.

Mr. Bush's meeting at the end of the week with Mr. Blair is an important step for the new president. It is his first formal meeting with the British leader. Their discussion is sure to include relations with Iraq.

U.S. and British warplanes struck five radar installations near Baghdad Friday, a move that has irritated Arab nations and drawn condemnation from other members of the coalition that defeated Iraq in the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

The United States and Britain have so far remained resolute in the face of international calls to remove economic sanctions against Iraq or to ease enforcement of the "no-fly zones," where Iraqi aircraft are prohibited, both measures in place since the end of the war.

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