- The Washington Times - Monday, March 25, 2002

SAN SALVADOR President Bush yesterday accused the Democratic Party of "petty politics" for using its radio address to attack him on foreign soil, saying the president was "pandering" to Hispanic voters by touring Latin America.
"I'm disappointed," Mr. Bush said in response to a question from The Washington Times at a joint news conference with Salvadoran President Francisco Flores.
"Sometimes in Washington, D.C., people cannot get rid of old habits, which is petty politics," Mr. Bush said on the grounds of the presidential palace in this Central American nation. "But that's just what happens.
"People in America know that our administration is focused on what's best for America," he said. "The best policy for the United States is to pay attention to our friends, to promote trade. Trade produces liberty and freedom."
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer was even more critical of the Democrats, who used their weekly radio address to attack the president's four-day trade trip to Mexico, Peru and El Salvador.
"It's unfortunate that the president's message of hope, unity and democracy would be interrupted by the sounding of a partisan note in the middle of a presidential trip abroad," Mr. Fleischer told reporters aboard Air Force One.
"This would mark the second time that the opposition party has attacked the president on a trip abroad," he said. "That's not a part of the tradition that has been afforded to presidents when they leave the country before."
He added: "When the president left for his trip to Europe in June of 2001, he was also attacked by a member of the Democratic Party."
Mr. Fleischer was referring to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who derided the president as an isolationist while Mr. Bush was making his first presidential tour of Europe. Mr. Daschle later expressed regret for criticizing the president while he was on foreign soil.
But such criticism resurfaced on Saturday, while Mr. Bush was flying aboard Air Force One from Mexico to Lima, Peru, site of a fatal terrorist attack three days earlier. While police fired tear gas at anti-American protesters in Lima, the Democrats aired their attack on Mr. Bush across the United States.
"The president's trip this weekend to Latin America is part of an orchestrated strategy to curry favor with Latino voters in the United States," said Antonio Villaraigosa, speaker emeritus of the California State Assembly.
"But our community knows the difference between rhetoric and results," he said. "They know the difference between pandering and producing."
Yesterday, the presidential spokesman expressed outrage at the premeditation in this second round of criticism.
"The interesting thing about radio addresses, of course, is the radio addresses are established by the party leadership in Washington," Mr. Fleischer said. "Typically, they're given by a senator or a congressman.
"In this case, a senator or congressman gave up their time, by design, to afford someone else this chance to sound such an unfortunate note in the middle of such a hopeful trip," he said.
The president also criticized the campaign finance reform legislation passed last week by the Senate, although he said he would sign it because it was better than the current system. He suggested parts of the bill would be overturned by courts.
"I am worried about some of the provisions," he said. "One such provision was that we're going to try to control who can participate in the election process in the last 60 days. And we'll see whether or not that stands up."
He added: "One of the things I'm disappointed in the law is and again, this may not stand a court challenge but I've always thought that people who pump money into the political system, we ought to know who they are."
Mr. Bush said he was "quite discouraged at the end of the 2000 campaign to see tons of dollars flowing into the political campaign at the last minute on these so-called independent groups, and we didn't know who was funding them. He called them "front groups."
"You know the kind of ads I'm talking about scurrilous, untrue ads coming into the campaign," he said. "And we don't have any idea who is putting the money in. And that's not good for democracy.
"And so I didn't particularly appreciate that fact that this campaign bill did not adequately address full disclosure," he added. "The excuse evidently was the courts won't allow it. Well, I would have liked to see them challenge the system to see whether the courts might allow it now that we're going into the 21st century."
Mr. Bush praised other aspects of the bill.
"One, individuals will be allowed to contribute more to the campaigns," he said. "The fact that the system encourages more individual participation, I think is positive."
He added: "Finally, they've raised individual limits. I also think this'll help challengers. And as much as I now love incumbency, I think it's important to encourage challenges in the system."
Asked if he would sign the bill "reluctantly or wholeheartedly," Mr. Bush joked: "I have a kind of a firm, semi-firm signature as it moves across the page."
He added mischievously: "I take it back. It'll be a signature. I won't hesitate. It'll probably take about, you know, about three seconds to get to the 'W.' I may hesitate on the period and then rip through the 'Bush.'"
After the press conference, Mr. Bush and Mr. Flores discussed trade in the Casa Presidencial with Presidents Alfonso Portillo of Guatemala; Enrique Bolanos of Nicaragua; Miguel Angel Rodriguez of Costa Rica; Ricardo Maduro of Honduras; Mireya Moscoso of Panama; and Prime Minister Said Musa of Belize.
Mr. Bush wants to create free-trade zones in Central America and South America, eventually aiming for a hemispherewide zone that would include all 33 nations in North and South America.


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