- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2003

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — President Bush yesterday stood shoulder to brawny shoulder with California Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger and lauded him as a “fine and strong leader,” but he did not offer federal aid to assist the cash-strapped state.

The two high-profile Republicans met privately for more than 30 minutes yesterday, and while Bush aides said the president will take seriously any request from the governor when he takes office, Mr. Bush yesterday joked with the muscular actor-turned-politician.

“During that visit, I was able to reflect on how much we have in common,” Mr. Bush told hundreds of supporters gathered at a convention center. “We both married well. We have both been accused of not being able to speak the language. We both have big biceps,” he said, drawing laughter. “Well, two out of three isn’t bad.”

Before taking the stage, Mr. Bush and Mr. Schwarzenegger were overheard laughing as they both tried to pronounce the name of the Southern California city of Rancho Cucamonga.

The White House called the pair’s first face-to-face meeting a “courtesy call” by the president, who stopped in California en route to Asia and Australia to promote trade and press the war on terror.

Press Secretary Scott McClellan said Mr. Schwarzenegger did not request federal aid, noting that the incoming governor’s transition team has just begun an audit to determine California’s financial state.

“It was a very good visit,” Mr. McClellan said. “It was an opportunity for them to get to know each other better. It was an opportunity for them to discuss shared positions and their common approach on governing on issues like education and the economy.”

But Mr. Schwarzenegger, who during his campaign vowed to press Mr. Bush for money to help offset a deficit that will run at least $8 billion next year and could top $20 billion, said he seriously expects aid from the federal government to help the world’s fifth-largest economy.

“Remember, we are paying taxes,” the governor-elect told reporters at a press conference after meeting with the president, pointing out that California gets 76 cents back in federal funds for every $1 it sends to Washington.

“There is room to play with. I’m absolutely convinced that we can get help and that we will get help. The White House was very optimistic about that,” he said.

With a federal budget deficit nearing $500 billion, it is unlikely Mr. Bush will be able to provide any significant aid. The situation prompted a joke this week by “The Tonight Show” host Jay Leno, who mused about a politician facing a $20 billion deficit seeking help from a politician with a $500 billion deficit.

Mr. Schwarzenegger said he and Mr. Bush did not discuss next year’s presidential campaign in their closed-door meeting, nor the prospect of Mr. Bush capturing California’s 55 electoral votes, last taken by a Republican when his father won there in 1988.

Mr. Schwarzenegger’s star power is expected to help Mr. Bush raise funds and, depending on the governor-elect’s performance, make a serious run in 2004 to win the state, in which registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by 44 percent to 33 percent.

The actor — who, along with fellow Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom McClintock, took 62 percent of the statewide vote — is responsible for a huge swell in Republican voter registrations and contributions in California. Mr. Bush lost the state by more than 1.2 million votes in 2000.

During his brief address yesterday, Mr. Bush said he will express concerns to China and Japan about unfair trade advantages, such as manipulation of currency markets.

“We need a level playing field when it comes to trade. And a level playing field will help us create jobs here in America,” said Mr. Bush, who afterward boarded Air Force One and headed for Tokyo, the first stop on his 10-day trip.

The president is scheduled to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, address a joint session of the Philippine Congress, attend the annual summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation in Bangkok, meet in Singapore with the nation’s president and prime minister, stop briefly in an undisclosed site and deliver a speech to Australia’s Parliament.

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