- The Washington Times - Monday, February 27, 2006

President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld succeeded in pacifying governors from both parties in separate closed-door meetings yesterday.

“On immigration, the governors were generally supportive of the president’s position that we need a guest-workers statute,” said Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a former national chairman of the Democratic Party. “The president talked most about foreign affairs, and most of the governors were supportive of the things he said.”

“The president and Rumsfeld both said they could have done better on keeping the governors in the loop,” said Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn, a Republican. “They said, ‘We did not do the best we could have on communications.’”

Interviews with more than a dozen governors afterward suggested a lack of rancor during those sessions. The president and other Cabinet officials balanced a conciliatory attitude with a passionate commitment to their views to calm the governors, in the assessment of both Democrats and Republicans.

About 45 state chief executives, in town for a meeting of the National Governors Association, visited with Mr. Bush in the White House in the morning and met with Mr. Rumsfeld at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in the early afternoon.

The governors and their constituents had been concerned — and in some cases outraged — by administration actions and policies, particularly funding of the National Guard and the contract with a United Arab Emirates company to operate terminals at six major U.S. seaports.

Many of the governors had come to Washington prepared for an argument. They differed afterward about which issues received the most attention, but agreed that nobody appeared to come away angry with Mr. Bush or Mr. Rumsfeld.

“The National Guard issue had the most attention in both those meetings,” said Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, widely mentioned as a 2008 Democratic presidential candidate. “Medicare Part B and Medicaid funding got the second most attention.”

Mr. Vilsack said the most important result of the meeting with Mr. Rumsfeld was an agreement to permit governors to visit their Guard units in Iraq. He said Mr. Rumsfeld was “a very forceful guy but at the end of the day the budget today fully funds 350,000 members of the National Guard.”

The troop level is at 333,000, and some units are exceeding their recruitment goals. The budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 will fund only 333,000 troops. “It’s still sort of a trust-me concept here,” Mr. Vilsack said. “The bottom line is, I’ll believe it when I see it. No disrespect to these people, but you can have 50,000 excuses come up for why the money isn’t there.”

Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, the president’s brother, said he trusts that the president and the Pentagon will keep their promises to find more money. “You can take that to the bank.”

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