- Associated Press - Friday, March 4, 2011

MIAMI (AP) — Bridging partisan divides, President Obama arrived in Miami Friday and shook hands with the state’s ardently conservative governor, Rick Scott, who just rejected billions in federal dollars for the president’s cherished high-speed rail initiative.

From there Mr. Obama was heading to an education event and another odd-couple political pairing, appearing with Jeb Bush, Florida’s popular GOP ex-governor and brother of former President George W. Bush whose policies Mr. Obama blames for sending the nation into a recession.

Mr. Scott met Mr. Obama on the tarmac after the president arrived in Air Force One, a greeting role state and local politicians often play when the president arrives in town. It was notable Friday because of Mr. Scott’s ideological tussle with Mr. Obama over $2.4 billion intended to build a high-speed rail route between Tampa and Orlando. High-speed rail is one of the priorities Mr. Obama promotes as part of an agenda designed to boost U.S. competitiveness, but Mr. Scott dismissed the project as a boondoggle that Florida taxpayers would end up saddled with.

Just Friday morning the Florida Supreme Court sided with Mr. Scott on the issue, saying the governor had the authority to kill the rail line. It was a defeat for federal officials who will now send the money to other states.

Nonetheless, Mr. Obama and Mr. Scott shook hands and smiled after Mr. Obama walked down the stairs in sunny Miami. It was a quick greeting but one with some symbolism for a president navigating the new realities of divided government following the Republican takeover of the House in the November elections.

Later Friday Mr. Obama and Mr. Bush were to speak at Miami Central Senior High School, one of hundreds of low-performing schools across the nation that have received money from the Education Department aimed at bringing turnarounds. Obama aides said Mr. Bush recommended the school as an example of how gains can be made through reform.

“Education and education reform are not Democratic issues, not Republican issues,” presidential spokesman Jay Carney told reporters traveling with the president en route to Florida.

Mr. Obama’s bipartisan overture comes as the president and Democrats are in the midst of partisan warfare with Republicans over budget cuts. Obama he will need at least some GOP support if he’s to resolve that divide and pass any substantial legislation, including education reform, in the second half of his term.

One of his education imperatives this year is to rewrite the No Child Left Behind Act, a signature initiative of former President George W. Bush.

Mr. Obama constantly assailed the president during his own 2008 campaign and often refers to Mr. Bush’s eight years in office as a period of decline for middle-class Americans.

That frequent criticism didn’t sit well with Jeb Bush. In an interview last year, he said Mr. Obama’s tendency to blame his brother’s administration for problems, including the economic crisis, was “childish.”

“He apparently likes to act like he’s still campaigning, and he likes to blame George’s administration for everything,” he said at the time.

Education, however, is an area where Mr. Obama and Jeb Bush agree. Both support increasing the number of charter schools, tying teacher evaluations to student performance on standardized tests, and setting high standards and accountability. They also believe education is key to invigorating U.S. competitiveness.

Mr. Obama has called for fresh spending on education in the 2012 budget he unveiled last month, saying that improving America’s schools isn’t an area where the government can cut back, even as Congress looks for ways to reduce spending and bring down the nation’s mounting deficit.

The federal government has spent about $800,000 on Central Senior High School to help its efforts to turn itself around.

“America can no longer afford a collective shrug when disadvantaged students are trapped in inferior schools and cheated of a quality education for years on end,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote in an opinion piece in the Miami Herald that previewed Friday’s trip.

Despite sharing the spotlight with Republicans early in the day, Mr. Obama will wrap up his trip to Miami on a partisan note. He’ll headline two fundraisers for Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

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