President heads to power-short California |

President heads to power-short California

LOS ANGELES (AP) – President Bush arrived in California Monday evening on his first visit to the state since his election.

Electricity shortages in the nation’s most populous state have pitted the Republican president against Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in a high-stakes game of blame shifting. Advisers for both men prepared for a Tuesday meeting, when Davis plans to stage a showdown over energy price caps.

Arriving at Los Angeles International Airport, Bush was greeted by a delegation of GOP elected officials including Secretary of State Bill Jones, the only Republican to hold statewide office. Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan gave Bush a cowboy hat, which he donned and then placed over his heart.

The California trip promised to be a rancorous one, because Bush has refused to cap wholesale electricity prices as Davis requested.

Bush has blamed California’s shortages on state officials, and argues that price caps won’t solve shortages.

Davis, a potential presidential candidate in 2004, has accused Bush of ignoring the state. The president has visited 29 states, but not California, since taking office.

Neither side expects a resolution of the political feud.

With the help of two former aides to Vice President Al Gore, the president’s campaign foe, Davis will use the 20-minute meeting to intensify pressure on the White House, associates said. They said he intends to hand Bush a letter from economists supporting price caps.

But Bush plans to stress his efforts to conserve energy in federal buildings and will bring one or two new initiatives to the table, though advisers said the proposals were not major. One of them commits the federal government to helping organize a consortium to build more power lines for the state.

Aides said Bush has not decided whether to waive a federal rule requiring California to include ethanol in its gasoline, which state officials claim will add to already high gasoline prices.

Presidential advisers said Bush will avoid fingerpointing in an attempt to appear above the fray. They believe Davis’ confrontational approach will backfire.

Bush narrowly won the presidency after losing California to Gore by 12 percentage points.

Senior Republicans, including some Bush advisers, concede privately that Bush’s prospects for winning the state in 2004 are dim, but insist that he won’t give up on California – in part because it is so critical to putting together a winning coalition of states. Furthermore, Republicans could suffer in key congressional races if Bush backs out of the state.

Earlier Monday, Bush focused on U.S. veterans – and the solemn ceremonies in two states honoring those who never returned from America’s wars.

”Their losses can be marked, but not measured,” Bush said at the traditional Memorial Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery. ”We can never measure the full value of what was gained in their sacrifice. We live it every day, in the comforts of peace and the gifts of freedom.”

Bush also laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Later he traveled to Mesa, Ariz., to pay tribute to veterans at the Champlin Fighter Aircraft Museum. He asked the crowd to observe a nationwide moment of silence at 3 p.m. Arizona time.

”Any foe who might challenge our national resolve will be repeating the grave error of defeated adversaries,” the president said. ‘Because this nation loves peace, we do not take it for granted.”

He was accompanied by Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi and Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., but not one of the nation’s best-known veterans: Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona. The former presidential rival of Bush was in Ireland meeting with foreign leaders, said Nancy Ives, a McCain spokeswoman.

Bush opened the day at the White House, where he signed legislation to construct a World War II monument on the National Mall, a setting criticized by some who say it would break up the vista.

Standing in front of an American flag and a portrait of George Washington, the president said the monument between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial ”will stand for the ages.”

”I will make sure the monument gets built,” the president told an audience of veterans in the yellow-curtained East Room, among them former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., who supported construction of the memorial.

Bush has said World War II veterans are dying at a rate of 1,100 each day, leaving no time to waste on the project.

In Washington, Bush signed a new law placing the World War II memorial plans outside normal regulatory process, effectively overriding all the resistance including a lawsuit filed in October that contends federal laws were violated in the review process.

Planned for a 7.4-acre site in the heart of the Mall, a circle of granite pillars will represent the states and territories, and two four-story arches are to signify victory in Europe and Asia.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, a World War II veteran and a chief backer of the project, said after the bill passed that it eliminated all judicial challenges.

World War II veterans are dying at the rate of about 1,100 each day, Bush said recently. ”It is time to give them the memorial they deserve,” he said.

The health task force will be led by former Rep. Gerald Solomon, R-N.Y. and Gail Wilensky, who ran Medicare for former President George Bush.

”I’m today announcing creation of a presidential task force to recommend major reforms in the delivery of health care to veterans and military retirees,” Bush said to loud applause.

Many in the audience, veterans of several wars, wore caps from veterans organizations – some with medals pinned on them. Bush asked the World War II veterans to stand, and about a dozen stood up.

”My administration will do all it can to assist our veterans and correct oversights from the past,” the president said.

He said his budget calls for significant increases in health care for veterans, and added the Department of Veterans Affairs is conducting a top-to-bottom review of the benefits claims process.

Later, Bush was greeted with a 21-gun salute as the presidential motorcade entered Arlington National Cemetery with an honor guard lining the route. A solemn Bush carried a wreath toward the Tomb of the Unknowns. Bush stood for several minutes before the tomb with his head bowed while a bugler played Taps.

Speaking at the flag-bedecked cemetery amphitheater, Bush said that visitors coming to Arlington National Cemetery ”might view these markers as one great national loss. But we must remember that for many who come here, there is one marker that will always stand out.” Bush also pledged that his administration would make its best effort to gain an accounting of those still listed as missing in action.

Then he was flying to Mesa, Ariz., where he was to pay tribute to veterans at the Champlin Fighter Aircraft Museum, accompanied by Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi and Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.

EDITORS: White House reporter Scott Lindlaw contributed to this story.

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