Des Moines, Iowa President Bush told crowds in two farm states Wednesday that he would use his new trade negotiating powers to export more American agricultural products.
His official message was economic recovery, but politics loomed large on Bush's agenda. While he was raising money in Wisconsin and Iowa states he lost by fewer than 7,000 votes in 2000 his wife was collecting campaign funds for the Republican Party's Senate candidate in Texas.
On his first overnight trip away from his working vacation in Texas, Bush remained focused on economic revival, the topic of a Tuesday forum near his ranch. He celebrated passage this month of trade legislation that he said would spur the economy.
"If you're good at something, you want to open up markets for the product you create," Bush said at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. "Listen, we got the best entrepreneurs in the world here in America, we got the best farmers in the world here, we got the best cheese in the world here in America."
Later, surrounded by hay bales and agricultural equipment at the Iowa State Fair, he said, "Our farmers and ranchers are the most productive in the world."
"What we're good at is growing food and hogs and cattle," Bush said. "And it's my job and the job of this administration, now that I've got trade promotion authority, to do everything we can to knock down the barriers so you can be selling your products all over the world."
That authority allows the president to negotiate trade agreements that Congress may approve or reject but cannot change. Supporters say it will accelerate trade deals and enhance exports by giving partners more confidence in administration-negotiated trade pacts.
First given to the president in 1974, Congress refused to extend the deal-making power after it expired during the Clinton administration in 1994. The main reason was that Democrats and their allies were concerned that trade pacts were undermining labor and environmental standards.
Bush also took a step to aid small businesses. He has long been annoyed at what he views as regulators' tendency to ignore a law requiring them to consider the impact of new rules on small business.
In an executive order signed Tuesday and announced Wednesday, Bush issued rules for "proper compliance" with the law. He directed each agency to develop procedures for following the law and urged more education about it.
Bush's domestic travel usually returns him to his own bed the same day he leaves, so Wednesday's 12-hour day, ending in a Des Moines hotel, was unusual.
It was Bush's seventh trip to Wisconsin, a state he has courted aggressively since taking office. Bush raised $600,000 for the election campaign of Gov. Scott McCallum the president's second fund-raiser this year for McCallum.
Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson attended Bush's economic forum in Texas Tuesday, but did not accompany Bush on the trip to help his prot. When Bush picked Thompson as Health and Human Services secretary, it elevated McCallum from lieutenant governor.
"You've got a good one in Scott," Bush said at the fund-raiser. "A good, honest, decent, honorable man who's willing to make tough decisions. And you need to send him back to the Statehouse for four more years."
It was also Bush's seventh trip to Iowa. He raised $1.3 million for Doug Gross, who is challenging Gov. Tom Vilsack. "Tell the people of Iowa what a good man this guy is," Bush told donors. Maximizing the political mileage of his trip, the president also appeared with Rep. Greg Ganske, R-Iowa, who is trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin.
The state's early caucuses are crucial in the presidential nomination process, and Iowa is already swarming with White House hopefuls. House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., visited the Iowa State Fair on Wednesday. Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., attends Saturday.
"The president's economic summit in Waco, Tex., seemed a lot less like a summit and more like a valley," Lieberman told reporters at the fair, shortly after Bush had left. "This economy's in trouble, and this administration has had no economic growth strategy."
First lady Laura Bush, who is spending much of August with the president at their ranch, raised more than $150,000 Wednesday in Austin, Tex., for Senate candidate and state Atty. Gen. John Cornyn. It was Mrs. Bush's second appearance as a fund-raising headliner.
"My husband needs more people in the Senate who will stand by his side. And that is why we need Atty. Gen. Cornyn to become Sen. Cornyn," Mrs. Bush told the crowd.
The president was to travel Thursday to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota to discuss homeland security and the budget. That trip, too, has political overtones: It is the home state of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Bush's chief adversary in the capital and a potential 2004 challenger. Bush was to appear with Rep. John Thune, who is seeking to unseat Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D.