Bush Catches Flak on Carrier Flight
Congress Gives Bush Flak On Cost Of Carrier Flight
Thursday 08 May 2003
WASHINGTON -- Democrats in Congress demanded information yesterday on the cost of President Bush's jet landing on an aircraft carrier last week that they branded a costly political stunt.
A spokesman said Tuesday that Bush had insisted on landing on the USS Lincoln in a S-3B Viking jet, even though the carrier was within helicopter range, because he wanted to share the pilots' experience.
A Pentagon official told the Washington Post that as Bush spent the night on board, the carrier made lazy circles 30 miles out to sea and took 15 hours to cross a distance that could have been covered in one hour. That official and others said the carrier was delayed to ensure that it reached the dock at the time that had been promised, about 9 the next morning.
Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee said that the total could top $1 million, because the trip required delaying the USS Abraham Lincoln for a day as it steamed from the Persian Gulf to San Diego, an extra day of air patrols, plus presidential security, and the cost of the flight itself. The lawmakers issued a news release headed ''shameless'' in large red type. It cited the ''nerve required to delay the return of 4,000 sailors to their families after 10 months at sea in order to stage [a] photo-op.''
Bush landed in a jet that was jolted to a halt by a cable on the deck and posed with crew members to mark the end of major combat in Iraq.
Democrats also complained about the use of a crew member's flight suit, which could be construed as a uniform, by Bush, who is constitutionally the civilian commander of the nation's military, The Post said.
Representative Henry A. Waxman of California, the top Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, called for the General Accounting Office to examine the costs.
Asked yesterday about the flak he was taking for the carrier landing, Bush said it was an honor to thank the troops for their service. ''I'm glad I did it,'' he said. ''It was also a really good landing.''
Ship Carrying Bush Delayed Return
by Mike Allen
Thursday 08 May 2003
Carrier That Spent Night off San Diego Could Have Gone Straight to Home Port
Pentagon officials said yesterday that an aircraft carrier waited within sight of San Diego last week while President Bush slept aboard, instead of heading straight to port after 10 months at sea.
A Pentagon official said the USS Abraham Lincoln made "lazy circles" 30 miles at sea and took 20 hours to cross a distance that could have been covered in an hour or two. But that official and others said the carrier was slowed to ensure it reached the dock at the time that had been promised, about 9 the next morning.
"We're not doing the families any favors by tricking them and coming in sooner," said Rear Adm. Stephen R. Pietropaoli, the Navy chief of information. "From the get-go, the White House staff was very sensitive to the Lincoln's schedule and wanted to accommodate the president's schedule to the Lincoln's schedule."
Democrats alleged that the 1,092-foot carrier was delayed to enhance Bush's trip, and called it a sign that he was using the military as a prop for political advantage. The Lincoln provided a spectacular platform for his May Day address declaring victory in Iraq, and the commander in chief's landing aboard in an S-3B Viking jet produced huge headlines labeling him "Top Gun."
The photo opportunity of a lifetime was rehashed around Washington yesterday as behind-the-scenes details emerged. Democrats tried to exploit what they sensed was vulnerability in a White House that has been reveling in the rout of Saddam Hussein.
Democrats complained about a civilian's use of a crew member's flight suit, which could be construed as a uniform. Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) asked the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, to examine the cost of the event.
"This was a deliberate and intentional use of the military for campaign purposes," Waxman said. "Of course, the president should greet the troops. The question is misusing the Navy and Air Force and taxpayer dollars to kick off a reelection campaign."
At a news conference yesterday, Bush was asked about Democratic accusations of "flamboyant showmanship." He responded cheerfully that it had been "a really good landing."
"It was an honor for me to go on the USS Abraham Lincoln," Bush said. "It was an unbelievably positive experience. And not only was I able to thank our troops, I was able to speak to the country and talk about not only their courage, but the courage of a lot of other men and women who wear our country's uniform. I'm glad I did it."
Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee charged that the cost of remaining at sea for an extra day would be approximately $800,000 to $1 million. A committee report labeled the visit a "shameless stunt."
Navy officials said their added cost for the flight was zero, since the pilot needs to fly a certain number of hours each month.
Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) said on the Senate floor Tuesday that it was "an affront to the Americans killed or injured in Iraq for the president to exploit the trappings of war for the momentary spectacle of a speech."
The possibility of a taint emerged earlier Tuesday when the White House acknowledged that Bush had not needed to arrive in the Navy jet, as his aides at first asserted, but instead could have used a helicopter. That would not have required the olive-green flight suit and helmet that Bush posed with, or the rescue training he received in the White House pool. Aides explained that the Lincoln had been expected to be hundreds of miles out, and that Bush stuck with his plan when that changed.
Pietropaoli, the Navy official, said the Lincoln reached the Naval Air Station dock at about the scheduled time, and that ships routinely wait outside their home ports so final tasks can be completed, and tugs and pier services will be ready. "The sailors were thrilled," Pietropaoli said.
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer called the criticism "a disservice to the men and women of our military" and said the carrier "was not kept at sea for an extra afternoon, evening or a night."
A senior White House official said Democrats were making a mistake by trying to draw more attention to an image that Bush's aides see as emblematic of his strength on national security. "This is not an issue that Democrats want to keep alive," the official said. "We're happy to argue with them about defense -- any day."
A Republican leadership aide on Capitol Hill said the questions being raised by Democrats were "uncomfortable," but noted that the discussion "at least means they're not talking about Medicare or the economy."
Several senior Democrats agreed that the dispute is a loser for them. "It was live on CNN for four hours," a Senate Democratic strategist said. "You can't pay enough for that. Who cares about a few stories later?"
One Democrat moaned yesterday as he watched cable news programs replay hours of footage of Bush on the carrier, with audio about Democratic complaints. "I'm watching him get high-fived and buzz the tower again," the Democrat said. "The White House should have thought of this controversy themselves."
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